“Synodality is not so much an event or a slogan, as a style and a way of being by which the Church lives out her mission in the world. The mission of the Church requires the entire People of God to be on a journey together…, united to each other. A synodal church walks forward in communion to pursue a common mission through the participation of each and every one of her members.” (Vademecum 1.3) With this statement in mind the Church of St. John’s-Basseterre sets about meeting with all the faithful and those of other Christian denominations throughout the five countries and eight different islands that comprise the diocese. It was truly an ‘experience’ that brought into the open things long since hidden and sometimes undisturbed, but which needed to see the light of day.
The team of group facilitators who met with persons and groups across the Diocese were able to encourage everyone to speak out their pain, their joy, their fears and anxieties, frustrations, disappointments, and disillusionment but also their hopes,
visions, and dreams for the future. Many facilitators and group participants found the experience liberating, deeply spiritual, enlightening and challenging as they listened respectfully and prayerfully to one another. The method of reading a scripture passage and having everyone share a word or phrase before entering into listening to each other’s experience of Church seemed to have had a very positive effect on the meetings.
When the reports from each group were collated and a report sent from each island, it became evident that although having different cultures and histories many of the issues raised were common to the whole diocese. This suggests that more than
having to do with faith and ecclesial structures, the needs of the faithful have their foundation in what it means to be human, indeed fully human. It would appear that most of the issues surround individual or group personalities which need to be
addressed as community. The problems are not so much church structures but persons’ ability to move, act and relate within the structures in a way that is life giving to everyone. This problem exists within the church’s hierarchy and among the faithful alike. The Clergy/Religious and others in authority have failed to listen and understand. The consequence is that they have failed to model Church to the faithful and to society. This failure ultimately leads to a breakdown, a dissonance between the faithful and their mission as Church, and a sense of being lost and irrelevant.
As a result of everyone sharing their thoughts, it has become evident that a major thrust in education of the faithful and the Clergy/Religious is necessary in order to move forward. This becomes very clear as we read what the faithful and Clergy/Religious have said in the paragraphs that follow. These reports are being presented under the synodal themes: Communion, Participation, Mission. In the end we ask, ‘what is the Holy Spirit saying’.
“By the partaking in the body and blood of Christ, may we be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit”.
This segment of our report addresses the synodal principle of “Communion”, one of the three pillars forming the theme for the Synod in 2023. The responses and recommendation highlighted provide insights into the understanding of these questions: 1) How do we relate to others as members of the same faith family; 2) How do we live, pray, play and work as ‘community’; 3) How do we communicate? 4) How do we live out the fact that we share one Bread, one communion table and drink from one cup?
The need for inclusiveness and a voice within our parishes ranks at top of the list. This cry cuts across all age, gender, and language groups, but is particularly most forceful from the youth of this Diocese. Their appeal is that they not only be limited to youth matters but be able to make their contribution to the Church across all areas of parish life.
The call for open and transparent communication about parish affairs and finances has echoed across many parishes. Much disaffection has developed in some quarters as parishioners have felt shut out and powerless to hold anyone accountable. Dialogue on a regular structured basis provides for input and exchanges. The absence of dialogue was described in this manner: “there appears to be one way traffic from the pulpit in that the priests are not ‘hearing if the people are hearing ……………….”.
While some parishes report some positive demonstrations of caring among parishioners, most did not, and recommend a targeted approach to creating opportunities for getting persons welded into small groups whether through social activities, spiritual events, studying/travelling together, or joint project execution. Parishioners have called for activities and programs which can help build community as attending church merely once a week cannot accomplish that goal. Activities initiated by the Parish should meet the needs of parishioners of different ages, and interests. One parish recommended the creation of a good data base as a first step and a tool for knowing who our parishioners are.
The Diocese was also seen as a ‘community’, and so some groups recommended that bridges be built not only within a particular church (e.g., Holy Family Cathedral) but between all the churches in one island, between the parishes on that island, between parishes throughout the Diocese. Smaller churches within the parish/Diocese experience some form of isolation and division sometimes linked to language differences, tiny congregations, and fewer resources at their disposal. To correct these disparities one group of respondents, recommend: “Priests and Religious need to witness the togetherness among themselves……. witness to right relationships”.
Elderly persons and persons who are no longer able to attend Mass were seen as part of our community but one which sadly, often got overlooked. A structured outreach program was recommended to correct this weakness.
Youth have expressed how much they struggle to feel accepted and welcomed by the adult community. They report often being discounted, disrespected, and criticized unfairly. The strength of our faith families lies in each member contributing his/her gifts and talents and being appreciated for doing so. Youth of this Diocese would welcome a space where they can socialize after Sunday Mass and a nurturing environment in which to undertake service.
