February 2, 2004
Dear Friends in Christ:
With praise to Almighty God and thanksgiving for the abundant graces and blessings bestowed on us, his sons and daughters in Christ, I have decreed that the Diocese of Sacramento come together in a Diocesan Synod for prayer, dialogue, discernment and deliberations under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Synods are the highest and most sacred gathering of the Diocesan Church, and are relatively rare. This third Synod in the history of our Diocese is called to assemble October 11-13, 2004. The site chosen for this solemn assembly is St. Isidore’s parish, Yuba City. Our overarching theme is “Journeying Together in Christ—Caminando Juntos en Cristo.”
We are already in a period of preparation for this historic actualization of the people of God of the Diocese of Sacramento, in which representatives of clergy, religious and laity shall join with me, the Diocesan Bishop, in solemn consultation, in order to discern the path that the Lord is unfolding before us at the beginning of the third millennium of our life in Christ.
The Synod will be an occasion for us, as God’s pilgrim people of the Church of Sacramento, to reflect on the many graces which God has bestowed upon us from our beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century. It will also be an occasion to mark and celebrate our appreciation of the men and women, who, by God’s grace, have “matched our mountains” in faith and service. In the Synod, we will pray for the grace, insight, and strength to recognize and meet the opportunities for discipleship in an ever-changing world and to embrace the challenges of a Church always in need of renewal.
In accordance with the Code of Canon Law (canons 460-468) and the Holy See’s Instruction on Diocesan Synods (1997), a Preparatory Commission, whose membership embodies the diversity of our people, has undertaken much preparation for the synod. This has included the processing of suggestions for the themes for the Synod and for the naming of the delegates, including one man and one woman chosen by each parish in the diocese. Some at-large delegates will also be named. In all, approximately 350 delegates will gather in solemn assembly October 11-13, under the call and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We will address broad topics of concern to Catholics of the Diocese of Sacramento and develop pastoral goals and priorities that will guide the Diocese at least through the first decade of this new millennium.
Although we have been engaged in more immediate preparation for some time, the announcement of the Synod which I made on August 3, 2003, followed upon three years of reflection, prayer, self-study, and pastoral planning. The priests of the Diocese elaborated with me an overall pastoral planning process in 2001, following upon a survey, in the latter part of 2000, of their own sense of the vitality of the Diocese and its needs. In February 2002, a professional survey (CARA) was conducted throughout the Diocese in which nearly 65,000 of the faithful participated. In the fall of 2002 and early 2003, pastors, parish staffs and lay leaders gathered to review and analyze the data of the survey regarding their own parish, with a view to developing a parish pastoral plan of goals and priorities. In 2003, parish leaders also met with leaders of neighboring parishes to share the results of their work, and to identify areas of possible collaboration between parishes.
Throughout this process, we have taken seriously the words of Pope John Paul II: “With its universal and indispensable provisions, the program of the Gospel must continue to take root, as it has always done, in the life of the Church everywhere. It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified—goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for the necessary resources which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, #29 - January 6, 2001)
In addition to the CARA data and pastoral planning, last fall I invited the faithful to make suggestions for possible topics for the Synod. I received 900 suggestions. It is on the basis of these suggestions and of the results of the CARA survey that the Preparatory Commission has made its recommendations to me. They have kept in mind that any topic “discordant with the perennial doctrine of the Church” was to be excluded from discussion at the Synod (Holy See’s Instruction on Diocesan Synods).
In accordance with the recommendations of the Preparatory Commission, I, as Diocesan Bishop, have chosen two principal themes for the Synod—areas of concern where our faith is lived and fostered and about how the faith we have received is, in turn, passed on to those who succeed us in the Faith: 1) parish community life and 2) handing on the faith. Thus, the first principal theme for the Synod focuses on the parish community and living the call to holiness. The second principal theme for the Synod focuses on how the faith is handed on— to children, youth and adults. Each principal theme includes seven topics which we will be addressing during these remaining months of immediate preparation, as well as during the Synod itself. To help us go deeper, two pertinent questions that invite reflection have been assigned to each topic. The full schema, together with illuminating quotes from Sacred Scripture and Church authorities, is printed below.
As I have already explained, a Synod is the highest and most sacred gathering of the Diocesan Church. The word “synod” means, literally, an intentional coming together on the way. In ecclesiology, the concept of “synod” connotes a coming together in response to the call of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed through the Diocesan Bishop, into an harmonious communion of dialogue. Its purpose is to promote not only our common good as a diocesan family, but also the good of the individual parish communities, as well as the interests and well-being of the Church universal.
The Synod achieves this purpose through ample and liberal discussion leading to the preparation of pastoral initiatives, practical provisions and measured directives for a well-ordered apostolate.
It is of the very nature of “synod” that the Diocesan Bishop, as the one who presides at this assembly, in virtue of his primary pastoral role as the bond of our communion, engages himself actively and collaboratively in all the discussions, deliberations, and dispositions of the Synod so that in the Synod’s culmination he may endow its proposals with the full scope of his authority as the presiding pastor of the Diocese.
As we prepare more intensely for this third Diocesan Synod—the first in 75 years—may we take to heart Pope John Paul II’s exhortation: “Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The Son of God, who became incarnate two thousand years ago out of love for humanity, is at work even today: we need discerning eyes to see this and, above all, a generous heart to become the instruments of his work” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, # 58) May we truly have generous hearts and discerning eyes as we reflect on the two themes for the Synod and draw near to the Synod itself.
I entreat all the faithful of the Diocese to pray fervently for the success of the Diocesan Synod. We join with the co-patrons of our Diocese, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Patrick, in beseeching Almighty God to bless our preparation, to guide our deliberations and to prosper our efforts.
We entrust all this to the Father, through Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.
Given this 2nd day of February 2004, feast of the Presentation of the Lord, in Sacramento, California.
WILLIAM K. WEIGAND
Bishop of Sacramento