From left, Fr. Fábio de Souza, Fr. Pierre Ducharme, O.F.M., and Fr. Daniel Ouellet, the Canadian priests taking part in the “Parish Priests for the Synod” international meeting.

Priests pumped to add voices to synod panel

They have yet to receive an agenda outlining what their Vatican visit will entail, but Fr. Fábio de Souza, Fr. Pierre Ducharme, O.F.M., and Fr. Daniel Ouellet told The Catholic Register they are ready to discern, listen and share at the “Parish Priests for the Synod” international meeting.

At the Holy See’s behest, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) selected these three clerics to attend April 28-May 2 event at the Fraterna Domus in the Sacrofano commune of Rome because they all have fostered synodality in their respective dioceses. The 300 delegates will engage in roundtables to share best practices, workshop pastoral proposals, converse with experts and participate in an audience with Pope Francis.

“It will be exciting and stimulating to be a part of such a moving experience in the Universal Catholic Church,” Ouellet, a pastor and priest-moderator of 22 parishes in Quebec’s Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière diocese, wrote in an email.

“Three-hundred priests, arriving from all over the world to reflect upon the synodality lived by the Church, is a manifest blessing shown by God to those called by Him to this ministry,” said the pastor with 37 years of vocational experience. “I hope that we will be able to welcome each other unconditionally and without judgment and to share our diverse experiences as community pastors in truth and listening.”

De Souza, who shepherds Our Lady of Fatima English and Portuguese Parish in Calgary, expects to express that he “has always believed in this concept.”

“It will be a great opportunity to share what we are living in Canada and also to (hear) from priests in other countries about their experiences,” said de Souza. “(We) will exchange how we are walking in different places but belonging to the same Church.”

Thus far, de Souza has engaged with the synodal process by developing an academic thesis about synodality and serving on the committee that shaped the five-year renewal plan launched at the parish level in the Diocese of Calgary last Thanksgiving. Currently, lay leaders from each of the 68 member parishes and 11 Catholic missions are being identified to help the diocese realize its three pastoral priorities. The plan’s three pillars are encouraging community members to adhere to their baptismal promises more intentionally; cultivating churches of encounter and witness; and strengthening familial togetherness in homes, parishes and schools.

“The reception to the diocesan process has been very interesting,” said de Souza. “The people can now notice that they are not walking alone in their own parishes. They can share the broader diocesan vision, share their experiences and learn how to journey along this common path.”

Ducharme, who guides St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Richmond, B.C., agreed with de Souza that congregants must help steer the synodal path.

“Synodality is the empowering of others,” said Ducharme. “There is no reason why priests should feel the burden of the entire Church. They shouldn’t feel that their own ministry is the only one supporting the people of God because that is simply not true. Synodality is sharing that responsibility with others.”

Ducharme mentioned that even before the Synod on Synodality launched in 2021, his parish had already completed a synod listening process on Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), and emerged with a parish vision. The St. Joseph the Worker parish council is reshaped around synodal themes. He also contributes to the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s listening and visioning initiatives.

In recent years, notably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scores of Canadian and American publications have reported on pastors struggling with burnout or feeling overwhelmed with the number of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Ducharme said this meeting “provides a forum for people with grievances or issues to raise them rather than simply politicking.” He added there are “discussions that need to happen to raise awareness of the challenges and the reasons why there is resistance to synodality at the parish level by parish priests. There needs to be an acknowledgement that it is hard for parish priests.”

Ducharme has one suggestion that might help the Church mould priests into more natural synodal leaders.

“One thing I might bring up is that most priests are not formed for synodality,” said Ducharme. “There is an issue with our initial formation as clergy that needs to be addressed. Being a synodal Church requires leadership. Leadership involves listening. Leadership involves empowering others. So, when our initial formation is entirely focused on our identity, we’re missing something.”

The results of this meeting are expected to contribute to the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris working document, which will be utilized throughout the synodal assembly’s second session in October.


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