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The Fourth Diocesan Synod

Print reports from the General Sessions: Sessions 1/2, Session 3, Session 4, Session 5, and Final Session.

Link to the Listening Sessions page.  Link to the Post-Synod page

Report on the First General Session

Jamie Dance

A Vespers Service at Saint Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport on Friday, September 19, officially marked the opening of Synod 2014 and the one-year anniversary of Bishop Frank Caggiano’s installation. Attended by almost 700 people, the service included hymns, psalms, scripture readings, and a homily by the bishop. The official commissioning of more than 350 delegates to the Synod was pronounced with these words: “Bless the members of the Synod and give them gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and fear of the Lord. Commission them to go forth and be the new prophets of Your divine plan for the Diocese of Bridgeport.”

This Synod is the fourth to be held in the Diocese, and the first in 34 years. It is made up of 400 individuals, predominantly laity. VOTF-Bridgeport is well represented in the delegate pool, with three of our board members nominated by the Bishop and another nominated by his parish. In preparation for the Synod, Bishop Caggiano conducted Listening Sessions in the five Vicariates, and among the youth and the Latino/Hispanic community. It was an amazing display of humility and respect on the part of our Bishop. No subject was off limits and all were heard.

Bishop Caggiano followed up these sessions with his first State of the Diocese speech on September 9. Statistics relating to finances and debts, Mass attendance, school enrollments, cemetery funds, and administrative challenges were laid out for all to see in a PowerPoint presentation. Included were data that the Diocese had previously not divulged during the Bishop Lori administration. The most noteworthy comment of the evening came when the (enormous) total Diocesan debt was revealed. Bishop Caggiano said, “This does not scare me.” He has a plan and the energy to see the process through. Bishop Caggiano inspires respect and confidence, and encourages us to understand that we all are in this together, becoming a more healthy and spiritually rich community as a result. He refers to this presentation as “checking the foundation of the house before we can build on it,” meaning the work of the Synod. The Bishop’s central plan for the Synod revolves around four elements: Empowering the young Church, Building Communities of Faith, Fostering Evangelical Outreach, and Promoting the Works of Charity And Justice. He assures us that “every challenge can be overcome with prudent and measured planning and that nothing and no one can stop Christ’s mission and the Church moving forward.”

The first General Session of Synod 2014 opened on September 20 with almost 400 delegates in attendance. Bishop Caggiano set the tone for the day when he told delegates, “This is a day of all questions and no answers. We need to saturate ourselves in the data and suspend judgment about solutions.” The leaders of the four commissions (representing the four themes mentioned above) spoke to the statistics and challenges facing the Diocese. A discussion period followed each of them, and as in the Listening Sessions, attendees were offered the chance to comment and ask questions on the topics. Several times, Bishop Caggiano urged delegates to “dig deeper, ask more questions and get to the root of the problems.” Deacon John DiTaranto, chair of the “Empowering the Young Church” commission, gave the first presentation. “Catholics who leave, leave early,” he said, pointing out that 48 percent who leave the Church do so by the age of 18. That figure jumps to 79 percent by the age of 23. Bob Rooney, chair of the “Build Up Communities of Faith” commission commented that the three communities of faith, parish, schools, and the family unit are “interconnected” and the Church needs to do more to strengthen them. He said that changes in the American family are here to stay and the Church “must figure out how to adapt to this new reality.” Father Peter Towsley, chair of the “Fostering Evangelical Outreach” commission, said that as society’s values become more secular and less Christian, we must “bring the Gospel to the streets and bring Jesus Christ to the marketplace.” Finally, Michael Tintrup, chair of the “Promoting Works of Charity and Justice” commission, told the delegates that poverty is the root cause of many of the problems in Fairfield County including homelessness and mental illness.

This first session was a seven-hour introduction to the issues and problems that face the Diocese of Bridgeport. Many more hours of research and study will ensue before we begin the process of discernment when the Synod resumes at the second General Session on November 15.

Report on the Second General Session

Jamie Dance

On Saturday, November 14, over 400 Synod delegates gathered to seek consensus on issues that affect the Diocese of Bridgeport. Sixty “Challenges” were presented by the four study committees, each related to one of the four major themes of the Synod: Building Up Communities of Faith, Empowering the Young Church, Promoting Works of Charity and Justice, and Fostering Evangelical Outreach. After opening the day with prayer, including antiphonal psalms, Bishop Caggiano announced that there were three “housekeeping” items to be voted on: a Declaration from the First Session, the Creation of the Supra Committee on Communications, and a Resolution to make the Synod body “permanent.” The last item pertains to the bishop’s desire to maintain an informed and active group for consultation as Synod decrees are enacted in the diocese. All items were approved by acclamation.

Dr. Joan Marie Kelly, a theologian at Sacred Heart University, then spoke briefly on “The Catholic Church: ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, APOSTOLIC”. Following her presentation, representatives of the “Promote Works of Charity and Justice” committee came forward to offer their committee’s work and supporting evidence for their decisions. Among these challenges were items such as “There is a need to create an understanding of social justice not only as a Gospel mandate but also a lived and personal experience” and “There is a need to use charitable service to help the believer, the non-practicing believer, and those of good will to discover Jesus.” All told, the seven Challenges were approved quickly and overwhelmingly by the delegates, using an electronic voting system that allowed three options: accept, accept with modification, and do not accept.

