Bishop Hying

Synod to move the diocese joyfully along the path of discipleship, evangelization

       You may have heard some recent talk to the effect that the bishop is thinking about having a Diocesan Synod. What in the world is a synod and why are we planning on having one now?

       A synod is a formal meeting of Church leaders to pray, discuss and deliberate the future course and the pastoral priorities of the Church. Some synods, like the one in Rome last month, are global in scope and focus on large themes, such as marriage, family, evangelization, the Eucharist or the role of the laity.  Diocesan synods are local, focusing on how the Holy Spirit is calling this particular Church to live the Gospel more generously, evangelize and catechize more effectively and animate the religious practice of the people. Diocesan synods occur rarely because they are a lot of work! The last time the Archdiocese of Chicago had one was in the early 1900’s, when the Cubs won the World Series last. Gary has never had one.

      Why should we be doing a synod now?  Good question. I have only been your bishop for 10 months, but in my travels around the diocese, I have discovered the richness of the faith here. Thousands of people, including religious, deacons, priests and laity, generously and passionately live a joyous discipleship in Jesus Christ. I am impressed with the vibrancy of many parishes, the social outreach to the poor, the imprisoned, those with special needs and the homeless, the dedication to the defense of human life and the dignity of the human person, some great catechesis and formation, the thirst for greater knowledge of the faith. 

      All over the world, Catholics are asking the same questions: How can I have a more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ? How can my parish be more vital and welcoming? How can I share my faith with others in ways that really effect a change?  How can we heal a world that seems more broken and violent?

      Like every diocese in the country and probably the world, we also have issues and struggles. Most baptized Catholics are not at Mass on Sundays. Fewer people are getting married in the Church or at all.  Fewer people involved in the community mean fewer resources to keep our parishes and schools vital and effective. Helping young people to connect and stay engaged with the Church is challenging. Poverty, unemployment and violence are on the rise. Some of our parishes are just barely hanging on to stay open. The majority of our priests, religious and lay ministers are approaching retirement age. More people affiliate with no religion at all and view church affiliation as meaningless. These are deep and complex challenges which are difficult to grasp and have no facile solutions.

      A synod will call every baptized Catholic throughout the Diocese of Gary to come together, pray and study, reflect and share their hopes and dreams, their joys and frustrations, priorities and solutions regarding the Church here in NW Indiana. We are smarter, holier, more creative and more effective together and united. A synod will bring all of us together on the parish, deanery and diocesan levels to prayerfully formulate a pastoral plan which will guide, inspire and motivate us for years to come, as we jointly identify urgencies, priorities and solutions to help our Church flourish and spread for decades to come, as we call all people to the good life of the Gospel.

      I have discussed the idea of a synod extensively with the Priests Council and the diocesan Pastoral Council, gaining their formal approval to go forward and I invited Rich Harter and Randy Nohl, who were in charge of organizing a synod in Milwaukee, to come down and speak to our leaders in September.  The presence of close to 500 people attending the sessions told me that people are excited and eager to move forward in growing the Church!  With everything happening in the world and the Church right now, we have a remarkable opportunity to set the course of our diocese for years to come.

      Here are the five steps of the synod process that I am proposing that we embrace:

  1.        Pastoral Letter:  I will issue a pastoral letter to the diocese on February 25, 2016, the anniversary week of the creation of our diocese in 1957. Both a theological reflection and a pastoral analysis of our current situation, this letter will serve as an opening springboard in our ongoing prayer and conversation throughout the synod process. I will invite and encourage everyone to read and study the letter, especially parish leadership, both clergy and lay.
  2.       Parish Gatherings: In the autumn of 2016, each parish will gather to pray and discuss the contents of the pastoral letter, reflecting on the blessings, challenges and difficulties that we experience as a diocese. The insights, ideas, experiences and suggestions engendered at these meetings will be synthesized and used as discussion points for the next step.
  3.       Deanery Gatherings:  In the winter of 2017, each deanery, with representatives from each parish, will discuss and refine the feedback from the parish gatherings, again in a context of prayer and reflection. Out of this step will emerge concrete and specific pastoral priorities, practices and suggestions in all areas of Church life.
  4.       The Synod will be held on Pentecost weekend, 2017 with hundreds of delegates, representing every parish and type of institution in our diocese i.e. schools, hospitals, organizations, religious orders, coming together in prayer to discuss and prioritize the themes that emerged from the deanery gatherings.
  5.       Synod Implementation: I will accept the proposals from the synod, publishing them in a document to be issued in the autumn of 2017. This letter will serve as our roadmap, as we implement and realize the goals that we have formulated and endorsed together. This final step is ongoing and long lasting.

      Obviously, there are many details and much complexity to this synod process, but I wanted to lay out the overall schema of what we propose to do. The synod will be a lot of work, requiring commitment and participation from all of us; I am joyfully confident that, if we listen to the Holy Spirit together, God will move us along the path of dynamic discipleship and effective evangelization, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, growing our parishes and transforming our communities. I ask for your prayers and support in all of this.

      Blessings and peace to you. It is a joy and honor to serve as your bishop! 


      + Donald J. Hying


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