Synod’s Growing Impact on the Life of the Diocese

Fourteen months after the close of the Synod, its initiatives and recommendations are beginning to be felt at every level of parish life and diocesan ministries. However, there is much more work to be done to renew faith life by engaging active Catholics in the renewal efforts and welcoming others back to the Church, speakers said at the 3rd Post synod General Delegate session held at St. Catherine of Siena Family Center in Nichols.

More than 100 of the men and women who served as delegates for more than a year of general sessions returned to St. Catherine’s for an informative and upbeat presentation on the changes underway and ongoing challenges.

In his welcome to delegates, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano described himself as an “impatient man” who often asks himself, “Can the people of the diocese see the results?” The Bishop said he often reflects on the parable of the Sower and the Seed, and he prays that the seeds of the Synod have been planted in fertile soil that will yield much in the life of faithful. “In this one singular, unique moment in life of the church if we want truly to reform and renewal of the local Church, it will demand that we are patient and fix on our eyes on planning seed for the long term,” he told the delegates.

The Bishop asked former delegates to continue to serve “as ambassadors of the Synod,” because many parishioners may still have very little awareness of what is going on,

He said that while the Synod will take time to achieve its goals, “our personal and spiritual growth as disciples can’t wait. Our number one task is to grow in our spiritual relationship with the Lord in the community of the Church. We can give birth to initiatives but if we don’t grow in love and friendship, then all is naught.”

Throughout the morning, delegates heard presentations on a wide variety of Synod initiatives that are now at work in diocese. In reporting on the Pastoral Planning Process, Patrick Turner, Director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning, said that 71 of the 82 parishes have submitted pastoral plans as guidelines for activities in the next two years.

Each parish has been asked to identify goals and priorities and 44 parishes identified catechesis and education as a number one priority. Evangelization ad family life were also selected as priorities.

Turner reported that more than 6.100 people from 29 parishes in the diocese responded to the Disciple Maker Index, making it the largest cumulative response of any diocese across the country. He said that 56% of those who responded “strongly agreed” that they would recommend their parish to a friend, “and that’s a great testimony to our pastors and parishes.” At the same time, only 25% said that the parish helps them grow in their personal prayer life, he said, adding that his office will sponsor workshops beginning in January to help parishes evaluate their programs and move forward.

Patrick Donovan, leader of the diocesan Leadership Institute, described plans for the institute’s online programs that will begin with a twenty-question inventory of interests an provide a personalized learning path on topics of faith and spirituality.

People who visit the sites will be able to choose from a series of modules that includes a 12-18 minute video, a print reading, and resources for further leaning. The modules are also interactive and invite the participant’s reflection.

Donovan said the diocesan goal “is not certification but participation in ongoing formation.” In addition to its online programs, the institute will also offer lectures and other presentations.

The institute will be formally launched on January 11, 2017, 7 pm with an evening prayer and reflection at Assumption Parish in Westport.

He also shared results of the recent Catechetical Task Force Survey, which he said, “Raised more questions than it answered.”

He said the telephone survey “found that there is no typical parish or program” and that there is very little uniformity in catechetical offerings across the diocese and that “classroom models of catechesis aren’t effective and haven’t been for some time.”

However, there are many programs in the diocese where enrollment is increasing direct results of parish doing something different or clergy being more present.

Donovan said there are “quick wins” for parishes if they immediately begin engaging families with pre-school children in early childhood formation programs and also renew their youth ministry.

Evan Psenick, who recently completed his first year as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, thanked delegates “for giving us a roadmap and paving the way.”

He said what inspires young people to remain faithful is other young people who come together in events such as World Youth Day. He added that some parishes in the diocese do youth ministry very well, while others are struggling or have little to offer.

This year his office launched “Connected Catholics” for young adults between the ages of 18-35, and has seen growing interest in its monthly meetings at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford. He credited Fr. Andy Vill for creating a welcoming atmosphere and engaging young adults through worship and service projects.

Michelle Smith, new director of the Catholic Service Corps said that in the first four months 220 young people have donated 1,300 hours of service in Fairfield County.

“Young people often feel less connected than other Catholics and sometimes feel they don’ t get much out of Mass,” she said. “But when they go out and do service, they look left and look right and see young practicing Catholics at their side. That speaks important values to them.”

She said the Catholic Service Corps “roots service in prayer and gospel values,” and makes young people more aware of Catholic Social Teaching, which often surprises them and deepens their faith.

Rose Talbot Babey, coordinator of Childhood Faith Formation, announced that a Faith Formation Day will be held on January 28 from 8:30 to 2:30 at the Catholic Center and will be open to anyone in ministry. “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” is the title of the day, which will include three rounds of presentation with both live speakers and guests on Skype.

“We get calls all the time from Catholics who want to know how to keep their families Catholic,” she said, noting the program will look at ways to better engage Catholics and take the gospel message out into the world.