There were several small examples given of how the sense of ‘faith community’ could be developed. These include: having various parish churches work together; recognizing accomplishments of and milestones in the lives of parishioners, publicly blessing/praying for youth going abroad to study; welcoming them back upon return; celebrating anniversaries of religious; celebrating elderly with the occasional light lunch or fun afternoon, and showing appreciation to priests.
There were some concerns shared of persons feeling embarrassed to say they are Roman Catholics. This can only negatively impact our sense of self and the community of Catholics. Scandals in the church, lack of understanding of the Catholic faith and beliefs, and the inability to defend our practices contribute to these sentiments, and all need to be holistically addressed so that we can purge ourselves of the ‘Nicodemus syndrome’.
A need for ongoing education in the faith, family life programs, discussion and sharing groups were all mentioned as avenues for us becoming more representative of the Body of Christ. For this to be effective, catechesis would have to be blended with other forms of education, prayer, study, and reflection so that our life of faith springs from changes to the heart and not mere activities.
Bickering and tearing down of laity and clergy have been impediments to us recognizing and honouring the one Bread we share and resulting in some parishioners being reluctant to form close bonds. Respondents believe that being in communion on the journey takes place when both priests and laity, in mutual respect, are listening, sharing each other’s concerns, and supporting each other’s efforts.
Many lessons have been taught to us over the last two years as we have been riding through the pandemic. Among these lessons is that the Church needs to adopt new ways of delivering the Gospel and its programs and should be making better use of electronic platforms to engage and build its faith communities. If better communication is key to building good family relationships, respondents have called for the Church to communicate with laity through language which is simple and clear rather than in lofty theological concepts.
Coming out of the consultations was information that several Catholic churchgoers are seriously opposed to the Church’s teachings on issues like divorce, mandatory celibacy for clerics, denial of Eucharist to non-Catholic Christians, the circumscribed roles allowed to women, and the general teaching authority of the Church. Because these matters are not being addressed, they continue to fester and to erode the desired ‘oneness’ within the faith community. (Recommendation: These ‘hot topic issues’ needs to be dealt with in an environment which allows for dialogue. (e.g., One topic per session over four consecutive weeks each year).
Building community among parishioners, means also caring for the weak and hurting among us… (These could be the sick, the hurting, mourners, un-employed, the homeless, the lonely, the poor, and the troubled). Expressions of a caring community would be reflected in the resources and support services made available through the Church and its members.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church?
In the words of one of the groups: “Our way forward as a Church is to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit especially with regard to taking decisions within our Church. A particular emphasis should be put on the formation of the Christian community on how to move forward as one”.
To be followed by parish assemblies to review the report and identify priorities, resources available (human, time and financial) and establish timelines. With God’s grace we can commit to pursue the journeying together, to open communication, ongoing dialogue, accountability, and inclusion of all parishioners.
All are called to Participate: “A Smile means more than food.”
The Pope has pointed out that “all the baptized are called to take part in the Church’s life and mission.” He further stated that “Enabling everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty”. It is against this background and commitment to our Catholic faith that members of the diocese of St. John’s Basseterre have recommitted themselves to walk with each other. “We will work with others and spread the faith, come to church, do what is expected of (us). Improve as Catholics, to walk and to understand our faith, and seek more information to help us to walk together”.
Parishioners believe that encouraging others in words and deeds can go a long way in creating a community. They are not seeking verbal praises or public acknowledgement but support; someone who would listen to their concerns.
Some groups have articulated that there is little to no support for their groups by the Clergy or other groups, therefore “we may be journeying together but in our own groups”. Conversely, some groups felt that they were the best support for their members and have added value to their faith. A common problem is that persons want to serve but felt that there are those who are holding on to certain positions in the church and not making way for others. Whether as group or individuals, the voice of the people is not listened to – only a few persons are listened to particularly the affluent. These situations work against encouraging participation.
Many are afraid because they misunderstand their role and step back, afraid of fighting those in place already. There is a relationship ‘noise’ in the Church community among so called ‘poor and ordinary people’ ‘active and non-active’ members.
The church environment is not overall very welcoming and therefore impede participation and engagements. The ways in which some active people respond to others make others do not want to come too often or get involved. Some people are disgruntled over how some things have been handled and they chose to stay away or go to other churches. There are challenges understanding the priest and seeing relevance of church teachings to everyday life. There are stigmas associated with the church (child molestation, pedophilia, gay religious, idol worship because of all the statues, and elements of the overall church history) and people are unwilling to be publicly known as Catholics. The church leadership seems disconnected from the regular people (their needs, realities etc.) and some people have become comfortable living without their faith. As many are ungrounded in the Catholic faith, they have become easy picking for other denominations.
Finally, both parties Priests/Religious and Lay Faithful need to take responsibility for the implementation of and success of the Synod process. We must move from a spirit of competition to a spirit of collaboration.
