Synopsis of the Diocesan Phase
In September 2021, the Diocese of Fall River began planning for the Diocesan phase of the Synod after receiving information from the Holy See. Bishop Edgar da Cunha, SDV appointed Rev. David Frederici, Vicar General, as our Synod contact person, along with an ad hoc planning committee.
Bishop da Cunha commenced the diocesan phase of the Synod with a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption on October 17, 2021, with each priest in the diocese asked to do likewise on the same weekend in their own parishes.
To ensure that every parish was heard, each parish was instructed to select two individuals to serve as Parish Ambassadors and organize the synodal process locally with the pastor’s approval, receiving formation and materials on November 6, 2021.
Local synod consultations and surveys took place between January and April 2022, a diocesan gathering on April 23, 2022, and final local reports submitted to Rev. Frederici, by April 30, 2022. The final diocesan report was submitted to the USCCB on June 30, 2022.
An estimated nearly 5 , 000 individuals participated in our diocesan phase of the Synod. Of the 72 parishes in the diocese, 69 parishes ( 96 %) designated ambassadors for this synodal process, and 54 parishes ( 75 %) submitted final reports to the diocese. The breakdown of local synod consultations, as reported to the diocese, is as follows:
- 149 in- person and virtual sessions were held at churches, local halls, or private homes.
Large groups ( ~ 25 – 70 people) and small groups ( ~ 5 – 15 people)
Sessions were held throughout the diocese in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Parishes and groups utilized both one- t ime and recurring sessions with an average duration of between 1 and 3 hours.
33 parishes held at least two or more sessions
- Surveys ( electronic and printed)
566 participants completed a Diocesan survey, representing the broad community in our diocese, including 49 % non- Catholics.
Some individual parish surveys received between 100- 280 responses each.
- Participant demographics included:
Middle school students through retirement age ( most were between 40 and 80 years old with the diocesan survey skewing much younger.) Younger participants responded well to session invitations geared explicitly to them.
A balance of male and female participants.
- Synod information regarding was shared through: the diocesan website and social media accounts, The Anchor , Bishop da Cunha’ s blog, clergy emails and zoom meeting, ambassador emails and zoom meetings, and by use of the Mass of the Holy Spirit in parishes to open the Synod’ s diocesan phase. Materials for announcements, petitions for Sunday Mass, talking points, the Synod prayer, and a guidebook were shared with leaders and made public on the diocesan website in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
There were various joys, challenges, and needs shared by parishes and Catholic communities. What follows is a synthesis of the topics and themes shared in local reports. The takeaways are based solely on input from our faithful and are not intended to represent an official diocesan position on any specific topic.
Despite the overarching challenges presented by the pandemic, i t was evident that there are various ways in which churches and communities within the Diocese of Fall River are already proclaiming the Gospel together. Three main topics emerged:
- The celebration of the Mass
- Existing Ministries, Small Groups, and Communal Gatherings, such as retreats, missions, parish festivals, and dinners
- Service and Outreach Efforts
After sharing ways their communities already journey together, reports noted various challenges, observations, and needs for the Church – both locally and at large – to best move forward in proclaiming the Gospel. In particular, the following topics emerged:
- Engagement with young people should be the highest priority
- There is importance in prioritizing a relationship with God and first focusing on Jesus Significantly better communication is essential
- Connection with and visibility within our larger communities are desired
- There is a need and desire for more in- person connections, especially after COVID- 19 Developing a more welcoming atmosphere in our churches
- How the Mass can be a missed opportunity
- Our laity wants to be more involved; most just waiting to be asked Our Pastors should be prioritized as spiritual leaders
- There is a desire to grow formation efforts and rethink previous models and methods Our Church continues to struggle with transparency
- Clergy sex abuse has not been sufficiently addressed Multilingual communities desire more support
- The synodal process was received with mixed emotions
- Despite initial skepticism, reports noted participants’ appreciation for the opportunity to come together and be heard
It is suggested that the Vatican more effectively communicate the next steps for and outcomes from the Synod, both from this phase as well as through the subsequent phases. Additionally, i t is recommended that our diocese, parishes, and other communities who shared in this diocesan synodal process:
- Share copies of the diocesan and local- level reports publicly and in their entirety to their respective communities.