The next group to present was the “Empowering the Young Church” committee. Having divided their study by age groups (birth to 12, 12–18, and 19–30), the challenges presented ranged from “There is a need to introduce children into the life of the Church as fully and early as possible” and “There is a need to share the Gospel message in a manner that resonates with teens” to “Things we believe are contrary to what the Church teaches.” Once again, there was overwhelming approval for the challenges by the delegates.

The “Building Up Communities of Faith” committee (of which I am a member) considered three areas: family, parish, and school. Among the challenges for families were “There are many poorly catechized parents and a lack of ongoing faith formation opportunities” and “Many in the Church lack an understanding about the complexity and diversity of families and family life resulting in inadequate outreach and programs.” Addressing parish life, the committee named major challenges such as “There is a need to overcome competing activities, influences and negative media” and “There are inadequate resources to fulfill our mission—talent, finances, and tools” and “There is a need to create an environment of healing and understanding for the people we serve.” For the school community, it was suggested that “There is a need to make Catholic education more accessible for those families who wish their children to attend Catholic schools” and “There is a need to strengthen the relationship that should exist between schools, parishes and the broader diocesan community.” This theme encompassed an enormous amount of territory since it touched on almost every avenue of Catholic life in the diocese. Most of the challenges were approved overwhelmingly, and it was widely noted that the sub-committee’s recommendations overlapped considerably.

The “Foster Evangelical Outreach” committee had several challenges on their agenda revolving around reaching those who are active but disengaged, and those at risk of leaving the Church or already gone, as well as challenges related to the use of social media and technology for evangelization and catechesis. Anne Pollack, a VOTF-Bridgeport board member sits on this committee. Among the challenges that it presented were “The Saturday/Sunday Mass experience needs to be a dynamic place of worship and fellowship that assists with the personal encounter with Jesus Christ”; “Everyone in diocesan leadership needs to nurture, sustain, support and encourage those who have left the Church”; and “There is a need to acknowledge past and/or present sinful actions by individual members of the Church, while at the same time pointing towards the truth and beauty of the Church as the visible Body of Christ.” Bishop Caggiano, well aware that about 80 percent of baptized Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport no longer attend weekly Mass, has decided to engage a professional polling organization from Marist College to provide answers to many of the questions raised by this and other committees. This data will flesh out what has transpired over the last decade and put a face on why so many have left. Interestingly, these challenges raised the most concerns among VOTF delegates (there are four of us) because there seemed to be little appetite among the delegates for addressing the issues at hand, including the absence of women from all decision-making bodies in the Church and the fact that only two diocesan parishes have sponsored liturgies of lamentation for the victims and survivors of clerical abuse. One challenge proposed by this committee that would address this failure stated, “There is a need for acknowledgement by those in authority for past transgressions, for the sole purpose of healing those afflicted.” This challenge statement was only narrowly accepted, and as John Fitzpatrick noted, it was one of the few that “garnered really substantial criticism.” He attributed this response to “sheer defensiveness on the part of clergy and laity.”

Several committees raised issues related to media and its uses on behalf of the Church, and how media is also used to create misperceptions and diminish the Church. John Marshall Lee, a VOTF board member, commented that “there is an undercurrent of trivializing the scandal,” which was sometimes described as “real or perceived.” This is disconcerting for many of us since it denies healing to not only victims/survivors but also to the larger Church. Many of us will take the opportunity to comment further on these and other issues that we either “accepted with modification” or “did not accept.” Our participation in this Synod is an opportunity to have our voices heard inside the Church. We will not waste nor squander it.

Throughout the long day it became clear that a pattern of overlap was apparent in the challenges. This led Bishop Caggiano to announce that he had begun to perceive a clear, concise path for renewal in the diocese that would address multiple challenges at once. He expects the study committees to establish priorities and to discern solutions that will address the most important issues. By the Third General Session in February our committees will have discerned twelve primary goals amid the sixty challenges. This distillation will be the template for our renewal. Bishop Caggiano’s great intelligence and quick wit were on display all day, seeing patterns and answers in the giant jigsaw puzzle before us.

The Synod website http://www.2014synod.org/ is a treasury of reporting on all aspects of this historic assembly. All Catholics were invited to comment freely on the First Session at this site, and it is anticipated that further opportunities for lay comment will become available in the future.

Report on the Third General Session

Jamie Dance

The Third General Session, which met on February 7th, 2015, was entitled “Confirming the Challenges and Pivoting to Solutions.” From the sixty original Challenges that were created from the Listening Sessions prior to the Synod, nine Global Challenges were identified by the four Study Committees in conjunction with Bishop Caggiano and the Synod leadership. The goal of this General Session was to prioritize the nine Challenges in order to reduce them to a more manageable number, while still incorporating those issues that had already been discerned by the Synod.

Our day began with prayer and the showing of the new video that introduces the 2015 Annual Catholic Appeal (formerly “Bishop’s Appeal”), entitled “Building Communities of Faith.” Bishop Caggiano stressed that even the Appeal will correspond with our synodal work by identifying all the ways in which the diocese will implement the Global Challenges in its charitable work. It is a remarkable film that emphasizes the familial nature of the diocesan Church. Caring for others in this context means creating the Kingdom of God among us by being Christ to others. The film was widely applauded, as was Bishop Caggiano.

Consideration of the nine Challenges followed. Bishop Caggiano began with the five Pastoral Challenges.