Enabling Everyone to participate:
Throughout the process there was a strong call for a more strategic approach to youth participation and engagement in church activities. Right from the beginning, the youth expressed a firm concern that the process of Synodality was important at this time for they had a feeling that our walking together is basically limited to the liturgical celebrations. They felt that Synodality has been replaced in our church by individualism and a pure lack of cohesiveness. There was a strong call for the reintroduction of the Para-liturgy for the younger children to act as a solid foundation for them to mature into healthy spiritual active members of the church. One suggestion for moving forward was to allow children back around the altar during the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. The effects of this simple action would draw them closer to the Body and Blood and be impactful on their journey to first Holy Communion.
There is a need for improved communication; persons having others listen to them and catering to their physical and emotional needs. There is a strong cry for improvement on the preparation and execution of Homilies which would serve to enhance and stimulate congregation participation and a feeling of fulfilment in the liturgy. It was also suggested that congregation members need to have a more spiritual preparation for Mass, opening themselves to the entire (songs, prayers, homily) liturgy for upliftment.
GO! Several scripture passages either begin or allude to the command “Go” powerfully supporting that as missionary disciples, each baptized person is called to participate in the mission of the church. One of the most notable passages is the great Commission which encourages all to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Also, “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) demands a church community whose mission incorporates those who are ever-present in church as well as those on the peripheries. Moreover, the mission message must be spoken with clarity “and as you go, preach saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We need to live out our service to society and “go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this life” (Acts 5:20). These passages demonstrate that the Church is an evangelizing church, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive” (St. Irenaeus). The mission dimension of this synodal process demands that we walk the talk; not remain motionless but GO.
As a community walking and working together, it was strongly recommended that we need to create an atmosphere of listening to one another, speaking respectfully to people and with less criticism, while always discerning the best way to render our services to the church. Additionally, it is believed that we need to have courageous conversations about what is currently happening in our church, facing the things that are not working and/or hindering the growth of the parish, and then take decisive actions towards improvement, hence ‘we walk the talk’. Moreover, there was a general feeling and a suggestion that the church should be vocal on some of the issues affecting the society, with an example of the challenges of mental health being on the forefront. Others included, attending to the hearing impaired and those affected by the pandemic.
Most persons believe that we should establish a strong outreach community to show care and concern for each other within parishes and foster a community that recognises people for their achievements and milestones. We need to reach out personally to those who may be discouraged or feel left out with “a gentle tap on the shoulder and a face-to-face chat”. There is also the need to reach out to lapsed Catholics/shut-ins and the sick. Methods of doing such could include, but not limited to, visits, phone calls, bus services for Mass or other meetings including prayer Bible study and liturgical celebrations.
To help members of the church to live out their service in a missionary way, it was highlighted that we should recognize and respect that people are at different levels of spiritual growth and meet them where they are as we cater to their needs. It was also suggested to implement monthly sessions for spiritual direction, teaching, and learning, where the church community can be ‘still’ in the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, we should improve our individual and collective witness to Christ through our lives by our words and actions.
The church community can support mission through the promotion of training and orientations, the participation of all, especially by assuming the exercise of some ministries within the Church such as, leadership, choir, lectors, animators, etc. We cannot forget to include children and youth whose roles are often neglected in our church community. The consultations with children and youth highlighted their willingness to be included in missionary actions of the church, but unfortunately are not always recognized as valid, contributing missionary disciples. They too, by virtue of their Baptism, are called to missionary discipleship and this area needs to be improved.
It was encouraged that we find out what people are really interested in doing in the parish and direct them to the relevant ministries or create ministries where needed. In this diocese, we have a plethora of professionals who can assist with the education of parishioners on a variety of topics. This indeed is creative missionary work. Topics such as health care – for different age groups, financial management, stress management, and adjusting to loss are a few areas which can benefit our faith community. Having forums like these will facilitate healthy Christian discussions and share in the Catholic faith and journey through evangelization.
Missionary discipleship begins with prayer for the journey. The Synod Prayer (Adsumus Sancte Spiritus) is the formula for the mission. We implore the Holy Spirit to “teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.” It is apparent from the dialogue that the people of God are aware that there is a mission to fulfill. However, we must all embrace our collective responsibility in promoting mission through support for each other, active listening and hearing, discernment, praying and embracing the talents and gifts of the people of God.
The Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre go forward in the spirit of prayer, dedication, and commitment. As a diocese, we will meet in the future to devise methods and put into action a synodal process that will bear the richest fruit. We have listened and heard the voices of the people. When it is time to engage with the parishioners, we will pinpoint various key areas comprising the overall mission namely teaching, preaching, comforting’ seeking the ‘lost sheep’ and other areas of concern to the Clergy, Religious and Laity. Therefore, this diocese makes a commitment in the future to listen more carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches and allow the Holy Spirit to lead where He want us to go.
Bishop Robert A. Llanos
Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre
Dated this Second Day of June in the Year 2022