BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota — After two years of preparation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda officially convoked a local, yearlong synod, which requires the participation of every parish, he announced May 22 at the beginning of an outdoor Pentecost vigil Mass in Bloomington.
There he also expressed hope for deeper unity in the local church through the synod and beyond.
Hebda recognized that even with a formal decree opening the synod, the local church is midway through the synod process, and he urged all Catholics to participate as it moves forward.
“We can’t lose our focus,” he said in his homily during Mass. “We ask the Holy Spirit, we beg the Holy Spirit this night, to continue to lead us, so that we might feel his presence, that we might feel the warmth of that fire, that we might see the light of that fire, that we might experience the energy of that fire, and that we might go wherever it is that the Spirit leads us.”
The declaration was made through a formal convocation decree, which outlined steps the local church has taken since Pentecost 2019 to follow Pope Francis’s call to be a “listening church,” including the archbishop’s participation in 30 prayer and listening events that drew more than 8,000 participants and 35,000 comments.
The decree also listed the synod’s three focus areas Hebda identified last year: 1) Forming parishes in the service of evangelization; 2) Forming missionary disciples who know Jesus’ love and respond to his call; and 3) Forming youth and young adults in and for a church that is always young.
“Throughout this next year, every parish and deanery is to participate in the consultation process, discerning together how we can grow in unity and more vigorously proclaim the Gospel, guided by these focus areas,” the archbishop said in the decree.
The synod concludes Pentecost weekend of next year, June 3-5, 2022, with an Archdiocesan Synod Assembly.
In the decree, Hebda also called for the constitution of a preparatory commission tasked with preparing the synodal directory, which will govern the process of the Archdiocesan Synod Assembly.
According to the decree, the commission’s members “are to be chosen from among the clergy and other faithful who are distinguished by their pastoral prudence and by their professional competence and who, in so far as possible, reflect the various charisms and ministries of the people of God present in this archdiocese.”
Yen Fasano, a member of St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien Parish in Minneapolis and member of the Synod Executive Committee, read the convocation decree on behalf of the archbishop. Like the vested clergy and many of the Mass’s attendees, she wore red, Pentecost’s liturgical color, which evokes the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in tongues of fire.
The formality of the decree was a gentle contrast to the relaxed ambience of the 6 p.m. liturgy, celebrated under a blue-and-white striped awning on the lawn of St. Bonaventure Church. Hundreds attended, spread out over the grass on lawn chairs and blankets, many seeking shade from the hot evening sun.
Eight priests concelebrated the Mass with Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens, including Father Joseph Bambenek, the synod’s assistant director. Three deacons also assisted at the Mass.
Hebda began his homily by reflecting on the Mass’ first Old Testament reading from Genesis about the Tower of Babel, when God frustrates people’s attempts to build a city and tower reaching the heavens by confusing their languages.
“We certainly recognize that what happened was that great disunity that we always associate with Babel,” he said. “The Lord’s intention, though, is not disunity. The Lord’s intention is always that we be one.”
“Pentecost is the antidote for Babel,” Hebda said, noting that when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they preached and everyone understood them, no matter their language. “The Holy Spirit was the great unifier,” he said.
“We certainly recognize diversity as a great gift, but we also recognize how important it is that we as a church would be one,” he said. “That we would represent that unity that God intended from the beginning of time, before Babel.”
“That we would be enlivened by the Holy Spirit that we would be able to witness to the unity that only God can bring. That, my brothers and sisters, is our prayer as we move forward in this synod.”
All Catholics — not just the ordained — are priestly by virtue of baptism, and they are called to participate in the work of teaching, sanctifying and leading, he said.
“We need our church to participate in this priestly way and I call upon all of you,” he said, “to really commit yourself to be involved this fall as we move into this next phase of the synod, this consultation in small groups in our parishes.”
“It’s the way in which we can exercise our priestly ministry,” he explained. “It’s the way in which we are able to call upon the Holy Spirit, to not only put sinew on the bones, but to breathe life into us, as well — so that we might be that church that Jesus intended from the beginning, that we might be the church that represents his body, that we might be the church for which he died and rose.”
The parish consultation with small groups will be held in parishes this fall. Schedules will vary by parish, but in every parish, a six-week small group series is expected to take place between mid-September and mid-November to focus on the synod’s three focus areas.
Hebda said that he had to “marvel at the work of the Holy Spirit” because Pope Francis announced May 21 his desire for all dioceses around the world to conduct a local synod consultation ahead of a Synod of Bishops planned at the Vatican in 2023 with the theme, “For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission.”
“All over the world, people are going to be doing what we’re doing,” he said.
He added with a smile: “We began it first, though.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.