Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec
“Synodality represents hope for the Church in many dimensions. It is a certain necessity these days. It is necessary to care for its continuance while respecting fidelity to the teachings and traditions of the faith,” reads one of the conclusions found in the synodal synthesis prepared by the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec. The summary stressed that the most important novelty for all synodal participants was “learning together how to talk and discuss the Church, how to touch fundamental questions of faith, but also how to describe ordinary human experience.”
“It’s about learning together to listen to the Holy Spirit, to be open to His action in seemingly mundane situations. Valuable was the prayerful dimension of this experience based on cooperation and listening to each other,” it said, pointing to the positive effect of the synodal experience of “renewing a sense of community and communion and discovering the missionary nature of the local Church, for which greater synodality is a challenge and a task, sometimes a chance for survival.”
The Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec, following Pope Francis’ call for a Synod on Synodality, began the Synod on October 17, 2021. with a solemn Mass. In the Bielsko Cathedral under the presidency of Bishop Roman Pindel. The faithful were informed about the synodal documents and the planned process. The bishop appointed a synodal team, which included the following contacts: diocesan synodal coordinator Fr. Ph. Robert Samsel and his deputies – Dr. Joanna Czyż-Cieciak and Robert Karp. In late November and early December, consultations were held with more than 200 lay people responsible for organizing synodal groups in their parish communities.
Each parish has received a special package of issues and topics related to the Synod that has begun. The discussions were based on the ten issues identified in the Synodal Vademecum. At the same time, pastors and coordinators have planned group sessions, encouraging parishioners to join the Spirit-led trek. There was a particularly strong emphasis on including all voices so that no one is left out and everyone is heard.
About two hundred parishes in the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese participated in the synodal process. The result of this experience was the submitted proposals, collected by parish coordinators. Individual responses via email and letters from individuals also came.
Synthesis of the synodal path in the diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec
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Communion – Participation – Mission. These three concepts, which are the specific slogans of the ongoing synod, seem to summarize the experiences of those taking part. Conducted at the level of parishes, professional, formation and state groups, the synod has made it possible in many cases to renew a sense of unity, build bonds between those taking part in the meetings and, most importantly, through communion with each other, enter into communion with God. Participants gave repeated testimony of such an experience: “The Synod at the parish level stimulated the heart to change ourselves in the Church, to put effort into building communion, to abide by the Eucharist. He also gave the joy of meeting in a synod group, exchanging ideas, and talking frankly.”
Mutual mature knowledge results in understanding, which motivates joint action for a specific goal. The participation of the faithful in the Church is changing – as a result, they are more aware of their role, stronger about the community, sometimes more critical, but – above all – concerned about the welfare of everyone.
In many parishes, this synodal movement has resulted in concrete initiatives – it has restored the awareness that the Church is a community walking together. Speaking responsibly and wisely and listening to others, actively co-creating a community such as a parish, and caring for the religious, liturgical and formative dimensions of each group’s life – these are the necessary conditions for reviving and renewing the world of faith. Around these three areas we would like to focus the reflections resulting from the synod activities in the Diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec. In their statements, the faithful expressed concern for the Church in various ways. They appreciated the many elements that serve the good, grow faith and lead to salvation. They also formulated some comments, stemming from a sense of responsibility, identification with the community, and a desire to make the community more and more perfect. It was extremely edifying to meet people who want to abide in the Church and have concrete dreams – very real and possible dreams that will make this Church a stronger, more effective and unequivocal instrument of evangelization and transformation of the world for Christ.
My voice in the Church
The basis of unity and the condition for its creation should be the realization of the principle: “I listen and am listened to”. This trivial issue proves to be extremely difficult to implement, requiring the maturity of each of the people who make up the group, who make up the Church. The faithful concerned about the fate of the Church appreciate that many pastors and facilitators are able to create conditions for the creative exchange of ideas, for conversation, for meeting.
Attention should be paid to the role of meeting spaces – the activities of cafes at parishes, sports clubs, interest clubs, etc. are positively evaluated. Being together also outside the temple brings people closer together, allows them to establish a better rapport with the priests and causes them to begin to feel the given space as their own. This, in turn, translates into a sense of community and an ease of expressing one’s thoughts and listening carefully to others. It was also pointed out that it might be worth returning to the Greek principle: stadium – theater – temple. The integration of believers on secular grounds should translate into religious life. Such a method works and produces surprising pastoral and even evangelistic results. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. The lack of intimacy of the faithful and their connectivity with pastors results in a sense of unimportance in the Church: “no one listens to me, I’m afraid to speak out, I won’t listen to others.” Social distance, spiritual distance, a sense of alienation demolishes the possibility of fortuitous communication. The faithful notice certain reasons for the formation of such a distance and, with a sense of responsibility for the Church, wish to bridge them.
