For the first time in its history, the Archdiocese of Winnipeg is conducting a Synod. Archbishop Richard Gagnon began the Synod on Pentecost 2016 and announced his intention to close it on Pentecost 2018. It began with work by a General Preparatory Commission which organized listening sessions throughout the archdiocese to which all Catholics were invited.
Next, various Focus Commissions prepared recommendations for the Synod delegates to consider; these recommendations were based upon the listening sessions. The areas covered are Vocations and Leadership; Marriage and Family; Catechetics and Faith Development; Social Outreach; Church Governance; Indigenous People; New Evangelization and Missionary Outreach; Sacramental Preparation, Prayer and Devotional Life; Youth and Young Adults.
The main objective of a diocesan synod is to discover what is known as the sensus fidelium, “the sense/perception of Christ’s Faithful.” While synod delegates have clergy and religious among their number, the bulk of the delegates come from the various parishes in the archdiocese, two delegates from each larger parish and one from each of the smaller parishes.
Together, the delegates discern how the Holy Spirit is at work in our archdiocesan church in this particular time. Through discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit, the Synod will offer the archdiocesan church a plan for its pastoral mission, a plan guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Synod’s first three general sessions occurred from October, 2017 through January 2018. In his homily at the opening mass for these sessions, Archbishop Gagnon reminded delegates that the word “synod” has its roots in a Greek term meaning “walking together. It is hard to capture in writing the spirit of these General Sessions. It was unlike any other large gathering I have attended.
Unlike a political convention or a large sporting event, there was no competition, no maneuvering, no jockeying: people genuinely listened with attention to what others had to say. No delegates gave speeches and no arguments took place. Rather, delegates are called to listen to one another and to the Faithful in our various parishes and, most importantly, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to cast our votes according to the best interests of the whole archdiocesan church and not just according to our own opinions.
We all know the experience of being in a heated discussion with someone, how we really aren’t listening to the other’s arguments: rather, we’re focused on our own next riposte. Well, the synod experience had none of this. In my discussion group there was occasional questioning on this or that but one got the sense that all involved were seriously trying to witness to Our Lord’s Last Supper prayer: May they all be one.
The first two general sessions considered the proposals from the various focus commissions, which had been distributed well in advance. Delegates were seated around tables in groups of about 10. The Chair from one of the commissions would briefly present the proposals. Then, if delegates had a need for clarification on a point, they could address the Chair via a microphone.
The various groups of delegates would then discuss the set of proposals for about one-half-hour. Following this, delegates would use their electronic devices to record their sense of each proposal: approve as is; approve with modification; disapprove. Results were instantly relayed to all present.
Although all proposals received strong “as is” approval, some of them had significant “with modification” approval. Those delegates who had voted either “with modification” or “disapprove” were then missioned to email to the Synod Secretariat their suggested modifications or their reasons for disapproval. Delegates were then missioned to share with their fellow parishioners about the Synod’s work and listen to their comments.
At the January session, delegates considered the Secretariat’s proposed amendments and new proposals which were based upon delegates’ feedback. Delegates discussed them and voted upon them. As in the past, delegates who had concerns about this or that amended or new proposal have been invited to submit commentary to the Secretariat.
The Synod is scheduled for several more General Sessions. The work of these sessions will be to prioritize the proposals. In his concluding remarks to the January session, the Archbishop compared the upcoming process to that of funneling. The Synod’s mission will be to discern what is essential in the proposals, to distill them and hone them into a plan for action.
For more specific information about the process and the proposals, readers may visit the Winnipeg Archdiocese here.