This past year I had the remarkable opportunity to be part of the Diocese of Calgary’s synodal leadership team. The task was enormous; the way forward was uncertain and the learning curve was straight up! Though this territory was uncharted for me, I was inspired immediately when I read the Vatican documents explaining the synodal process. The goals were aspirational and shared through the language of scripture and faith. I was moved. I was hooked! I remember thinking to myself (and saying to others), “How do these guys at the Vatican have the ability to really ‘get us’? To understand what we need and long for? How do they express it in words that clarify God’s love and the mission of the Church in such an effective way?’’
The very concept of synodality is, in itself, the focus of the synod. Synodality is about our common journey together as a Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit through the synodal processes of listening, dialogue and communal discernment, we learn from one another and more deeply understand experiences and perspectives. Synod means, “walking together”.
I am so proud to be Catholic. When I joined the church as a young adult, I had no idea that I would be continually astounded by its wisdom, tradition and beauty. At the same time, the humility of our Church reminds us constantly that God is in charge. The prayer for the synod Adsumus Sancte Spiritus (We stand before You, Holy Spirit) touched my heart with its simplicity. This prayer is hundreds of years old, was used at every session of the Second Vatican Council, and is attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636). In 2022, to begin each synodal session with this ancient, powerful prayer seemed providential as well. These portions, in particular, ignited my zeal to be open to the Holy Spirit and each other:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
The synod has been a powerful experience for Catholics around the world. For those of us who have truly embraced the process of listening, dialogue and discernment, the impact has been immeasurable. I can speak on behalf of those in Diocese of Calgary when I say that the Holy Spirit is at work.
Synodality in Action: Indigenous Delegation to Rome
Then in the winter of 2022, the Canadian delegation to Rome took place and Pope Francis witnessed to us synodality in action. He showed us what it means to listen. In humility and compassion he met with each of the three delegations for extended time. He listened.
Observing these historical moments at the Vatican from my home in Canada, and being in the midst of our work with the synod, it was clear to me that Pope Francis was showing us the way forward. He invited us to journey together and then he modelled to us a sincere and faithful example of what that looked like in reality. As Canada’s Inuit, Metis and First Nations’ delegates joined our bishops in Rome, they were welcomed, respected and listened to. Authentic dialogue took place. Sincerity and compassion were foundational. The pope’s apology, followed by his visit to Canada in July, modelled to us listening and dialogue in action.
This past year of Walking Together has been transformational for me. I have learned so much. I have witnessed authenticity and faith. I have grown in my understanding of community. The Holy Spirit has renewed my commitment to the Church. I am convinced that our way forward in Catholic education must be rooted in these same processes and values.
Catholic Education in Alberta
We are at a critical and unique time in history. Societal factors, Covid-19, secularization, dwindling attendance at Church, political battles, breakdown of the family, social media….need I go on? The future of Catholic Education; the future of our church, requires a sincere and united effort to address the challenges we face and build on the successes we share.
In the synod syntheses from Alberta’s dioceses and the compiled synthesis from Western Canada’s Bishops to the Vatican, concern for young people and the family was predominant. Catholic Schools are essential in this role. With more than 183,000 students attending Catholic schools in Alberta, the faith experience of our young people lies largely in the hands of this critical missionary arm of the Church: Catholic Schools. Our work has never been more important.
What can we take from this critical year of walking together? What insights have been gained from the synodal process across our province? What have we learned from walking together towards reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters? What impact will the visit from Pope Francis to our very own communities have on our future?
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in communion with our church and schools, each one of us is invited on this journey. Your voice matters. How will you listen? Who will you dialogue with? What discernment is necessary?
One of the “non-negotiables” of the Diocese of Calgary’s Synodal leadership team, was to ensure that the word of God guided each and every synodal session. This grounding in scripture ignited our conversation and inspired our openness to the Holy Spirit. God’s word led us and formed us. Through lectio and scriptural reflection we began our listening, dialogue and discernment and that made all the difference. This step is critical.
As a new school year begins, Walking Together in Catholic Education, is an invitation for all of us. This theme calls on us to take what we’ve learned this past year into our schools, parishes and communities. We are asked to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to “teach us the way we must go and how to pursue it”. May the school year 2022-2023 continue our journey of walking together and may God bless our Catholic schools.