  • Liturgy and Worship: Every Catholic is called to ‘Full, Conscious, and Active Participation’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium #14, 41, 48) in the worship life of the Church.
  • Family Life: There is a need to strengthen and support family life and empower and assist parents to be the primary teachers of the Catholic Faith.
  • Evangelization: We must create concrete plans for evangelization in, with, and through our parishes, schools, ecclesial movements, and communities.
  • Social Teachings: We must understand, share and implement the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church.
  • Service: Heeding the call of Jesus Christ, we must live the works of charity in daily life, especially to serve those in need.

The Enabling Challenges were then presented.

  • Leadership: There is a need to continually call, form, and support clergy, religious, and laity in active leadership roles in the life of the Church.
  • Catechesis and Education: We must renew the ministry of faith formation throughout the Diocese, leading each person to a deepening relationship with the Lord Jesus in and through His Church.
  • Stewardship: There is a need to more effectively expand, manage, and share our resources (time, talent, and treasure) and better utilize technology and communication in effective and appropriate ways to fulfill our mission in Fairfield County.
  • Faith Communities: There is a need to strengthen every community of faith within our Diocese, in part by challenging Church leaders to model and foster a culture of collaboration, dialogue, reconciliation, and healing.

Bishop Caggiano next called for a period of table discussion so that delegates could begin discerning the six most important Challenges. Because his presentation had been so effective and persuasive on behalf of all the Challenges, this task was difficult. Everyone could make a strong argument for the inclusion of any or all of them. It became clear that the delegates needed reassurance that, even though only six would be chosen, all issues addressed in the nine would in some way be included when the Diocese began to actively implement the Challenges. Bishop gave his assurances and a period of silent prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit followed. Automated voting then began. Delegates were asked to discern the six most important and of the highest priority to the Diocese of Bridgeport. The vote count identified five Challenges that were overwhelmingly supported by the assembled delegates. On reflection, Bishop Caggiano proclaimed them to be the “Interpretive Keys” of the Synod and that the rest of the Challenges would be included in them. The five are: Liturgy and Worship, Family Life, Evangelization, Leadership, and Catechesis and Education.

The afternoon session featured three speakers, all of whom addressed in some fashion the implementation of a challenge or challenges identified by the Synod. The first was Mike Gecan, National Co-Director of The Industrial Areas Foundation/CONECT, a network of faith- and community-based organizations. His topic was “Faith-Based Community Building.” His presentation considered the contrasts between a bureaucratic parish and relational parish, one being more centered on physical structures, the other on leaders and potential leaders, and contrasts in approaches, i.e., service, advocacy, and relational. Gecan’s theme for us was that the rebirth of spiritual life begins with listening.

The second speaker was Mary Ellen O’Driscoll, the Regional Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. Her topic was “Catholic Social Teachings,” which tied in well with the Synod’s concern for evangelization and outreach to those on the margins. The final speaker was Msgr. James Lang, Vicar of Parishes for the Diocese of Syracuse, New York. His talk was entitled “Visioning, Planning, and Excellence.” He was an engaging and challenging speaker who spoke on core values and a vision for the future. He admonished us to be attentive to our “brand” and be a follower of Christ and true to ourselves. He said that peace and justice are found only when we are a people of prayer.

The Third Synod Session ended with more homework assignments for the delegates. We are asked to pivot in order to respond to the challenges by seeking out and examining best practices, outstanding programs and models of ministry. Our day then ended with a prayer led by Bishop Caggiano. I think most of us feel that this has been a productive and energizing experience, but our finding solutions may be more difficult than identifying the problems.

Report on the Fourth General Session

Jamie Dance

This Synod session began with morning prayer and an outline of the tasks for the day. The first order of business was the Synod delegates’ approval of the Declaration following the Third General Session that occurred on February 7, entitled “Discerning the Challenges and Pivoting to Solutions”. This document detailed the series of five global challenges that will be addressed in revitalizing our Diocese and will be our most immediate Priority Challenges. As a reminder, they are:

  1. Liturgy and Worship: Every Catholic is called to FULL, CONSCIOUS, AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATION in the life of the Church.
  2. Family Life: There is a need to strengthen and support family life, and to empower and assist parents as the primary teachers of the Catholic Faith.
  3. Evangelization: We must create concrete plans for the evangelization through our parishes, schools, ecclesial movements, and communities.
  4. Leadership: There is a need to continually call, form, and support clergy, religious, and laity in active leadership roles in the life of the Church.
  5. Catechesis and Education: We must renew the ministry of faith formation throughout our Diocese, leading each person to a deepening relationship with the Lord Jesus in and through His Church.

The vote to approve the Declaration was unanimous. The next order of business was an update on the Lineamenta survey that was offered to the delegates. This survey is part of the Vatican Synod on the Family. Only fifty-five responded, amounting to just 16% of the delegates. Three broad themes dominated the responses: education and formation, evangelization, and greater pastoral collaboration. Among the comments mentioned in the survey replies were the importance of active, continuing theological education, particularly for the Confirmed “before it’s too late”. Also mentioned was the needed shift in the paradigm of clergy pastoral formation towards greater collaboration with the laity, and an initiative to reach out to the disenfranchised in the Diocese.