There is a desire to be listened to and to listen to the leaders of the communities in question. In this regard, the need to reduce the distance between the priest and the faithful and even the bishop and the faithful is noted. Here there seems to be a need to change seminary formation, and even to orient it towards the formation of religious communities, whose ministry is very positively appreciated by believers. There is the problem of priests’ time for the faithful, presence in their lives, in the life of the community, and availability. While being assertive, the priest should be aware that parishioners are his family, whom he must care for, visit, talk to and know. Here the priority is clearly to care about the quality and sustainability of marriages and to recognize the sacrifices and striving, the weariness of parents, of entire families. Empathy, understanding and appreciation of their daily efforts always adds spiritual strength. This is possible if there are joint activities not only during services and in the sacred space, but also outside it. This should lead to a boost for the parish, rebuilding the community.
Mutual listening can be served by diocesan and parish referendums and, above all, congresses (of communities, states, etc.). This has some bearing on the need to reactivate professional and state pastoral care. Help in articulating one’s voice in Church affairs, as well as hearing the voice of others, should come from well-functioning parish and economic councils. Candidates for the councils should be people of all states and professions, including young people. Those elected to this body should meet once a month and hold open meetings. Parishioners need to be kept informed about matters related to the spiritual-religious and material functioning of their community. In this regard, care must be taken to ensure the flow of solidly prepared information – minutes of council meetings, Sunday announcements and others must be posted not only in the showcase, but also in the media and on the Internet. The faithful appreciate good information on both what has been and what will be. Informing people about current events and parish affairs is a testament to taking parish members seriously, as well as a kind of dialogue in the Church. This provides an opportunity to participate, to respond to specific challenges or invitations. Information about events held outside the parish – the Epiphany procession, Rosary to the Borders, etc. – is also considered very valuable. Participation in them is edifying both spiritually and socially. On such occasions, it is also easy to identify certain leaders, spot talented people and recruit them for the good of the group, community or parish. Discovering parishioners’ abilities and skills is also a kind of listening. Noticing such people cannot be ignored, they must be invited in an individual way to act, to be responsible for the parish. Such people can form an intellectual-spiritual elite, a group of leaders whose voice will be a wise and creative element in reviving faith and rekindling enthusiasm in the Church.
Active listening and creative expression of many people naturally leads to some diversity in the Church, in the parish. This diversity, however, is not a cause of conflict, but wealth. Everyone looking at such a parish should be convinced that his voice has been heard and in this community he has his place, irreplaceable by anyone.
Activity in the life of the Church
For a significant number of participants in synod meetings, the context of the statements was a positive image of the Church from the past – from childhood or youth. In most cases, he has led these individuals to their current involvement in community life. Concern for the welfare of the Church and the desire for repair were the impulses that led them to participate in the synodal discussion itself. Active participation in the parish life of the Church was a measure of the dynamism that characterized the community. Without the active participation of the laity, the Church becomes dead and loses its luster, its power of attraction. The source of activity is primarily participation in Mass. and services, prayers, adoration. The desire for cyclic adoration in silence was expressed. Contemplation of the Eucharistic Jesus and openness to listening to His word results in activity in parish and social life. The model for such an attitude is to be love for one’s neighbor and the Church, following the example of Christ.
Greater involvement in the life of the Church at the parish level is seen as a way to make evangelization efforts devoid of routine, leading to a deepening of faith and sometimes even conversion. Evangelism courses and the ability to share the experience of faith, the need to form youth and adult groups were enumerated. Even the idea of establishing a Bible school at the diocesan level has been hinted at. They emphasized the role of adult catechesis, Bible circles and formation in terms of the formation of moderators and animators.
Discovering the talents of parishioners and inviting them to participate involves trusting them and giving them responsibility. Entrusting specific tasks of parish administration to lay people touches on the issue of changing the way parishes are managed. Sometimes this demand was combined with a reminder of the role of women and the need to involve them more actively in ministry.
