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Members of the faithful from all around the Diocese filled Queen of Angels Church in Riverside on Oct. 17 when Bishop Alberto Rojas celebrated an Opening Mass to mark the start of the local phase of the worldwide Synod on Synodality.

“We join Pope Francis and the whole church around the world to come together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to listen to each other, to accompany one another in our journeys of faith,” said Bishop Rojas.

“As children of God, we are all created in His own image and likeness, and so we all belong together as the Body of Jesus Christ, where everyone should be welcomed and be able to find a safe place we can call home,” added Bishop Rojas.

The Mass lasted over two hours and included readings and songs in several different languages. To further demonstrate the Diocese’s cultural diversity, members of various ethnic communities in traditional dress were part of the entrance procession.

The procession also included lay Catholics of all ages. Bishop Rojas noted that instead of the priests and bishops coming at the end of the procession as they normally do, they came in the middle to signify walking with the faithful.

With the Mass, the local phase of the Synod in our Diocese has officially begun. The local phase, which occurs at the diocesan and parish levels, was originally scheduled to last until April 2022. However, on Oct. 29, the Vatican granted an extension of the deadline of this first phase of the Synod. With the extension, the local phase of the Synod will last until Aug. 15, 2022.

During this time, bishops will begin a consultation process with the parishes within their dioceses, holding listening sessions and giving people an opportunity to submit feedback directly to the diocese.

In November, diocesan leaders will conduct trainings with parish ministers to prepare them to faciliate listening sessions in parishes designed to gather feedback from many Catholic consitituencies. The listening sessions will then commence at the beginning of Advent and last through early 2022.

A committee of diocesan and parish leaders has been named to guide the local process. The members are Father David Andel, J.C.L.; Father Benedict Nwachukwu, V.F.; retired diocesan archivist Peter Bradley; St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside parish leader Marcus Jones; Sister Maria Jennifer Nguyen, L.H.C.; Teresa Rocha from the Diocesan Office of Catechetical Ministry; Sister Marilu Covani, S.P.; Deacon Andrew Orozco; Berenice Villa from the Diocesan Ministry with Young Catholics; Father Manuel Cardoza; Vice Chancellor John Andrews; Deacon Antonio Mejico; lay minister Maria Christina Mendez; and Sonia Sanchez from the Ministry Formation Institute of the Diocese.

At the conclusion of the diocesan phase of the Synod, each diocese will send a report based on its findings to the Vatican. At that point, the Synod will enter a continental phase and then the universal church phase at the Vatican with the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.

Bishop Rojas released a pastoral letter on the Synod on Oct. 17 to further clarify its purpose.

“The word ‘Synod’ ... literally means ‘common road.’ So, we might think of this two-year process as time that our entire Church – laypeople, clergy, religious, youth, elderly and our many cultures – are walking together. We will talk, listen, pray and discern where God is calling us. It will be a time for us to dream together and to share our hopes for renewal in the Church.

“It will also call us to confront difficult questions about how power and decision-making take place, how wounds and divisions in our Church are being addressed, about what might be inhibiting the baptized from going out fully in mission. When painful truths are expressed, let us always keep in our minds and hearts to listen with compassion, trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in this shared journey and that it will lead us ultimately to where God intends us to go,” wrote Bishop Rojas in his letter.

To learn more about the Synod, go to synod.va. To read the Bishop’s pastoral letter on the Synod, click here.