PROVIDENCE — The diocese has completed a recent questionnaire called for by Pope Francis during the Ordinary Council of the Synod at the Vatican, calling it an opportunity for the faithful to acknowledge any concerns they may have, while offering pastoral workers a roadmap for what needs to be done to help people strengthen their faith in an increasingly secular world.
“Among the general trends I noticed was a concern that families have lost the sense of belonging to a faith community, that a spirituality unique to the family is absent from too many families, and that not enough families are familiar with the Church’s prayers, customs and traditions that should permeate family life,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who coordinated the implementation of the document along with Lisa M. Gulino, director of the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation.
“The fact that being a husband or wife, or a parent is a vocation that needs to be communicated better, since a vocation is God’s plan for us in this life; it is the road upon which He has invited us to travel, a journey not without difficulties and temptations but nevertheless a journey that can only be made in faith and obedience to the will of a loving God,” Bishop Evans said in an e-mail interview with Rhode Island Catholic.
In a letter to pastors introducing the consultation last November, Bishop Robert C. Evans explained that the purpose of this effort was not to conduct a survey or poll, but rather to receive responses to a series of questions regarding pastoral challenges to the family so that Synod Fathers may address these in the light of the church’s teaching.
Because the invitation was extended to consult on matters related to the pastoral challenges to the family, Bishop Evans explained that it was helpful to hear from committed Catholics who practice the faith so that “their wisdom and insights can be forwarded to the Synod Fathers who will discuss these issues as a body.”
“The aim of the consultation was not to take a vote on what the Church’s teachings should be, and it is not an exercise in doctrine by democracy, but a genuine attempt to identify those teachings that are not properly understood or those moral imperatives unique to family life that some find particularly challenging,” Bishop Evans said.
According to Gulino, the diocese had about 55 people participate in the consultation process. Additionally, she spoke with couples, single parents, and catechetical leaders. Topics on family catechesis and evangelization were also discussed with regularity at consultative boards and deanery meetings. The replies from the Diocese of Providence have been collected and collated by Gulino and forwarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for transmittal to the Synod Office in Rome.
“People gave generously of their time in reading the rather lengthy and technical document and answering as many of the questions they felt they had the information and knowledge to answer,” Gulino explained. “The consultation process reflected the makeup of faithful Catholics in the Diocese of Providence.”
What was interesting about what emerged from the Synod consultation, she said, was that, in many ways, pastors and catechetical leaders were already discussing and seeking new and creative ways to support parents in their role as primary educators in the Catholic faith.
Gulino explained that the most difficult challenge in terms of family and evangelization on the local level is very similar to other dioceses throughout the United States.
“Parishes within this local church of Providence experience the disappearance of families from parish life, namely Sunday Mass, often returning to the parish community only briefly to have the children receive the sacraments. We have, like other local churches nationally and internationally, experienced the steep decline of sacramental marriage.”
Additionally, she noted that there is a rapidly emerging trend in the sharp decline in the celebration of the Rite of Christian Burial, which can be remedied by continued education of the faithful.
Gulino feels that the Synod has a powerful opportunity to acknowledge these concerns, to teach pastoral workers how to journey alongside families and help carry their burdens.
“Our greatest hope from the Synod is pastoral guidance on the challenges posed by our contemporary society,” she said.
During the October Synod in Rome, members of the council drafted a Preparatory Document for the 2014 synod, whose theme will be “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The questionnaire was distributed to diocese throughout the U.S.
Each diocese was asked to share it immediately and as widely as possible with deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources could be received regarding the themes and responses to the questionnaire as well as any helpful statistics.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin received the document in early November and, following the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, the consultation process began. Responses were due back for transmittal to the U.S.C.C.B. by December 31.
The Council of the Secretariat will meet during the month of February to analyze the responses in order to draft the Instrumentum Laboris, which will later include further input for the celebration of the Synod. Since there was a narrow window for the period of consultation, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, encouraged that answers to the consultation be thoughtful, but brief.