- Prayerfully discern what was heard and the ideas shared to determine what should or can be addressed locally in the short term while prudently awaiting the final results and exhortations stemming from the 2023 Synod in Rome.
- Create or continue efforts for individuals to be heard and share feedback. Leverage parish ambassadors as leaders in the community to help facilitate regular checkpoints, ensuring feedback and ideas are shared with the pastor.
- Ensure that parishes have active parish councils representative of the entire parish and in keeping with the guidelines promulgated by Bishop da Cunha in December 2021 .
RESOURCES TO FOLLOW UP THE SYNOD PARISH PHASE
The entire Catholic Church is called to participate in this Synod of Bishops! This Synod is entitled: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
Synod is a Greek word (synodos) meaning a meeting or assembly. With the opening of this Synod in October 2021, Pope Francis has called the entire People of God to journey together. This Synod is to be a process of journeying together by listening, dialoguing, praying, discerning and making decisions together for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Specifically, Pope Francis is asking each local diocese to gather – clergy, religious and laity together- to listen to each other in a discussion on the state of the Church. It is a journey that follows in the wake of the Church’s renewal as proposed by the Second Vatican Council. Its long-term goal is to reorient the local Church toward an inherent synodal attitude in decision-making processes through communion, participation, and mission.
AN INVITATION FROM BISHOP DA CUNHA
In this synodal process, Pope Francis is bringing to fruition what he has preached throughout his papacy: the lay faithful have an important role to play in the mission and life of the Church…This is an invitation to everyone – parishes small and large, all groups, ministries, apostolates, movements, and individuals – to be heard. Considering this I ask for your participation and support throughout the diocesan phase of this synodal experience.
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., “Journeying Together: With Jesus on the Path of Faith and Hope”
What does the word Synod mean?
Synod is a greek word (synodos) meaning a meeting or assembly. The two Greek words that make up synod are syn meaning together and hodos meaning way or journey.
What is the Synod of Bishops?
A helpful short definition of the Synod of Bishops is a gathering of bishops that:
- fosters closer unity between the bishops and Pope.
- provides counsel to the Pope on matters of faith and morals, and discipline of the Church.
- studies questions concerning the Church in the world (c.f. Code of Canon Law c. 342).
Voting in the Synod of Bishops is limited to bishops present at the synod gathering. However, clergy, men and women religious, theologians, catechists, canon lawyers, and lay experts all participate in the synod gathering with bishops by providing their counsel.
What is Synodality?
Synodality and the synodal process are not a gathering or meeting of bishops, nor are they the administrative arm of the Church. Rather, synodality is the path and process of the Church as communion. It is the communion of all the baptized who are listening to each other, dialoguing with each other and praying together to hear the voice of Holy Spirit as we all seek holiness and proclaim the Gospel. Synodality involves clergy, religious and laity listening and speaking, praying and discerning together, and placing the hopes and concerns of the People of God at the foot of the bishops, who, united with the Pope, decide matters of faith and morals in order to preserve the faith and strengthen the Church throughout the world.
What is different about this Synod?
This Synod is unique in that the Holy Father is asking that the entire Church participate. A Diocesan Synodal Phase has been added for widespread consultation at the local level. Laity, clergy and religious are invited to pray, listen and share in order to better journey together as a Church in living our baptismal mission. This Synod is not about changing doctrine or church structures, but rather encountering one another as brothers and sisters in Christ in our post-pandemic world. The input and feedback generated through this consultation will become part of a national report submitted for the 2023 gathering of Bishops in Rome that will bring the Synod to its conclusion. In the Fall River Diocese, this local-level participatory process will take place between December 2021 and late winter 2022. Resources including models for consultations at the regional and parish level will be provided.