SALT LAKE CITY — Pastors throughout the Diocese of Salt Lake City gathered their parishioners on April 2 for the 2022 Diocesan Lenten Retreat, which was titled “Walking Together with Christ and Each Other.”
Because of the pandemic, the retreat wasn’t held in one location, as has been done in the past. Rather, video messages from Bishop Oscar A. Solis and the two retreat masters were shown at local parishes at a time chosen by the pastors as most convenient for parishioners.
In his video message, Bishop Solis noted that there are hopeful signs that the pandemic is easing, “and, thankfully, Sunday Eucharists are celebrated normally in our local churches, Catholic schools are offering in-person instruction, and parish events and gatherings are slowly emerging.”
The bishop also called upon Utah Catholics “to rise above the fears and anxieties that have plagued us during this season” and “focus on the renewal of our faith community. As the people of God in Utah, we are called to be missionary disciples. Jesus our savior gave us a mandate: to go out and share the Gospel message with all people. It is now time to gather once again to make God the center of our lives and to encounter his presence in our life and in the world. We do this by focusing our lives on Christ. The mandate from our Lord calls us to make time, like this retreat today, to gather, to gain strength and to set out once again on a joy-filled journey to walk together, to listen to each other, and to discern the true nature of the Church as a people of God.”
The retreat masters were Father Ray John Marek, OMI for the sessions in English and Fraile Cristóbal Torres, OP for the Spanish-speaking community.
After viewing the videos, retreat participants were to form small groups for discussion of at least one of the 10 questions suggested by the Synod of Bishops. Topics included questions in the categories of companions on the journey, listening, speaking out, celebration of the Eucharist, sharing responsibility for the common mission, dialogue in Church and society, ecumenism, authority and participation, discerning and deciding, and forming selves in synodality.
“With these activities, you will be participating in the synodal process that Pope Francis has put forward worldwide,” Bishop Solis said. He urged participants “to imagine the Church of the future and to discover ways to assist others in renewing their faith, restore their hope, and rekindle their love for God and the Church.”
The comments from the various parishes’ listening sessions will be sent to the diocese, which will compile a report that will be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will then forward a report from all the dioceses to the international gathering of bishops.
In his presentation, Fr. Marek reflected on the movie “The Way,” which tells the story of a man making a pilgrimage to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela. At the end of the movie, there is a liturgical celebration “involving all the pilgrims who have been making their way – it’s a celebration of a mass of people from all over the world, each with different stories to tell of what it had meant, but all journeying together as one body; pilgrims on the way,” said Fr. Marek, who offers pastoral ministry at Lenox House of Spiritual Growth in Oakland, Calif.
“Being a pilgrim – making a pilgrimage – these are good images for us to ponder and consider in these weeks and months of the Synod on Synodality, which Pope Francis has called,” he added, because people walking together on pilgrimage “somehow form a community among themselves, supporting each other, offering assistance. Strangers meet each other; they share their experiences, they share their stories, their hurts, their longings, their pains and their joys.”
As members of the universal Church, “we are all part of the pilgrim people of God, journeying, walking, running and sometimes even stumbling towards the fullness of the reign of God that beckons us,” he said. “Being pilgrim is at the very heart of who we are as Church.”
He noted that the Vatican II document Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, describes the Catholic Church as a pilgrim church, and that synods are not new. In fact, St. Peter and St. Paul called the very earliest Church leaders together to decide whether to include Gentiles in the Church. There have been other synods throughout Church history; most recently, Pope Francis has called synods on the topics of the family, youth and the Amazon.
“But this one is a little different,” he said. This is a Synod on Synodality, “the way of being Church for the next millennium. And Pope Francis is clear: If we are not open to the work of the Holy Spirit in journeying this way, the Church will have only a limited or at least not a compelling message to give the world. That the Church will fail to be a living encounter with Christ, our loving savior.”
As part of the process, everyone must be listened to, “those we agree with and those with whom we disagree, and, yes, even the voices we want to ignore,” he said. “It’s in those voices that the movement of the Holy Spirit can be detected.”
He stressed that this process is to listen, not to criticize, condemn or attack. “The Church is being called – called to hear the hard stories and the experiences and the brokenness in the spirit of oneness and humility,” he said.
“Even when Church has different forms of expression, synodality can serve as an instrument of unity,” he added. “When we live and when we are a synodal church, unity is strengthened. And when unity is strengthened, mission, service, can be strengthened.”
For Pope Francis, the synod “is only the beginning of a larger journey, which in turn may lead us to other processes that can help us live as Christ’s body and be missionary servants to the world,” Fr. Marek said.
The Holy Father expects there will be conflict, but keeps in sight the unity of the Church, he said. “The only way unity can be maintained or achieved in this diversity, especially when there is disagreement and a variety of possibilities, is for the discussion to be open to the Spirit – the Spirit that will not only lead us and prompt the discussion but the Spirit that will allow the discussion to be held in unity. In time the Spirit will harmonize those differences and allow for new perspectives to surface.”
The person of Jesus Christ is “at the heart of this contemplation of unity in diversity,” he said, and the process is intended to help Catholics be more effective missionary disciples.
He noted that the local synod process is part of the larger worldwide Church, “a Church that has many faces and many ways of expressing itself. This is a harmonious tension; it’s not something to be feared.”