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Mass kicks off the Diocesan Opening of the Synod of Bishops

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Dioceses around the world have begun the first phase of the Synod of Bishops — a period of listening and reflecting on the local level in preparation for the gathering in Rome in two years. In Arlington, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge was joined by members of the diocesan synodal team at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More for the Oct. 17 Mass for the Opening of the 2023 Synod of Bishops. 


Since the Second Vatican Council, the church has held Synods of Bishops, most recently focusing on topics such as the family and young people. This synod focuses on the topic of synodality itself. “Being a synodal Church finds expression in ecumenical councils, Synods of Bishops, diocesan synods, and diocesan and parish councils,” notes the Vademecum, a preparatory Vatican document for the synod. “Yet being a synodal Church is not limited to these existing institutions ... The Synodal Process is no longer only an assembly of bishops but a journey for all the faithful, in which every local Church has an integral part to play.”


The Vatican asks that each diocese ruminate on two questions: How does this “journeying together” take place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allowing the Church to proclaim the Gospel; and what steps is the (Holy) Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?


“The purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents,” said the Vademecum. “Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission.”


In his homily, Bishop Burbidge noted that the synod is not about changing church structures or doctrine, but about listening to the Holy Spirit. He asked that everyone throughout this synodal process be willing to surrender to God, to suffer with one another and to serve the Lord and his Church. “With (the Holy Spirit’s) help, we will carry out this process in communion with one another, with active participation and our focus on the mission, which is to proclaim the truth and the joy of the Gospel, to help each other grow in holiness so that we might live with the Lord both now and forever,” he said. 


The eight members of the synodal team, who represent Catholics of different vocations, ages and ethnicities, will help coordinate the diocesan process. Father Donald J. Planty Jr., pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, and Joel de Loera, director of the diocesan Spanish Apostolate, are co-leaders. Other members include Deacon Malcolm L. D’Souza of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale; Dominican Sister Ann Dominic Mahowald, assistant principal at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores; Patrick Piccolo, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Herndon; Lauren Petron, a parishioner of St. Rita Church in Alexandria; Aaron Zanca, a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria; and Rebecca Wong, a parishioner of St. Charles.


Though final plans are still in the works, Father Planty believes diocesan parishes will hold listening sessions in English and Spanish during Advent. Notes from those gatherings will be forwarded to Bishop Burbidge, who will submit a 10-page report to the Vatican in April. “This is the first time consultations are taking place in every diocese in preparation for the world Synod of Bishops,” said Father Planty. “It's an extraordinary initiative.”


Last month, Bishop Burbidge announced a diocesan strategic plan that was created after months of dialogue with people around the diocese. That ongoing initiative will strengthen the synodal process, said Father Planty. “One of the aims of the synod is to encourage synodality at every level of the church on an ongoing basis. Our diocese has already shown that to be a priority in our diocesan consultations for our strategic plan,” he said. “So, Bishop Burbidge and our diocese have anticipated the importance of synodality already in the wide-scale consultation that has taken place for our diocesan strategic planning.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021