This session of the Synod was dedicated to “best practices”, identifying ways that will push forward the Synod’s work into real pastoral activity that will transform our parishes and energize our people. Our first speaker addressed a new model of Youth Ministry. Eric Gallagher, from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, spoke of “Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry: Changing Youth Ministry Models”. Eric was young and engaging, enthusiastic about his work and dedicated to addressing the needs of all young people in his diocese. He first became a youth minister in his hometown at the age of 21. He knew nothing about the work, and his pastor left him to figure it out. He quickly recognized that, even though his students were grouped by age, they were not all on the same page spiritually. No single curriculum or program could suit everyone’s needs. He understood that smaller groups were necessary, and this led to his enlisting parents as teachers and youth ministers. It took time to discover what worked, and he found himself shifting models every six months in order to find something to inspire and motivate his students. Now, as head of his Diocesan Youth Ministry Program in Sioux Falls, he has developed a formal program that is followed when a new parish requests his services in setting up Youth Groups. He described four earmarks of Discipleship: intimacy, mutual responsibility, customization, and accountability to growth. He also identified four areas of formation: human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral. The process for implementation of his program in parishes is a ground-up approach that is founded on four principles: cultivate an atmosphere for discipleship, begin initial evangelization so that the fruit of discipleship may be used to plant seeds in others, adapt to growth and the needs that come with it, and feed the nations, so that they will spread out and bring others in. His final words were “Go slowly, and wait for pastors to ask for your help.”

The next speaker was Jim Lundholm-Eades who is a member of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. His presentation was entitled, “Patterns of Dynamic Catholic Leadership: Changing Leadership and Parish Models”. The focus of his talk was Pastoral Councils and the formation of leaders who will guide them.  Leadership Roundtable’s program for the development of lay leadership is entitled “ Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” and the three frames of reference for this task are structure, resources, and culture, all of which are interdependent. Jim explained that in order to resource what a parish is going to structure, it must find leaders that display the culture of the Church. Dynamic leaders must be able to adapt to problems that arise, be able to lead a discourse, gather the right people, set a climate for respectful discourse, and encourage a long-term perspective. Because people attend parishes where they are fed spiritually, parishes often must adapt to problems that range from dissonance to disintegration. He advises a “management by coffee” whereby everyone sits down and talks. When conditions change, leaders must be able to weigh options, keeping good ones in mind, and prepare to adapt as conditions change. Jim’s recommendation to any pastoral council is to annually pick two to three items for the parish agenda, so that focus may be kept on the most important projects. He has also learned that 60% of parishes in the United States have professional business managers, an enormous boon to overworked pastors.

Pete and Claudia Roux of St. John’s Parish in Darien gave the third presentation of the day. They spoke on “Changing Evangelization Models: Amazing Parish Conference, Forming Intentional Disciples, Alpha, and Nativity Parish in Timonium, Maryland”. They began by discussing tools for evangelization, ways of pointing people to God. Among them were acknowledging that faith is a gift from God, that God uses all of us for a purpose, that we must find people where they are and cooperate with God as we reach out to strangers. They described “Forming Intentional Disciples” as a framework for understanding where people are in their faith journey that allows us to shift our focus to others. There are five thresholds that support this journey of exploration: trust, curiosity, spiritual openness, spiritual seeking, and intentional discipleship. The International Alpha Course stresses the centrality of Christ and the Gospel, and is for anyone who wants a fresh encounter with Christ. It is a ten-week course that ends with a weekend retreat. The Amazing Parish program is based on best practices for a profound encounter with Christ, providing hands-on guidance from experts that help build a community of “amazing” faith. Nativity Parish in Maryland is an example of a parish that went from failing and falling-down to a reenergized church that moved from maintenance to mission in what was called a “Divine renovation”.

After midday prayer, Bishop Caggiano asked us to consider the scriptural passages and discern which will become our mission prism, our spiritual guide, reorienting us back to Christ. In the morning we had been asked to submit our top two choices of scripture. From those submitted, two won the largest number of votes. They were, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phi. 4:14)” and “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)” After much debate, some of it heated, the quote from John was accepted. Bishop commented that he was very pleased since both encapsulated the idea that Christ has to be in charge.

Bishop Caggiano then turned to the central question of the day: “Where do we go from here? Methodology for Implementation of Synod Recommendations”. He said there are seven principles, all with creative tensions:

  1. We want to make both substantial and lasting changes while holding onto the best we do in Christ. Conversion: the sort of change that is lasting and leads to our ultimate goal of salvation.
  2. There has to be tension between what comes from above and below, not either/or. The Diocese will practice the principle of subsidiarity, not opposing decision-making that takes place in parishes. The Diocese will reform itself, and will become invisible while parishes more visible. The Diocese will be held accountable for that which parishes can’t do  themselves, and for what primarily belongs to the Diocese itself. Parishes will be held accountable for what the Diocese asks.
  3. The laity has been looking at the Synod from far away, but will need to buy into the reforms. It will take time and trial and error. Synod closure ends nothing; implementation will take a while because we will need to renew programs and initiatives. Bishop calls this kind of working together the “Theology of Accompaniment” that is a journey of faith that will be responded to in an individual way, one person at a time.
  4. Accountability, both qualitative and quantitative. We will create benchmarks for success by using the stories of people’s lives. Bishop will provide venues to share studies for discerning qualitative change.
  5. Creative tension between community (i.e. Latino, etc.) and parochial life will remain.  Practices that are not too divergent yet still parochial will be deemed acceptable.
  6. Strategic pastoral planning will involve creating roadmaps that will allow the community to be vital and vibrant, and to do things the Synod discerned as priorities. The Diocese, parishes, schools, and ecclesial communities will create these roadmaps.
  7. A spirit of collaboration will animate this implementation and allow the tension between priests and deacons, and priests and laity to be admitted and healed. Collaboration is not cooperation. We are looking at Christ, allowing Him to take the lead. We are not in competition for position and authority.