Being active in the Church also means, as was pointed out in almost every study, the parish’s presence on social media and communication through modern media.
In many parishes, the prevailing belief is that the laity has too little influence on the functioning of the church structure closest to them, that too little depends on them, since everything is ultimately decided by the pastor anyway. The feeling of not being heard and being underestimated has a paralyzing effect and leads to withdrawal and refraining from speaking up, and breeds fear of prejudicial classification and shuffling. Overcoming these difficulties could open up the hidden potential of the parish.
The cyclical meetings of parishioners are a chance to learn about the personal desires of believers and to better understand the Church’s teaching on issues such as: Eucharist, sacraments, sexual ethics, moral and social teaching. It’s also an effective tool in dialogue with the world, especially those who are disconnected or non-believers.
For many, one of the most painful experiences is the absence of their relatives and friends from Sunday Mass. and in a broader sense – in the Church. Such attitudes cannot be judged unequivocally, which does not mean to give up evangelization efforts to get people to return to the Church. Many, looking at the empty pews in the temples, see especially clearly the absence of young people, but formulating a prescription to change this situation does not come easily. People point to the need to change the approach to the ways of forming the faith of the young, but also note the importance of catechesis for adults. In families, the faith of those who are missing from the life of the Church is formed. They emphasized the need to arouse the enthusiasm of faith by promoting spiritual authorities and leaders in the immediate environment.
Attention was paid to the need to offer counseling and organize support groups for families and individuals experiencing a crisis. For many, this is an effective way to realize the ideal of the imagination of mercy. A recurring issue in some of the syntheses was the issue of volunteering and reflection on what to do to effectively develop it. The charitable dimension of parish functioning is a practical test of understanding the principles of the Gospel, of putting it into practice in concrete terms.
Religious life of the Church
The prevailing belief is that the spirit of community cannot be experienced without participation in sacramental life and a strong bond with other members. Religious life was an object of synodal interest and reflection discussed in each synthesis.
Synodal reports are notable for their frequent emphasis on the need to care for the beauty of the liturgy with rules that should be clearly presented and enforced first by the celebrants. There can be no experimentation, novelty or voluntarism. This could lead to a misunderstanding of the liturgical action, contribute to distractions and obliterate the essence of the liturgy, which becomes a theatrical performance far removed from the realm of the sacred. Celebrants should not succumb to laziness, routine, lack of commitment or the temptation to “treat the celebration quantitatively rather than qualitatively.” The beauty of the liturgy lived in community helps to experience God, and is a source of communion with Him both in the life of faith and in everyday life. Not only the clergy, but also the lay faithful should be involved in the liturgical act – if only through the ministry of lector, the preparation of the invocations of the prayers of the faithful, or the altar service.
The reports sent highlighted a lack of awareness of liturgical signs and a lack of understanding of them. Very often there is a call for commentaries and, above all, liturgical catechesis – these should be directed not only to children and adolescents as part of school lessons, but should also be conducted for adults. The faithful expect priests to provide daily commentaries (short homilies) on the day’s readings. At the same time, the issue of adapting the language of preaching (“theological and ecclesiastical”) to the realities of modern times is emphasized on this occasion. It is often incomprehensible, hermetic, “unreal.”
The fundamental sacrament of Christian daily life for the faithful participating in the synodal journey is the Eucharist. In addition to the Mass. The practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is important. There are frequent requests to allow it in every parish at least once a week – the spiritual fruits of this religious practice were emphasized.
With a specific demand, participants in the synodal meetings addressed the manner of receiving Holy Communion. – On the hand and into the mouth. Proponents of the traditional form postulate its exclusivity. More often, however, there is a need to explain to the faithful the legitimacy and dignity of both attitudes.
A sacrament that found more than one reference in the synod’s reflections is the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. It was not particularly analyzed, but the need for formation of the faithful regarding preparation for confession was pointed out. At the same time, there have been specific demands for confessors, who should devote more time and patience to waiting on and listening to penitents. Confession must not be an interrogation of sins (interrogation), but an experience of God’s mercy and a motivation – through proper instruction and repentance – to continue working on personal sanctification.
