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SYNOD HEROES

by Fr. Michael Bennet SPS


Pope Francis reminds us that the Synod is a process not an event. That two year process began last October in Rome and the diocesan phase is currently underway. I am glad to report that the parish of Tsakane in the East Rand has respond generously to the process, and that both parish leaders and parishioners are growing in appreciation, even excitement, as to its potential as an experience of listening in a more respectful and profound way. Not just in the formal listening circles, but at a parish level in the different pastoral councils and, may I add, at a personal level within families and local communities. Ultimately, we are trying to discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our individual and community lives.


What has been a key for us has been the training of facilitators. Initially five different people attending the two training sessions at the archdiocesan level, the first pre-Christmas and the second on Jan. 15th. This was followed by a training of listening circle facilitators in Geluksdal on Feb. 5th, where about 40 participants from Tsakane, Geluksdal and Brakpan met together. Included in this number were seven or eight young adults from Tsakane. Their facilitation has proven to be vital as the process continues.


Over a number of weeks in Sunday sermons and other fora, parishioners in Tsakane were informed about the Synod process. They were being told that it was perhaps the greatest listening exercise in human history. 1.34 billion Catholics (17% of the world’s population) were being invited, as well as non-Catholics and those with no church affiliation. The four Saturdays in the month of March were pencilled in as the days when they would meet. For the first Saturday, March 5, certain sodalities were invited; March 12, CWA, CMF and the senior choirs; March 19th., Youth (14 -25 years of age); March 26th., Young Adults (26 - 35 years of age).


I am also aware that listening circles are taking place in Brakpan on a Sunday morning after mass - as this seems to be their preferred time.


There are really three parts each Saturday morning:


Part 1: EXPLAINING THE SYNOD PROCESS

• 20 slides were prepared which colours and expands the verbal presentation.

• The 14 topics are introduced.

• A handout is given, an A4 page - both sides, containing the material in the slides and the questions on each topic.

• Participants choose which topic they wish to engage with.

• Listening circles contain 6 members, plus or minus. If there is a large number for a particular topic, a division is made. One of the trained facilitators - often a young adult - joins each circle.

• This first part takes about 30 minutes.


PART 2: SHARING IN THE LISTENING CIRCLES

• Working through the three-step process

• Preparing the report for the feedback to the parish facilitation team

• This is the major part.

• It takes at least one hour - even longer, if there are many circles.


PART 3: SHARING IN THE LARGE GROUP

• All gather

• Each listening circle secretary names the topic and shares its report with the other circles, thus enriching the experience of all.

• This takes about 15 minutes.


A parish WhatsApp group has been created to share information regarding the Synod process. Below is the most recent entry, dated Saturday, March 12th.


“We had another successful session today, even more successful than last week in terms of numbers. Last week we have 37 participants. Today we had 43 participants. The sharing was great. A special thanks to those who helped with facilitation. I am sure we are now all starting to enjoy the experience. Next week we are meeting the youth.”


A final thought. While a formal report from the parish will be made on-line to the Archdiocese in April, what is becoming increasingly clear is that what the parish is discovering about itself and its needs, is becoming as important as any report sent to another source. Issues are arising which need to be addressed by the PPC. For example, the largest listening circle by far has been that which focuses on the poor and the homeless. At a parish level, a decision has already been made to re-establish the St. Vincent de Paul Society in order to focus directly on the needs of the poor. Contributions are already being sought from parishioners and well-wishers. This is just one of the ongoing fruits of the Synod process.

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