Bishop Caggiano said that communication in the second half of the Synod will get more overt. The implementation program will feature three phases:

  1. The Diocese will create its own roadmap with goals and objectives that parishes can realize and qualify/quantify by benchmarks.
  2. The Diocese will make resources available for implementation in the parishes. The Diocese will supervise from “below”, and hold parishes accountable for what the Diocese asks.
  3. The Diocesan administration will hold itself accountable for its own roadmap. Parishes will be asked to create their own roadmaps, using a process that looks at the five Global Challenges and prioritizes them. Bishop will have to approve all parish plans. Each parish will be asked to give the rationale for its choices. Each parish will need to identify its own benchmarks for success both quantitatively and qualitatively. In each parish, the roadmap will be revised based on success.

At the end of the Synod, this process is permanent. Pastoral planning will be ongoing. A group of laity will be empowered to collaborate with pastors and staff as a new permanent body of leadership in every parish. Bishop Caggiano ended by saying that, in this case, “The journey is as important as the destination.” The bishop encouraged delegates to send suggestions for implementation to Patrick Turner, and promised that a more formal Diocesan proposal will be announced at the next Synod session. Bishop Caggiano was given a standing ovation by the delegates at the end of his presentation. The delegates appreciate his wisdom, courage, and enthusiasm.

Patrick Turner, the Deputy Synod Director, offered the final presentation. Entitled “Combating Lack of Knowledge of Synod/Communicating to the Broader Church Community”, this addressed the problem of Synod information not getting back to the parishes. Patrick offered several suggestions to combat this issue:

  1. Delegates could speak to the congregation after Communion, using materials from the Synod office.
  2. Delegates could write columns for their bulletins, breaking open the five Challenges and addressing one each week.
  3. Parishes could hold assemblies, similar to town hall meetings where there could be two-way communication between the delegate and the assembly.
  4. Finally, the Diocese will produce a more consistent stream of information to the parishes.

Bishop Caggiano closed this Synod session with a prayer.  He added, “Jesus was born in poverty and anonymity because it was the only way to avoid the enemy.” I believe that he was referencing Jesus’ dire beginnings so that delegates may see Christ in the marginalized, particularly the poor and homeless.

Report on the Fifth General Session

Jamie Dance

Bishop Caggiano called the session to order, and Morning Prayer and the Blessing of Mothers followed. Bishop led off the program with a presentation entitled “Genesis” and Global Initiatives. This speech gave the context for our day and the local initiatives that will be formally presented at our next Synod meeting on May 30. Seven principles will serve as our guide. The first is Change, a conversion and spiritual renewal of individuals, communities, and diocese. Second is Subsidiarity, a confirmation that the Holy Spirit is alive in all of us and that all participate in true renewal. This will insure that decisions are made, wherever possible, at the local level. Third, there must be a Buy-in by all; we are in this together. Fourth is Accountability, something that all will be held to and measured by as time passes. Bishop encouraged us to be patient because change takes time. Fifth is Creative Tension that allows for the Holy Spirit to guide us. Sixth is the Need to Plan, because the journey is as important as the destination. We must be intentional in what we do. Finally seventh, we must engage the true spirit of Collaboration by sharing life, vision, and mission.

The Book of Genesis provides the spiritual context for these principles. As God created the world from a “great abyss,” so our diocese is creating much good in our midst. Bishop termed it “Holy Potential,” giving Our Lord the opportunity to build on the good already out there. We as Synod must communicate what is already good and evaluate what may be better. Bishop Caggiano presented four spiritual qualities that must accompany our journey. First is a spirit of Gratitude that should mark our interactions with others. Second is a spirit of Docility that must be embraced before the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Linking this quality to the story of Adam and Eve, Bishop warned us against the sin of Pride in our deliberations. One path will be chosen and we must walk it even if we disagree. We have to be willing to let go. Our Bible story begins with the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden, but the rest of the story is about God running after them. Hope is that fragile gift that saves us from the enemy in our midst, Indifference. Yes, we as a Diocese have problems, but we must be honest, and exhibit no passive-aggressive behavior. Finally, Bishop reminded us that the only thing that lasts is us. Our journey is about people sowing seeds, one person at a time. We are on an Evangelization Journey as missionary disciples to find the person of Christ real in every broken heart. It was a beautiful homily.

The last part of Bishop Caggiano’s address related to what he called the Global Initiatives, six overarching proposals that will add multiple areas of challenges that are essential to the success of the Synod. The six encompass management and spiritual development. First, the Diocese will create a permanent strategic planning commission to reform the Diocesan Curia. The objective is to model servant leadership, find ways to communicate effectively, provide resources for communication and effective planning, make the diocese more responsive to its multiple dimensions, incorporate cost-effective measures across the diocese, and provide forums for diocesan meetings. Second, the bishop asks for a comprehensive pastoral planning process for the diocese in order to invite, empower, and hold accountable all parishes to answer the six challenges identified by the Synod. While each parish will follow its own path, all will be evaluated and will answer to the bishop. This is a cyclical and intentional process. Third, because charity, justice, and service are integral to all we do, Bishop Caggiano will create a Catholic Service Corps, along the lines of the Peace Corps. Young adults will be invited to join first and then the corps will become intergenerational. “We need a clarion call to service,” something that is integral to catechesis, said Bishop Caggiano. Fifth, Bishop will create a Leadership Institute, a school without walls that will have four pillars of development: human, theological, moral, and spiritual. Adults will receive training, support, and nourishment in order to accomplish a mission that will lead them to the recognition of the salvific will of Jesus Christ. Fifth, Bishop called for the creation of a Presbyteral Council that will establish concrete initiatives to help priests live a holy, healthy life. Among the possible areas to be considered are communal rectories, mentoring programs, and fraternal support structures. Finally, Bishop Caggiano will create a Leadership Institute for the Laity because he believes that consultation is essential to the ecclesial life of the diocese. All of this will take time, and to help Bishop going forward, he has asked that the Synod delegates and committees remain intact for two more years. At the end of the Synod, Bishop will issue a Synod Pastoral Letter that will summarize the initiatives brought forth by the Synod. Recalling the Bible verse chosen at the last general meeting, Bishop reminded us that we are many branches on one vine. A spirit of inclusiveness is especially important for the laity. The laity needs to have a real voice in order to change the culture. Priests need to be critical in a positive sense when contemplating changes suggested by the Synod. Bishop Caggiano will meet with the priests of the diocese on May 19 to present his initiatives.

