The 'Parish priests for the synod' international meeting The 'Parish priests for the synod' international meeting   (Vatican Media)

After Rome meeting, parish priests head home as ‘missionaries of synodality'

Vatican News speaks to three of the 300 clergymen who gathered in Rome this week for a conference entitled 'Parish Priests for the Synod'.

By Joseph Tulloch

This week, some 300 priests gathered just outside Rome to discuss how to implement synodality at the local level.

On Thursday morning, they met with Pope Francis, sharing their visions and hopes for synodality in the different communities they minister to across the world.

Afterwards, a number of them spoke to Vatican News about their experience over the course of the week, and their new task of returning to their dioceses as “missionaries of synodality.”

Synodality: the basics

For many Catholics, synodality remains something of an abstract concept. It’s often explained as meaning something like ‘journeying together’, after the two Greek words (syn meaning ‘with’, and hodos meaning ‘journey’) that the word ‘synod’ derives from.

Speaking to Vatican News, Fr Stefan Ulz from the Austrian Diocese of Graz-Seckau expanded on this definition.

Synodality, he says, means recognising that “the Holy Spirit speaks through everybody, not only through the Pope, and bishops, and priests.”

“Even me as a parish priest,” he continued, “I can discover many things. It’s not my job just to tell people what is right. The Holy Spirit can surprise me through other people.”

Fr Stefan Ulz of the Diocese of Graz-Seckau
Fr Stefan Ulz of the Diocese of Graz-Seckau

Geographical diversity

One of the things that emerged from the international meeting was the different contours that synodality takes on in different parts of the world.

For Fr Jude Raj Fernando, a priest of the archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka, synodality means that the clergy ought to be close to those who suffer.

“If you look at Sri Lanka”, he said, “we are going through an economic crisis. So, as a parish, we need to be sensitive to the needs of the people.”

Fr Fernando also stressed the impact of the 2019 Easter bombings in the country, which targeted churches and luxury hotels, leaving nearly 300 dead.  

The Church, he said, would continue to “march with the people, until we achieve justice and peace.”

On the other hand, in parts of the world where religious disaffiliation is a major concern, synodality is sometimes seen as a means of drawing the disaffected back to church.

Fr Clint Ressler from the US Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, for example, noted that some of his parishioners see synodality as “the way we’re going to bring the faith to their children and grandchildren.”

“There’s a pain motivating some of my parish,” he added, “and it’s saying – we have to look at a new way to be church.”

Fr Jude Raj Fernando of the Archdiocese of Colombo
Fr Jude Raj Fernando of the Archdiocese of Colombo

Synodal missionaries

Introducing the parish priests to the journalists who would then interview them, Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, a synod official, noted that “reform always comes from the grass roots.”

This seems to be Pope Francis’ conviction too. He’s counting on these parish priests to go back to their home dioceses and promote synodality their fellow clergymen.

Fr Fernando, for his part, is ready. “This is my mission,” he said. “I am excited to take this message to my people, my bishop, my brother priests.”

Rev. Clint Ressler of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Rev. Clint Ressler of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

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03 May 2024, 17:02