A number of major themes have been selected for the diocesan synod next year, writes Cathal Barry
Limerick diocese is set to tackle some of the most challenging issues facing the Church at a major synod next year.
Delegates have selected six themes to be dealt with at Ireland’s first diocesan synod in half a century following a recent meeting.
A gathering of over 300 delegates – 70% of whom were lay people – to the synod selected the six themes from a shortlist of 12 compiled over a ‘Listening Process’ in the first half of 2015.
The process connected with more than 5,000 people, from primary school children to the elderly and drawn from all socio economic backgrounds and ethnicities, across the diocese.
The ‘Listening Process’ included a questionnaire responded to by 4,000 people, which organisers claim amounts to the largest poll of the faithful in relation to issues facing the Church in Ireland in the modern era, as well as meetings attended by over 1,500 individual people.
All 60 parishes engaged in the process, as well as 25 other groups, including primary, secondary and third level education, healthcare workers, members of the travelling community, the migrant community and people with disabilities.
It culminated at a meeting of delegates earlier this month when the six themes were voted for after a day of intense reflection and discernment.
The themes, in order as they were selected by the delegates, for the diocesan synod are:
1. Community & Sense of Belonging
2. Faith Formation
3. Pastoral Care of the Family
4. New Models of Leadership
5. Liturgy & Life
6. Young People
The theme of Community & Sense of Belonging was the most frequently mentioned topic (3,689 times) in questionnaire responses, according to reports. Topics referenced here included ‘cliques’, how to build communities, declining numbers in communities, encouraging volunteerism, generating a caring ethos in communities and stimulating more social gatherings.
The theme, according to organisers, also featured prominently across parish discussions and other groups such as the Polish community, the Traveller community, people with disabilities and third level students.
Faith Formation was the second theme selected by delegates with organisers stating that the biggest single issue emerging under this topic in the questionnaires was reconciling Church teaching and the ‘lived reality’. This was particularly evident in responses from young people as well as people with disabilities and those in healthcare, organisers said, adding that adult faith formation and religious education are also key topics across parishes and young people.
Pastoral Care of the Family was the third theme selected by delegates. Organisers report that areas of concern referenced by respondents included the role of parents and guardians in passing on the faith. Interestingly, in light of the ongoing Synod of Bishops in Rome, respondents also recognised as key issues: separation and divorce, second relationships, caring for children, gay marriage and how the Church can reach out to gay people.
Trying to address issues around shortage of clergy was one of the topics in the New Models of Leadership theme – which, according to organisers, was the third most referenced (2,451) of the six in responses to questionnaires. It was reported that delegates, particularly drawn from parishes and third level students, talked of the need for new, skilled leadership models. Personal skills of pastoral leaders, the shortage of vocations, married clergy and the role of women in leadership were the highest ranking issues under this theme.
Liturgy & Life
The fifth synod theme selected by delegates and the second most referenced (2,606 times) in questionnaires was Liturgy & Life. Organisers reported that respondents referenced concerns about having meaningful and joyful liturgy with many young people noting that music should form an essential part of any liturgy/Mass.
Language in liturgy is also a concern for respondents, particularly for the Irish speaking community, while the Church environment was also particularly important to people with disabilities and the Traveller community.
The sixth theme will be Young People and here, organisers noted, the engagement and empowerment of young people was of concern across all groups. The disenfranchisement of young people, their negative experience of Mass and their competing interests were of greatest concern in this theme, according to reports. Accessible language is also of concern, particularly to children, teenagers and third level students.
Reflecting on the selection of the themes, Bishop Brendan Leahy said the listening process the diocese had earlier this year had been an “extremely positive” one.
“The first thing we take from it is the sense of belonging that the laity still has with their Church. The clergy know that the Church faces many issues but so does the laity and it wants to play its part in regenerating the Church for the future.
“That is very encouraging as it shows that despite the issues of the past and challenges of the future, people still have a love of God and want to celebrate that. They see the role the Church has in society, with the family and in the community and essentially there has been a collective hand up from thousands of people who have said ‘I belong to the Church and I want to play my part’,” the bishop said.
Acknowledging the need for “a far greater role” for the laity since the drop in vocations, Synod Director Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon said the diocesan assembly “will charter a course for the Church of tomorrow”.
“I am really heartened by the response and our role now is to harness this energy, this sense of belonging to make sure we have a Church and pastoral care in our diocese going forward that meets the needs and wishes of the faithful,” he said.