Deacon John DiTaranto’s talk, entitled Overcoming Resistance to Change, was delivered after lunch but is reported here (as originally scheduled) for better flow. Regarding the people aspect of change, Deacon said there were two points of view: Why resist? and How to overcome resistance? Major change takes place when people shift their values, aspirations, or behavior. In an organization like the Church this can mean significant shifts in strategies and processes. Fear of change, rather than the reality of it, is typically the major cause of resistance, which is a mental and emotional issue. Why do people resist change? Because it is uncomfortable. Ninety to ninety-five percent of behavior is habitual, fast, effortless, and often satisfying. Major change may be disruptive for people who don’t want to let go of what is familiar and comfortable. Getting to commitment to change must be done at one’s own pace.

The five Global Challenges approved at our February meeting were considered in turn. Each Challenge study committee, plus the Empower the Young Church study committee presented several best practices or models of ministry that have been successful, as well as identifying characteristics within those programs. Having also reviewed suggestions and feedback from the Synod delegates, the study committees will offer initiatives or recommendations on how the Diocese of Bridgeport can begin to address the specific stated challenge. Formal recommendations from the bishop, the Synod Commission, and the Office of the Synod will be presented at the May 30 General Session, where the delegates will have an opportunity to vote on each resolution.

Liturgy and Worship: Every Catholic is called to Full, Conscious, and Active Participation in the worship life of the Church. Father Tom Thorne cited four areas for emphasis: (1) Foster an attitude of welcome and hospitality at every occasion of prayer and worship. (2) Special attention should be paid to the preparation and delivery of homilies. They should be relevant, inspirational, engaging, and challenging. (3) The cultural and ethnic diversity of each community needs to be reflected and celebrated in its worship life, as well as in all diocesan events. (4) Every ministry associated with the celebration of the sacraments must be revitalized. The committee recommended a roadmap for the entire diocese to create a sacred space within common practices. To enable this, the Liturgical Commission should be reinstituted and made permanent. Secondly, the diocese should review and revise sacramental guidelines to strengthen hospitality and welcome ministries, thus encouraging parishes to focus efforts on integrating and celebrating their cultural and ethnic diversity.

Family Life: There is a need to strengthen and support family life, and to empower and assist parents as the primary teachers of the Catholic Faith. Al Barber called families to a personal relationship with Christ, to reconnect/connect to the sacraments. He said it was imperative that parents come back to the basics of our faith with their children, and engage in faithful stewardship and service to the Church. We strengthen our Catholic families when personal connections are made in the parishes, and families begin helping families. He suggested that parishes establish new-family home visits, reinforce a welcoming environment, and engage the youth in parish life after Confirmation. Other recommendations were these: Look at Baptismal preparation as the beginning of a journey, take back Sundays, engage whole families in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and support those in non-traditional family situations. Bishop Caggiano announced that the diocese shortly will be creating Diocesan Pastoral Outreach services to the divorced and separated, make efforts to streamline the annulment process, and bring resources to bear so that families will return to Church. He also announced the creation of an electronic virtual internet-based Family Life Center with resources to help families in distress.

Evangelization: We must create concrete plans for evangelization through our parishes, schools, ecclesial movements, and communities. Father Peter Towsley, presenting for his committee, offered a large number of “Best Practices” or programs that encouraged faith communities in their worship and spiritual life and ministry to others. He also identified the characteristics of a successful program: strong lay participation, intergenerational programs, optimistic outlook, new energy and personal relationships with Christ, charitable work, and attention to traditions and customs. Father Towsley recommended that the Diocese coordinate, facilitate, educate, and fund parish-based evangelization teams through the diocesan office of ministry, in order that the diocese may create missionary disciples. Bishop Caggiano responded that there would be no diocesan-wide evangelization program; rather all parishes will do something, but not necessarily the same thing.

