Two weeks ago, I announced that our next provincial chapter will be in July 2022. Last week, I presented the principal themes to be discussed at the chapter. This week, I would like to offer a few more reflections on the journey we make together as Salesians in Canada and the Eastern USA toward the provincial chapter. I feel we can see a close connection between the preparations for both our chapter and for the next Synod of Bishops on a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.
On Sunday, October 10, Pope Francis officially opened the synodal path, which will last two years. It is a path that all members of the Church are invited to journey through together. The Pope explains that the primary protagonist is the Holy Spirit, but all the faithful are involved. There are three phases: the diocesan listening phase, the continental phase, and, finally, the universal Church phase. He warns against clerical elitism, becoming too abstract and removed from reality, complacency, and resisting change. He emphasizes the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit in adoration and prayer and listening to one another, especially to the cries of the poor. The Pope comments that this synodal path is the way God has journeyed with his people and shared the life of humanity. Therefore, the Church is not creating a new style of acting, but it is sharing its own experience of God, who is close to His people, always listening to them and guiding them to discern the path to the fullness of life.
Providentially, the reflections of Pope Francis as he opens the synodal path help us prepare for the provincial chapter. We, too, are on a path of encountering, listening, and discerning. We are preparing for an “ecclesial moment,” not a business meeting. Our process will last 10 months, not two years. From the beginning, it is intended to be a journey that involves all the confreres, the young and their families, the members of the Salesian Family, and our colleagues. The Pope recognized that synods must be well- prepared for, especially at the local level with the participation of all. His words encourage us to take advantage of the community meetings, listening sessions, and moments of prayer and study to arrive at the provincial chapter full of faith and hope, recognizing that Jesus has been walking at our side and that we gather as the Body of Christ, ready to move forward under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Tobin wrote an essay on Pope Francis and synodality, which was adapted for Commonweal Magazine in June 2021. In the article, we read, “John XXIII famously said he called the council to open a window. We always associated this with letting in fresh air, but something else happens when you open a window: you can hear what people outside are saying.” This comment echoes the message of Pope Francis to the members of GC28: “I am sure that the youthful noise and the chattering of the oratories will be the best music, the most effective one for the working of the Spirit, who is going to rejuvenate the charismatic gift of your Founder. Do not close the windows to this background noise. Let it be your companion and let it keep you alert, perhaps uneasy, and courageous in your discernment; allow these voices and songs, in turn, to recall within you the faces of many other young people who, for various reasons, find themselves like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mark 6:34). This youthful shouting and this anxiety will keep you alert and awake against any type of self-imposed anesthesia and will help you to remain faithful in a creative way to your Salesian identity.” Paying attention to these encouraging yet challenging words of the Pope, I ask the overall theme of our provincial chapter be the same as the message of the Pope: “Revive the gift you have received.”
This Sunday, the synodal path opens at the diocesan level. I know Salesians have been invited by some dioceses to be present at the opening ceremony. We journey with the Church on this synodal path, discerning how the Salesian charism can be renewed in all our Salesian presences throughout the province.
I will be in Turin for the ongoing formation of provincials from Sunday, October 17 through Friday, October 29. Part of this program will be individual meetings with the Rector Major and the Vicar of the Rector Major. In my absence, Fr. Dominic Tran will be responsible for the ordinary governance of the province. If you have any particular prayer intentions, please let me know. I will bring them to the altars of Mary Help of Christians, St. Joseph, and our Salesian Saints in the Basilica in Valdocco.
Fr. Tim Zak