Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During the pandemic, the phrase “we are all in it together” stands out among many others that are frequently employed. As I have discussed in my previous letter, Pope Francis has asked our entire Church to embark on a journey together, one that involves active listening to one another and ultimately to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This journey begins with a consultative process at the grassroots level, namely, the parish and the diocese, and will culminate with the Synod of Bishops in 2023, to be held in Rome. The theme for that Synod is “Toward a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The emphasis on the fact that we are all in it together, or at least, that we are all on the same road together, underlies the importance of unity in this ecclesial endeavor. Through listening and discernment rooted in the Holy Spirit, the entire Church will deepen her understanding of mission and how best to carry out that mission in the future.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, together with all the parishes throughout the world, is currently participating in this synodal journey called for by the Holy Father. Last Saturday, we have convoked an extraordinary meeting during which members of our clergy, parish leaders, and parishioners from various ministries, ethnic groups, and walks of life came together for a morning of prayer, conversation, and small group discussions. All participants had the opportunity to share their experience of faith, raise issues that they believed were vital for the parish, and articulate their concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of the Church. Everyone was appreciative of the fact that their voice was heard in a formal way. Many of them expressed the desire to see more such events in our parish. To me, the experience of listening prayerfully to one another and discerning God’s will together has been the best expression of who we are as a parish. In the words of Pope Francis, such an experience reflects a “synodal Church, a Church which listens, which realizes that listening is more than simply hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. By their listening to each other, and by all of them listening to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, they will come to know what the Lord wants for His Church”.
What came out of our parish’s listening session last Saturday was quite inspiring and thought-provoking. Participants were divided into four different discussion groups, three in English and one in Spanish. Together, they considered the following questions as suggested by the Diocesan Synod Commission:
1. How is the “journeying together” to announce the Gospel happening today in our parish?
2. Who else do we need to reach out to, listen to, and learn from? What voices are not being heard? Who is absent?
3. What can each of us do to make our parish better?
4. “Synodality,” asks us to be enthusiastic ambassadors of our faith. How do you see yourself involved in making others more aware of what the Church has to offer?
5. What are the areas for change in our Church and what steps can be taken to allow the Holy Spirit to work?
Remarkably, all four groups have come up with highly similar themes in their responses to those questions. It was enlightening for me to know about the areas of church life that people are passionate about. For example, participants universally expressed the desire to be educated more about the meaning of the Holy Mass. They also wanted to be more informed about the various activities that take place within the ethnic groups of the parish. They felt that the Church needs to welcome and engage more actively with those who remain on the margin due to language or cultural barriers, marriage irregularities, or personal lifestyles. In addition, they saw the critical need for the Church to reach out more to youth and their parents through catechesis, engaging liturgy, and effective use of modern social media. In listening to these insights, I discovered that there is a tremendous passion in our people about the faith, and how much they long to make that faith even more attractive and compelling in our parish.
As your pastor, I am convinced that this synodal encounter has a lot to offer to our parish right at this moment. Building on the strong momentum that it has created, I will begin to do some concrete planning with the priests, deacons, and lay leaders of our parish in order to integrate and implement some actionable insights in the liturgical, educational, and pastoral practices of our parish. The success and fruits of these undertakings will depend upon everyone’s cooperation and collaboration, and ultimately, upon our openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The enduring results of this “journeying together” will, of course, take time to emerge. It is my strong hope that, together, we will succeed in making our parish a truly vibrant family in which everyone is on fire for the Lord!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham