Synod asks pastors to share stories, see how God is at work

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
Wednesday, May 1, 2024

VATICAN CITY — By sharing their own stories and those of their parishes, pastors from around the world can help each other see where God is present and, perhaps, discover new paths the Lord wants Catholics to embark on to share the Gospel with the world, said Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

“Our stories are human stories, but human stories in which God, Jesus, is present,” the cardinal told more than 200 parish priests gathered at Sacrofano outside of Rome April 29 at the beginning of a four-day meeting to share their experiences and contribute to the ongoing synod on synodality. The synod was scheduled to livestream the opening presentations each day.

Participants were chosen by their bishops’ conferences or Eastern Catholic synods to represent parish priests working in different environments and with different levels of experience. In fact, the meeting began with Cardinal Grech congratulating a priest from Cameroon celebrating the 24th anniversary of his priestly ordination that day.

“Often it is hard to understand the way in which our stories could be the stories of God. Even I find it difficult for myself,” the cardinal told them. “Our parishes are probably far from being the best parish that one could wish for. Our stories are anything but perfect. No wonder we find it difficult to understand, to discern, how our stories are God’s.”

But, he said, when shared in an atmosphere of prayer, people can help each other see God’s presence and notice specifically “how Jesus is working today in you, in your parishes, in your dioceses.”

Father Tomáš Halík, a well-known Czech theologian, encouraged the priests to be “humble” and realistic about seeing God’s presence in their frustrations and failures as well.

“When Jesus first met his future apostles, they were tired and frustrated fishermen who had been fishing all night, but their nets were empty. Jesus told them, ‘Try again. Go to the deep and let down your nets to fish,’” he said. “Perhaps Jesus is saying the same thing to us today: Don’t despair, don’t give up, try again.”

But, Halík said, “to try again is not to repeat past methods and old mistakes. Trying again often means trying in a new and fresh way.”

For instance, he said, “for more than 100 years, regular prayers, novenas, fasts, eucharistic adoration and pilgrimages have been held in our part of the world to beg for new priestly and religious vocations. However, the number of vocations continues to decline.”

“Does this mean that God does not hear our petitions?” he asked, or could it mean “that we do not hear his answer to them?”

Halík asked the priests to consider if God is responding to the conventional way of understanding priestly ministry and selecting candidates for the priesthood by saying it “no longer resonates with what I expect for the future. Please do not knock on the door I have closed for you. Instead, boldly and creatively seek the ones I want to open for you.”

Often, the theologian said, having faith means having the courage to embrace a mystery.

“God comes to us as future, as a new, unknown and surprising future,” he said. “The living, real Christ overcomes all of our closed-mindedness, all locked doors of our souls. He gives us his Spirit to lead us in new ways.”

Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy, welcomed the participants, telling them that a synodal style of being a parish or a universal church “does not take anything away from the specific service we are called to carry out as pastors, but it adds something and improves it. I am convinced this is the great gift that the Holy Spirit has put in our hands today.”



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