The image of the priesthood in the religious life of the Church is important. They pointed out the need for authenticity in living out the faith in priests and being an uncompromising witness to Christ. At the same time, they should be distinguished by their pastoral concern for the faithful. A priest is an authority, a man who is open to the entire parish group, building community membership, uniting. Priests should listen, not be afraid of dialogue, and at the same time be able to accept words of instruction and criticism. The need to wear priestly garb was pointed out – “the priest, through his attire, is supposed to sting the eyes, as it were, to remind people of his existence, of his readiness for spiritual ministry, and to provoke an encounter.”
The life of the Church is inextricably linked to Scripture. The reading of the Bible both individually and communally, as well as its exegetical and pastoral translation, is a strong synodal demand. Many pointed out that the Sunday Eucharist is the only opportunity to “meet” with the Word of God during the entire week.
A standout suggestion from the synod groups is to point out the need for adult catechesis. Many church members ended their religious education at the school level and did not have the opportunity at later stages of life to continue and develop it. The desire for adult catechesis is underscored by the need to translate, among other things. truths of the faith, liturgical signs, translation of Scripture. In this context, it is also advocated that priests preach catechism sermons.
The Church, in order to grow and look with hope to the future, should focus its efforts on the pastoral care of children and young people. With trepidation and concern, participants in the synodal meetings point to a radical decline in the involvement of the younger generation in the life of the Church. The young themselves admit that for many of them participation in religious life is “solely the result of upbringing.” They criticize the attitudes of liturgical participants, pointing to a focus on self and judgment of others, more than on authentic religious experience. They make no secret of the fact that they are moving away from religious practice due to lack of time, a proliferation of school and extracurricular activities, work or preoccupation with planning for the future. They also doubt the validity of the sacrament of penance, asking: “why should I confess to someone who also sins?”. They expect authenticity from priests, and need them not as “friends” but as managers and spiritual fathers. The coordinator in charge of synthesizing the synodal youth meetings concluded: “We (us adults and us priests) need to listen to what the young people we asked answered our questions, because from the answers they gave, it seems that zeal for the Church often consumes them much more than it does us.”
The above words are hopeful, especially in the context of the lack of a clear answer to the question “How to attract young people to the Church?”. Suggestions that emerged included: identifying leaders among local youth, involving them in parish activities, promoting specific formation communities or, finally, organizing various projects in line with the interests of young people. It was pointed out that “in addition to undertaking various activities, it is also important to have parishioners pray persistently for the intentions of young people, and to have an attitude of love and witness to the good life of adults (…).” It was repeatedly stressed that the way to the conversion of young people is the proper formation of entire families – the joint catechesis and evangelization of parents and their children in preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation was advocated. Preparation for the sacraments should take place within the parish and resemble spiritual direction. It has been stressed more than once that, above all, the family has an influence on the religious practices of the younger generation. Masses with sermons addressed to children should be an important pastoral element – “… it is necessary to pay attention to the need for individual accompaniment on the part of the priest to young people and to re-enter into dialogue with them, even individually.”
Communities of the living Church play an important role in both the personal formation of the faithful. Emphasizing their role in working on themselves, they pointed out the danger of hermeticism: “sometimes there is the impression that (…) they are just a place for the well-being of their members. Quite closed to outsiders. What is needed is a moment of going outside to be on the road, not in one’s own circle.” However, it is important to point out the positive aspects, which are aptly put: “the community experience of faith strengthens us in our daily lives, points us in the direction of action, motivates us to holiness and inspires us to engage in building a civilization based on the Gospel.” Communities operating at parishes are at the same time a voice to which the Church should listen. They should undertake joint initiatives, such as organizing a parish community congress.
Synodality represents hope for the Church in many dimensions. It is a certain necessity these days. It is necessary to take care of its continuance while respecting fidelity to the teachings and traditions of the faith. This can lead to the revival of communities, rekindle the enthusiasm of faith and give new hope. Truly walking together is a gift that the Church has had since its inception, but this gift must be cared for and skillfully used as a tool for evangelization in the 21st century. The fruits of the synodal meetings are already visible in many places, further reinforcing the need to restore the Church’s synodal dimension.
According to most, following the path of synodality is both a gift and a challenge – a task through which the Church, learning about itself through its openness to the Holy Spirit, is able to understand its own experience and the processes guiding it. Its members will thus be able to grow in communion, participate fully and open themselves to the mission. The experience of synodality certainly brought a strengthened sense of belonging to the parish community, but it also provided an opportunity to identify with the universal Church. The experience turned into an opportunity for many to personally answer the question of their own vocation, their place in the Church.
