Pope Francis places great emphasis on synodality – the experience of a lived journey together as one Church. The Diocesan Synod (1999-2003) of Malta was an expression of this synodality. As a result of the synod, parish assemblies started being held.
Vatican Council II teaches that the Church is the People of God, where everyone enjoys equal dignity as children of God, and everyone is called to a full, visible and active participation in the life of the Church. Parish assemblies are a tangible experience of this teaching.
A parish assembly is not just an additional activity of the parish. Its objective is to bring together all the activity of the parish in such a way as to facilitate a shared vision and direction. It is an event that gives meaning to all the work carried out in the parish on a daily basis.
When built on good foundations and when they face the challenges of today, a parish assembly has the potential to develop meaningfully and provide guidance to the Christian communities in our parishes. The following are some positive aspects that already exist or that can develop in the years to come:
1. Communal discernment – It is essential that the assembly serve as a moment of communal discernment – that is, when the Spirit of God is clearly present and guides the life of the Church, and the parish is open to the signs of God. More effort must be made so that the Spirit is allowed to animate the assembly meetings, and subsequently all parish structures.
2. Unity in diversity – When the assembly is well organised, it serves as a unifying experience in the parish. The assembly should give a platform to each group and movement in the parish that in one way or another contributes to the life of the parish. The assembly should also provide space to all anyone not involved in parish groups but who would still like to contribute. Such an experience helps to understand the value of unity in diversity in the Church.
The assembly serves as the ideal occasion for those who are sincerely seeking information about what goes on in their parish
3. Co-responsibility – The assembly should be an occasion where everyone feels responsible for the direction the parish takes. It is a shared responsibility which is not just that of the parish priest, or the priests alone, or the councils or commissions that usually operate in the parish. The parish community is much more than that, and this can be made evident during the assembly.
4. Participation – The assembly provides space for active participation to all those who wish to speak or put forward their proposals related to pastoral work. In some assemblies participation is strong, both during plenary meetings and workshops. There is room for improvement in this respect, and more care must be given to this aspect at the planning stage of the parish assembly.
5. Planning – The assembly must give due attention to the planning of pastoral work in the parish. It is therefore essential that every parish prepares a plan that includes projects that follow the general objectives of the archdiocese. Greater conviction is needed on the significance of planning, as outlined by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter ‘At the beginning of the New Millennium’, where he exhorted “the pastors of the particular churches, with the help of all sectors of God’s People, to confidently plan the stages of the journey ahead…”. The assembly can help to strengthen this conviction and improve planning.
6. Evaluation – An evaluation should be conducted during the assembly to establish to what extent the parish plan is being implemented. The assembly can develop more useful tools for evaluation so that pastoral activities in the parish are continually renewed and thus reach those who have either drifted or detached themselves from the life of the community.
7. Information – We sometimes complain that people are not informed about what is happening in the Church. The assembly serves as the ideal occasion for those who are sincerely seeking information about what goes on in their parish. The more information is disseminated, the more the parish helps people cultivate a sense of belonging in their community.
8. Unity with the Archdiocese and with other parishes – Another important aspect of the assembly is to show that the parish is not a lone island among other islands nearby, but in unity with the archdiocese, it works collaboratively with other parishes, especially neighbouring parishes.
These are but a few of the elements that can be strengthened so that the parish assembly, which will be held in our 70 parishes over the coming weeks, can continue to flourish into a beautiful ecclesial experience of synodality.
Mgr Joseph Galea-Curmi is Auxiliary Bishop of Malta.
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