The meeting marked the conclusion of the first stage of the Synodal Pathway process within the Diocese of East Anglia, and was held at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich, led by Bishop Alan and the Diocesan Synodal core team.
During the day, Deacon Huw Williams and Angela Wilson, of the Diocesan Synodal core team, presented a synthesis of the responses which have been received from around the diocese. In all, 1031 responses to a series of questions came in online. This represents approximately 11% of those attending Mass within the Diocese of East Anglia.
In addition, 24 parishes (46% of parishes), submitted “whole parish” summaries following parish meetings. Further reports were received from Caritas East Anglia and other groups such as Justice and Peace Cambridge, and a number of hard-copy individual responses were submitted by post.
Deacon Huw said that he was pleased with the rate of response, which is around what would be expected from this type of survey. He was particularly grateful to people who had helped others who did not have internet access, as not being online had emerged as one factor preventing a greater response.
Angela Wilson said that she had read every response twice before identifying themes. She had prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit and then summarised the key points. “Many are feeling isolated after the pandemic,” she said, “and many are asking for guidance from the Church.”
One important theme she highlighted was the desire among many Catholics to work more closely with Christians from other denominations. Also, opportunities were needed outside Mass for newcomers and explorers to learn about the Church. She finished with a quotation from St Catherine of Sienna: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the Way.’”
Following the presentation of the synthesis, there were discussions in deanery groups, and then the groups gathered again for a Mass in the Cathedral celebrated by Bishop Alan.
After lunch Bishop Alan spoke to delegates about the process so far and the way forward.
He said: “I want to stress that this is a dynamism of mutual listening carried out at all levels of the Church, involving all the people of God. It is not about gathering opinions -this is not a survey but about listening to the Holy Spirit. We are there to speak and to listen, not to lobby or vote. It was a brave step to take, given the diversity of the Catholic world, with its different cultures, but single faith.
“In the parishes of the diocese, individuals and groups have participated in discussion and in online responses to the most all-encompassing invitation issued to the Church, certainly in our lifetime, and probably never before in the history of the Church.
“I know that while a few were hesitant or even sceptical of the process, those who did participate, did so with enthusiasm and hope, truly trusting that Pope Francis really does want a real no-holds-barred snapshot of the twenty-first century Catholic Church.
“The process in our parishes has taken place as we have emerged from a lockdown, which has had its own impact on the life of our church. But from grass-roots to the global picture, we pray earnestly that what we have been involved in will truly have contributed to the present and future life of the Body of Christ – always the same, but always needing to reflect on its life and mission.”
“On the face of it, people might be tempted to think ‘we’ve done our bit so all we can do now is wait and see what happens.’ I want to suggest that is the last thing we should be contemplating. It is quite clear that in many of our parishes there has been a wonderful opportunity, particularly where there has been discussion and feedback to the parish, for continuing reflection, not only on our individual life of faith, but on the spiritual life and growth of the communities to which we belong.
“We don’t have to wait for documentation from Rome, to be putting into practice some of the outcomes of our deliberations.”
“As always, whenever we feel that things could be better, we have the option of leaving others to get on with the task in hand or be part of the process ourselves.”
“Everybody had hopes and dreams and some have fears and anxieties. Unless and until we learn to talk to and listen to one another, those will remain. Above all the process to date, and for the future, is about respect for one another and trust in God’s loving providence,” concluded Bishop Alan.
The day concluded with Adoration and Benediction.
Pictured above are Synodal Pathway delegates with Bishop Alan at St John’s Cathedral.