‘Synod 16’ embarks on transforming the Catholic church

Oralandar Brand-Williams, and Mark Hicks

More than half the participants of a Catholic church gathering over the weekend pinpointed a project they would like to see the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Central Services take on: A plan that addresses spiritual formation for all stages of life from childhood to the seniors years.

Close to 400 Catholics assembled downtown to discuss ways the Archdiocese of Detroit can transform the local Catholic church and its parishes. The three-day gathering ended Sunday after area clergy and laity joined for workshops as part of Synod 16, the first time since 1969 that the Archdiocese of Detroit has gathered to embark on transforming the church and addressing changes.

A synod is a religious gathering to discuss ways to follow fundamental religious teaching while also reshaping how parishioners pray, share their faith and address spiritual needs for the future.

Other top themes discussed were desire to develop ways to sacramental and marriage preparation and focusing on conversion to a life of missionary discipleship, according to participants who spoke at the end of the synod.

Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron said he found the discussions over the three days “very edifying.”

“Some things pointed me in directions I may want to be careful not to overlook, especially helping all of us appreciate the diversity among us is a blessing and how we live with that,” said Vigneron. The archbishop said the discussions also reminded him that the “work of evangelization has to be very personal work.”

Monsignor Ronald Browne, the Synod secretary for this year’s event, said “the spirit was very high and very engaging” during the gathering.

“A lot of people appreciated the opportunity to gather together and to be able to share with one another, not only their faith stories, but where they’re hoping to be able to help their families, their parishes and the whole archdiocese grow in the sense,” he said, “of not so much as members but just grow in a holiness ... grow in being true disciples of Jesus Christ and letting that permeate their life and how they can touch others by just doing that.”

Vigneron has said leaders “needed to go back and look at the fundamental mission and in light of that, what do we have to change.” For the archdiocese “it means a renovation as we get back on the basis of the core teachings and the core mission.”

Vigneron expects to announce steps to tackle changes on Pentecost Sunday in June. “We have a challenge and we are the ones who have to meet it,” he said before the Synod launch.

Stephanie Quesnelle, 26, of old Royal Oak, attends St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church in Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood.

“It was very empowering,” she said Sunday. “Having (the archbishop) sit down and listen to what I, a 26-year-old lay woman, has to say about the state of the church and the challenges that I have in going into my community ...”

Quesnelle said she wants to see the church reach out in a more effective way on social media.

“It is really grounded and at the core of what lay people want,” said Quesnelle about the event.

Other local Catholics like Heywan Weldeab of Canton Township also found the event helpful. A lifetime member of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Detroit, Weldeab wants to take the church to the streets, which might including passing out leaflets and inviting people to her parish.

“You start evangelization with your next door neighbor,” she said. “Your neighbor is your brother and sister. Starting in a local grassroots type of way is very beneficial. When (the church) says go out, I think (it) means the first place you start is right here. Start in your own neighborhood. We can make such of mass of us that it will be more wonderful than we can imagine.”