Leadership: There is a need to continually call, form, and support clergy, religious, and laity in active leadership roles in the life of the Church. Bob Rooney opened his presentation by describing “Leadership” as a critical enabling capability for transformation, and asserting that true leaders are role models who are spiritually well formed, have excellent management and leadership skills, and exhibit subject matter knowledge and expertise. The challenge when considering vocations is that we must develop a culture that promotes and supports vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life in our diocese. Father Ian Jeremiah discussed clergy leadership challenges, asserting that ongoing education, formation and support of clergy is vital to promote holy and healthy living. He advised that clergy training should provide increased emphasis on homiletics and effective community engagement programs and that parishioners and the community support their priests. As a member of this committee, I addressed lay leadership discernment and formation. The committee recommended an approach that, in its simplest form, is two-pronged. First the Faith Community welcomes the gifts and talents of its members, and then those talents are formally developed and employed in parish management and leadership. These parish leaders then become role models for future parish development and the source of a thriving parish atmosphere. The recommended approach to leadership formation incorporated the earlier definition of leaders as role models, and asserted that the object is to create a common framework for formation with resources across the diocese that will be centralized in its focus, but incorporate flexibility for the diversity in our local Churches. Bob Rooney summarized the discussion, adding that the solutions to this challenge will require both managerial and spiritual training so that collaboration and the culture of sharing talent and resources will be promoted.

Faith Formation: We must renew the ministry of faith formation throughout our Diocese, leading each person to a deepening relationship with the Lord Jesus in and through His Church. Andrea Woronek explained that the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but also in communion with Christ. To do so, we must take Faith from the classroom to discipleship, create a lifelong thirst for catechesis, be joy-filled as an Easter people, and make sure that our faith formation tools are relevant, contemporary and contextualized for the student group. It was suggested that we move away from the traditional academic model towards a more discipleship-focused model, thus creating a journey to conversion. Young adults want to learn about their faith, perform group activities that solidify the message, then spend time to think, reflect, and pray on the experience. They should be integrated into all parish life. As Pope Francis advised, “Do not be afraid to go beyond your boundaries. God is already there.” Bishop Caggiano commented that the Diocese is looking at multiple models of catechesis, and will be formalizing the search at the diocesan level for the most effective models in order to re-imagine and restructure the current system.

Empower the Young Church. Youth are not a problem to be solved; rather they are Church and should be treated with love and respect, said Christin Nauheimer and Julie Rodgers. When thinking about solutions, they need to be more inclusive, rather than exclusive. A dynamic parish involves all ages in parish liturgies and ministries. Family life will only be strengthened and supported when parishes empower and assist parents as the primary teachers of the Faith. The leaders recommended that parishes meet teens and young adults where they are instead of trying to get them where they ought to be. One program that does this well is St. Aloysius in New Canaan. They also advised that we develop a culture that promotes and supports vocations to religious life. They agreed that a more discipleship-focused model will better suit the diocese and help create a journey to conversion for all ages.

After a brief review of upcoming events and meetings, Bishop Caggiano closed the Fifth General Session of the Fourth Diocesan Synod with the Synod prayer.

Report on the Final General Session

Jamie Dance

Bishop Frank Caggiano called the session to order and led us in Morning Prayer. Patrick Turner, Associate Director of the Synod, was introduced and spoke on “Our Path So Far,” giving a history of the sessions that had finally produced the four major themes of the Synod: Empowering the Young Church, Building up Communities of Faith, Evangelical Outreach, and Promoting Works of Charity and Justice. Synod delegates began this journey with formation sessions in August, followed by the First Synod Session in September that dealt with where we stood as a diocese, identifying the issues and underlying themes that had been revealed during the vicariate listening sessions and feedback from those sessions. Seven study committees were formed from these considerations, and Bishop Caggiano held further consultations with Catholic youth and Hispanic representatives. The spring sessions pivoted toward finding solutions to the identified issues both from without and within the Diocese. After study and discernment, we arrived at our final session with a set of proposals designed to move the Diocese forward toward a more vibrant tomorrow.

Msgr. Dariusz Zielonka, Director of the Synod, then briefly spoke on “Canonical Considerations,” informing us that in church law only four canons address the role of a synod in the life of a diocese. A synod is a consultative body that gives suggestions to the bishop. From this perspective, today we expressed our voice, giving approval and endorsement for the declarations and decrees to be enacted. Fourteen votes were to be taken to finalize our Synod journey.

Bishop Caggiano then spoke on “Initiatives and Proposals.” He said the Holy Spirit has been central to our task, inspiring, guiding, and leading us. Our challenge has been and remains “What is it the Lord asks of us?” Turning to scripture, Bishop recounted the question of the rich young man: “What more must I do to inherit everlasting life?” This mirrors our own attempt as the Mystical Body of Christ to answer the same question. Later, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” Every aspect of our synodal journey has been an attempt to answer this one question. We are not just a human organization; we are Christ in the world, a community of sinners. Bishop said that at the heart of all we do must be a spiritual renewal that will cause us to deepen and grow in our love for others so that we may learn how to evangelize, performing works of mercy and justice. We cannot share what we do not know. The Mission Statement of the Synod provides the litmus test for effectiveness of all that will emerge: “Our common mission is to foster personal conversion and deepen each disciple’s relationship with the Lord Jesus in the community of the Catholic Church” Bishop said there is change afoot. We are to accompany our sisters and brothers in faith one at a time so that we will have an opportunity to encounter Christ, our Lord and God. We will thus deepen our conversion and relationship with God. We need to lead and be led, to listen and to learn. Bishop was proud of the delegates’ honesty in addressing the difficult issues that beset our diocese, but there were some (e.g., works of justice) that were not brought forth in the deliberations. We need a prophetic voice in the world so that healing in the Church, particularly necessitated by the clerical sexual abuse that so damaged our brothers and sisters, can take place. We still need to heal the broken trust that exists between victims and the institutional Church and the people at large. An honest dialogue about who we are as the People of God can become a strength and work to repair damaged relationships, whether because of abuse, race, or ethnicity. This must be a priority.

