When he became Pope in 2013 Pope Francis issued a challenge to the whole church. It was in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation called ‘The Joy of the Gospel’. He invited us all to have a daily encounter with Christ who changes lives and to have the courage to take up the call of Jesus to be missionary disciples. He said that our parishes were the places where this could happen as long as we were prepared to renew what we do. Pope Francis wrote:
‘I dream of a “missionary option”, that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.’
Pope Francis invites everyone to be part of this adventure:
‘To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful or indifferent, I would like to say this: the Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people! The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.’
It is in the light of this and being aware of our changing circumstances that the Archbishop has called for a Diocesan Synod to take place in June 2020.
In 1962 there were 264,000 people at Mass each Sunday, last year that number had fallen to 47,000. In 1962 there were over 400 priests serving the Diocese and now there are just 120. This means that we have to be open to change. The work of the Gospel is no less urgent, the call to make disciples has not changed, but we have to find new ways to do this in the light of our changed circumstances. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) invited the church to look at the signs of the times, to reflect on what they mean and to take appropriate action. This includes a re-discovering and a re-energising of the vocation of all the baptised.
This is the background which is leading us to Synod 2020.
2017 to September 2018:
In the first year we are invited to join our prayer with the Church in this country as we prepare for the National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage which will be held in Liverpool in September 2018. A series of prayers will be written as well as three Holy Hours for each parish to use which will lead us to a deeper understanding of the Eucharist.
The first prayer was used at the end of Masses in Advent in each of our parishes The three Holy Hours, which will be sent to parishes in January, invite us to reflect on three aspects of the Eucharist. The Eucharist as thanksgiving, the Eucharist as a meeting with Jesus and thirdly the Eucharist which calls us and sends us as missionary disciples. Another prayer will be sent to be used after Easter and the final prayer will form part of a novena of prayer for the days between Ascension and Pentecost. Our schools will also be invited to be part of this time of prayer and preparation. As the Archbishop said, in his October Pastoral Letter, the best way we can begin our preparation for Synod 2020 is in focussing our gaze upon Jesus.
In the Spring and summer of 2018 the Archbishop will be visiting each area of the Diocese (15 different venues) and he will lead priests and people together in prayer as we prepare for the Synod. He will share his vision and we will be joined as a Diocese in a great act of prayer.
September 2018 – September 2019:
In the second year the focus will move to each parish. Parish discussions will take place which, we hope, will enable us to catch something of the vision that moves us towards missionary discipleship. We are not under-estimating the changing circumstances, but we are trying to address the situation in a way that gives us energy and creativity. Resources will be prepared to enable us all to shape the topics discussed and then we will have an opportunity in our parishes to discuss the topics chosen. A scriptural theme will guide us in our discussion. (The word Synod means journeying together, so there are some obvious ideas). This will lead to Pastoral Area Synods in September 2019 which will bring together the parish discussions on the various topics.
September 2019 – June 2020:
In this third year the aim is to look at practical ways forward which will be presented to the Diocesan Synod as a series of propositions. From October to February each Pastoral Area will meet in Synod to formulate propositions on the topics discussed in Year 2. The Archbishop or his delegate, will attend a meeting in each Pastoral Area to listen to what is being said and to help shape the direction of our work. (These will probably be on a Saturday morning from October.)
In June 2020 delegates from each parish will gather for the Synod. Propositions will be discussed and voted on which will help us provide concrete ways in which we, as a Diocese, are going to move forward implementing a shared vision and strategy. It has been suggested that the Synod will be held on a Saturday with the final propositions being brought forward in a Diocesan Mass in the Cathedral on the Sunday afternoon.
Why a Synod?
The last Synod in this Diocese took place in 1955 when it looked mainly at questions regarding the canon law of marriage. So why have another one now? The need for decisive action is such that something of the import of a Synod should happen. It underlines how important is the work that will be done and the future vision and strategy that will emerge.
Who will go?
Because it is a Synod there are certain people who, by Church law have to be there, but we will ensure that every parish has the opportunity to send two delegates.
Is this just Leaving Safe Harbours with another name?
We have been facing the need for change for many years now, and that will not stop. But a Synod will build on what we have done and allow us to have a shared vision and strategy for tackling the circumstances that face us now and in the foreseeable future.
The Archbishop ended his October Pastoral Letter, announcing the Synod with this call: ‘We need to regain our missionary spirit so that the call to holiness we heard in our baptism is expressed by a change of direction. Baptism has changed us so that as Christians we live no longer for ourselves but for others.’
‘Perhaps we can also begin to see the opportunity that Synod 2020, our three-year journey of prayer, reflection and action, might bring us to hear and respond to the call of the Lord with openhearted generosity and creative commitment. It is in this spirit that we can face the future with hope and confidence in Christ who is always close to those who seek to do his will.”