The Synod was received by the parishes with much hope, less frequently with anxiety, and towards the end with increasing joy. The belief that similar initiatives could continue in the future provided the basis for greater involvement in the life of the parish. They spoke with satisfaction about a qualitative change in the Church. The fruits of the listening process so far can be the starting point for initiatives that continue the invigorating experience of further dialogue and encounter in parishes.
The most important novelty for everyone was learning together how to talk and discuss the Church, how to touch fundamental issues of faith, but also how to describe ordinary human experience. It’s learning together to listen to the Holy Spirit, to be open to His action in seemingly mundane situations. The prayerful dimension of this experience based on cooperation and mutual listening to each other was valuable. A positive effect of the synodal experience has been a renewed sense of community and communion and the discovery of the missionary nature of the local church, for which greater synodality is a challenge and a task, sometimes an opportunity for survival.
Participants in the synodal process are convinced that the enthusiasm of faith is a magnet that can effectively attract others – it helps them see the parish as an open and warm home where everyone is welcome. The Church is supposed to remind the first experience of faith that someone who meets God in the family.
The trust that the Holy Spirit accompanying this process will heal relationships and structures in parish communities seems to be expressed by all meeting participants. At the same time, there was no shortage of concerns and doubts about the pope’s direction for reforming the Church. In particular, this was reflected in critical comments on the progressivism trend present in some churches. It has been pointed out more than once that the Church goes too far in its openness, that it blurs its identity and thus ceases to be a clear sign to the world and a beacon for the strayed, the lost, the wounded.
The invitation to be open to the Holy Spirit is a path that begins with looking carefully, noticing other walking companions, listening to them and taking joint responsibility for the gift of the Church. Gratitude for the parish family, no matter how far short of perfect, is for many the first fruit of Pope Francis’ proposed bold sharing of dreams and visions of a merciful Church that heals wounds, inspires trust, and witnesses to Christ’s love.
Summaries of the synodal process in other dioceses
Dnia 24 października 2021 r. w Katedrze Legnickiej pw. Świętych Apostołów Piotra i Pawła Biskup Andrzej Siemieniewski uroczyście ogłosił rozpoczęcie etapu diecezjalnego XVI Zwyczajnego Zgromadzenia Synodu Biskupów, który w dniach 9-10 października br. został zwołany przez Papieża Franciszka w Rzymie. Hasłem przewodnim rozpoczętego procesu synodalnego jest wezwanie: Ku Kościołowi synodalnemu: komunia, uczestnictwo i misja.
Spotkania synodalne poszczególnych grup, odbywały się zasadniczo w trzech etapach: celebracja Słowa Bożego, praca w małych grupach – dzielenie się osobistym doświadczeniem życia Kościoła, zebranie doświadczeń i spostrzeżeń 1 w ramach całego zespołu synodalnego. Fundamentem każdego z tych etapów było słuchanie Słowa Bożego. Owoce wszystkich spotkań zostały zebrane i przekazane do sekretariatu synodu. Wraz z głosami indywidualnymi dały one odpowiedź na pytanie, jak „podążanie razem” realizuje się dzisiaj w naszym Kościele lokalnym i do podjęcia jakich kroków zaprasza nas Duch Święty, abyśmy wzrastali w naszym „podążaniu razem”?
Uroczyste otwarcie synodu miało miejsce 17 października 2021 roku w Bazylice Archikatedralnej w Gnieźnie. Mszy Świętej przewodniczył i homilię wygłosił abp Wojciech Polak, Metropolita Gnieźnieński, Prymas Polski. W inauguracji uczestniczyli przedstawiciele rad duszpasterskich z dekanatów archidiecezji. Po Mszy Świętej odbyło się w Prymasowskim
Wyższym Seminarium Duchownym w Gnieźnie pierwsze spotkanie synodalne. Jego celem było zapoznanie z ideą synodu oraz z poszczególnymi etapami jego przebiegu, w szczególności ze sposobem przeprowadzenia etapu diecezjalnego w Archidiecezji. Kolejnym spotkaniem synodalnym było posiedzenie Archidiecezjalnej Rady Duszpasterskiej Archidiecezji Gnieźnieńskiej. Odbyło się 22 października 2021 roku w Gnieźnie. Archidiecezjalna Rada Duszpasterska stanowiła diecezjalny zespół synodalny.