Bishop Caggiano then turned to a discussion of our Synod destination, saying that there will be many roads, and each of us will have to find the path most helpful to us. He cited the scriptural passage chosen as our mission “prism”: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Bishop reminded us that branches are often chaotic, growing every which way, but every branch goes back to the vine. We must all end up still attached to the same vine so that our destination as the Divine Vine in the Diocese of Bridgeport will remain strong and grow. Only the Holy Spirit can say where we are going. We must admit that things may be uncomfortable. Bishop reminded us that the United States was a mission country in 1850, and we are becoming one again. (I believe he was referencing the recent Pew Report on declining religious identification.) We need to learn how to live our discipleship, especially in a world where religion is suspect. He asked, “What would we do differently as missionaries?” The Ten Principles identified by the Synod will be the guide to our paradigm of pastoral practice: Continuity, Subsidiarity, Accompaniment, Sharing and Collaboration, Evangelical Outreach, Unity in Diversity, Creativity, Empower the Young Church, Accountability, and Transparency.

Turning to the upcoming vote, Bishop asked us to take the long view for a long project. We will need to tolerate our failures, always return to our mission statement as the key evaluative piece, and trust in God. Everyone in leadership of the Church is called to be the new Moses in the footsteps of Christ, to move us out of our mediocrity and skepticism and into the Promised Land and a deeper relationship with Christ. He said that we won’t see all the fruits of our labors, but God will grant us a vision of what the diocese will inherit in the future.

Bishop Caggiano’s entire thirty-minute address may be heard or downloaded via the Synod website https://www.facebook.com/2014Synod?fref=nf or via Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/mcrsupport/bishop-caggiano-remarks-may-30.

Next, Bishop Caggiano hosted a question and answer period on initiatives and proposals for the delegates. Inquiries ranged broadly over the fourteen items. The most interesting exchange dealt with how to create the best chance for success when instituting proposals and practices. Bishop’s answer was to make the spiritual piece a priority, using prayer and spiritual discernment, saying. “To be successful we must find a compelling reason, intentionally, to prevent indifference among our disengaged Catholics.”

Voting ensued:

  • Mission Statement Passed 99%
  • Ten Principles Passed 99%

Initiatives (nos. 3–8)

  1. Establish a Diocesan Strategic Planning Commission by October 2015 whose competency will include: (a) the ongoing reform of the Diocesan Curia and (b) oversight of the pastoral planning process. Passed 96%
  2. Begin a Comprehensive Pastoral Planning Process by November 2015 to engage every parish to create a roadmap for its future. Passed 95%
  3. Establish a Catholic Service Corps by November 2015 that will focus on fostering and guiding parish and diocesan-wide opportunities to realize justice, peace, and charity within our Diocese. Passed 95%
  4. Establish a Leadership Institute by January 1, 2016. Passed 91%
  5. In addition to the Presbyterial Council and Diaconal Council, two additional permanent Councils, The Council of Religious and The Diocesan Pastoral Council, will be created by December 2015 to allow ongoing consultation with the Bishop in the work of the Diocesan Church. Passed 92%
  6. Create a six-month consultative process, beginning in September 2015, leading to a Presbyterial Assembly on February 25, 2016, to draft concrete measures to realize the call of the Synod for priests to realize “holy and healthy living.” Passed 95%

Proposals (nos. 9–14)

  1. Reestablish the Diocesan Liturgical Commission by December 1, 2015. The objectives of the Liturgical Commission would include but not be limited to:
    • Oversee the implementation of diocesan norms for liturgical worship.
    • Help revitalize music ministry on the parish and diocesan levels.
    • Greater inclusion of youth and young adults in the liturgical life of the Church.
    • Encourage parishes to strengthen, in concrete ways, their hospitality and welcome ministry. Passed 94%
  2. Create a task force to draft: (a) a comprehensive revision of the Diocesan Sacramental Guidelines and (b) the Diocesan Pastoral Handbook, for approval by the Diocesan Bishop by June 1, 2016. Passed. 97%
  3. Create a Diocesan Pastoral Initiative that will (a) seek to support and strengthen couples in their marriage and (b) reach out to divorced and separated Catholics within the Diocese. Such an initiative would also study the work of the Tribunal toward a plan to strengthen its work. Passed. 95%
  4. Establish Family Life Centers (both virtual and physical) in collaboration with Catholic Charities, parishes and other entities. The goal is to provide resources and support to families to help strengthen the bonds of unity among its members and also to support families that are confronting particular stressors. Passed. 89%
  5. Create a Strategic Plan for priestly vocations by February 25, 2016. In addition, concrete measures must be enacted towards the fostering of vocations to the diaconate and religious life. Passed. 94%
  6. Create a Diocesan Task Force by October 1, 2015, whose competency is to identify concrete ways to reform our catechetical methods and programs. The Task Force will report back to the Diocesan Bishop in eight months and would undertake but not be limited to:
    • Possible expansion of catechetical formation to begin at Baptism.
    • Reexamination of models of youth ministry.
    • High School catechetical education and formation.
    • Discern and present models of faith formation that parishes would be able to examine and decide, based upon their own needs, as most effective.
    • Exploration of the restructuring of the Office of Faith Formation in order to strengthen its mission. Passed. 96%

The voting completed, Bishop Caggiano gaveled the Fourth Synod in the Diocese of Bridgeport closed. Now the real work begins.

 

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