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Revitalising Church means making a synodal shift

The topic of synodality was discussed once again on the June 28 episode of Altos, with Manzanilla parish priest Fr Kenwyn Sylvester being the guest. Fr Sylvester will celebrate his fifth anniversary of priestly ordination in September. He shared that he has embraced his ministry and feels more settled in his role, especially after overcoming the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the interview, Fr Sylvester emphasised that Pope Francis aims to revitalise the Church through a spirit of discernment and spiritual conversations.

He notes that this process requires change, which can be difficult for some people to accept.

He explained, “Pope Francis wants this, our Church, to be revitalised. And revitalised, not just because, okay, we need to keep up with the times, but revitalised in the spirit of discernment. And so, the whole synodality is really bringing us to this place where we come to realise, we have to do things differently.”

 

The importance of hospitality and the role of parish staff

Fr Sylvester highlighted the critical role of parish staff as the first point of contact for people engaging with the Church. He stresses the need for parish offices to recognise their part in the Church’s mission to evangelise: “The parish office is the first point of encounter with the outside world. And so, the people, random persons coming to the parish office, the first people they meet and the first opportunity for perception, to form perception, is the parish staff.”

He discussed the challenge of truly involving young people in the Church’s conversations and decision-making processes. He emphasised the need for a shift in approach: “We involve young people in conversation when we need them. But we don’t engage young people in conversation because they need to be there. I think that shift is what is needed.”

 

The mission is for all

Fr Sylvester explained the three watchwords of the synod: Communion, Participation, and Mission. He said that all baptised Catholics share responsibility for the Church’s direction and mission: “When we recognise that because of our baptism, we are all united and have co-responsibility for this Church and where the Church goes, we recognise that our participation is necessary. We recognise that the mission that Jesus has given to the Church is not a mission for the priests. It’s not the mission for the bishops, but it’s the mission for all.”

He stressed the significance of listening to all voices within the Church, including those who have been historically voiceless. He explains that this process takes time and requires humility: “The listening process is a way in which we somewhat open our ears, humble ourselves. What is the reality on the ground? How can we listen to the people who for many years have been voiceless?”

 

Challenges in implementing the synodal process in local communities

The young priest acknowledged the difficulties in introducing this new approach to church governance in his cluster of parishes. He noted that people are accustomed to the old ways and that change is a slow process: “Even as we try to inculcate this new vision, this new way, it is seen as a new way, a new thing, an addition. However, that’s not the idea that it shouldn’t be. It’s not a new addition or something else to do, but it should be the modus operandi of the Church.”

Fr Sylvester shared his dream for active participation and a sense of ownership among parishioners. He aims to foster a community where people see the Church as their own and recognise their role in its mission. He said he wants parishioners to see the church “is not Father Kenwyn church, but it’s their church. It’s our church. I am just a servant, a steward, serving and helping you to better be church in Manzanilla so that you can bring the mission of Jesus right there in Manzanilla, in Fishing Pond area.”

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