By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Pope Francis launched preparations Oct. 9-10 at the Vatican for the World Synod of Bishops, which will take place in 2023. On the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission,” the church is seeking input from dioceses around the world, with most bishops kicking off the local listening process with opening Masses beginning Oct. 17.
In the Diocese of Jackson, Bishop Joseph Kopacz launched the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 24 with an opening Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the church has held Synods of Bishops, most recently focusing on topics such as the family and young people. This synod focuses on the topic of synodality itself.
“The undertaking is called Synod on Synodality, which can sound like ‘church speak’ when you first hear it,” said Bishop Kopacz at the opening Mass for the synod in the diocese.
“But it has deep roots in our church tradition as a people of faith, as baptized Catholics, as disciples of the Lord.”
In his homily, Bishop Kopacz challenged us to reimagine the birth of the church on the first Pentecost, nearly 2000 years ago. With disciples of the Lord Jesus, praying intensely for the faith-filled gift of the Holy Spirit.
“This is the image of synodality,” said Bishop Kopacz.
“Pope Francis wants the church to gather in prayer for a number of months leading into a year and then a second year, so there will be time to absorb all that the Spirit is speaking to the church.”
Bishop Kopacz says that during the next two months, the diocese will be laying the groundwork for the synod process in the diocese – preparing materials and training facilitators to conduct parish listening sessions. Then, to be followed by regional meetings to be held in the first few months of 2022.
“Beyond the mainstream of our parishes, schools and other ministries we will also invite many more to participate through social media platforms in order to reach out to the unchurched, the marginalized and the alienated,” said Bishop Kopacz.
“From across the diocese, we hope to receive a very good response – potentially thousands of responses,” said Bishop Kopacz.
“It will be work bringing this together into a 10-page synthesis. But what a story; that we can understand on a deeper level, who we are as a people of God in the Body of Christ, in the Diocese of Jackson.”
Fran Lavelle, director of faith formation for the diocese, was selected to lead the planning for the synod in the diocese, along with an advisory council. She says that the synod is “not a pastoral planning process, nor is it a free for all ‘gripe session.’”
“It is an opportunity for the people of God to pray together and ask of ourselves as individuals and within our church community where we are being called in our journey together. It provides a moment in time for the universal church to look at the greatest issues facing God’s holy people and asking how are we to respond as we embody the Gospel.”
In their planning document, the Vatican asks that each diocese contemplate two questions: How does this “journeying together” take place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allowing the church to proclaim the Gospel; and what steps is the Holy Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal church?
In April, all responses will be gathered and organized into a synthesis that will eventually go the Vatican. “The summary will be made available for the diocese as a very important body of material for our discernment in light of our mission and our ministries,” said Bishop Kopacz.
In 2023 after this worldwide process, Pope Francis will speak to the church and to the world the essence of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to the church.
Lavelle says to begin praying now for wisdom and understanding during the synod process.
“When your parish gathers to listen to one another, may you be fortified with the knowledge that your voice matters.”
By Joanna Puddister King