A few weeks ago, jet-lagged but handling the sitch with grace (and, let’s be real: gelato), I was hanging out at the Trevi Fountain in Rome under the night sky surrounded by people and gripping my wallet so as not to be pick-pocketed.
A friend of mine was ordained in St. Peter’s earlier in the day, hence the reason why I was in Italy in the first place. And, sitting in that location, I heard a voice…in a strong Midwest accent. I looked up, and two men sat not far from where I was.
Being friendly (and, let’s be real: not entirely smitten by Trevi Fountain), I decided to ask them where they were from. The pronunciation they used for their English words was close to mine. I asked. Turns out, they were from a city maybe an hour drive from mine. Although not in clerics, they were both priests studying to be canon lawyers for their diocese.
Now, “church” is my main line of work/ my hobby/ my life these days, so we started swapping tales and dropping names to find people in common.
And he mentioned my Archbishop, and said that he loved him (in a “I have profound respect for that man” kind of way). And I concurred. And then I told them that our Archbishop had called a Synod for our Archdiocese and that I, for some reason beyond my comprehension (except that God is a loving one) was asked to help with that Synod.
The priest was surprised. He told me that this was an interesting, generous move for an Archbishop to make. After all, he said, Archbishops can make proclamations on their own, without any advising. To call for a Synod, to ask for the prayers and advice of many, is not required of them…plus, he mentioned, it is so much work.
“That is not all,” I started, and I related how the Archbishop had allowed ways for all of us to get involved. Every single Catholic in the surrounding six counties was invited to share their input…and they did. 11,000+ people submitted their thoughts on the topics, which were then compiled and presented to the members of the Synod.
And the members themselves were a beautiful mix. I don’t know all of the canon-law about Synods (obviously), but, from what I understand, one can be run with a few “experts” and go from there.
Instead, the Archbishop asked every pastor to submit three names from the congregation that the pastor found to be Spirit-filled…and the pastor was asked to especially mind members who might otherwise be overlooked. From those submissions, one was selected. Those selected members all attended the Synod. Those selected members prayed for this Synod all year long, attended formation events, read and researched.
The number of those selected reached a couple hundred. The priests also had their own voting/ selecting process, so add a mess o’ priests to that number. Plus, the Archbishop invited the religious communities to send a representative, too.
Add all of these together and you have: this strange but beautiful mix of hundreds of people who would probably otherwise not sit at tables together all weekend and share and discuss and try to pinpoint the most important priorities for our local church in the coming years.
And, through the grace of God, I was there. I sat in those chairs. I lectored at the opening mass (!!!!!!!) (They asked me about an hour prior. “Is it the daily reading,” I asked, pulling out my phone to check the USCCB site, “No,” I was told, “and the reading is misprinted in the programs, too…”). I rubbed elbows and saw faces and left uplifted and encouraged.
But, those stories…are for tomorrow. 😉