By: Martina McLean 

To be in communion with those participating in the synod in Rome, Oct. 4-29, 2023, the Office for English Pastoral Services (O.E.P.S.) led a community synod weekend at St. Monica Parish, N.D.G., on Friday evening, Oct. 20, 2023, and the following morning, Oct. 21. The purpose of the gathering was to provide a community opportunity, rooted in prayer, to listen to the Holy Spirit and to one another with a view to discerning what is being asked of us at this time, both as individuals and as communities in our local Church here in Montreal. This was the second synodal event this pastoral year. The first, entitled Together – Gathering of the People of God took place last Sept. 30, when the O.E.P.S. joined with the diocesan Office for Social Action and the Centre étudiant Dominicum (CéDum), formerly le Centre étudiant Benoît-Lacroix, in solidarity with the ecumenical prayer vigil that took place in Rome in the presence of Pope Francis and representatives of different Churches, to unite us in praise and silence, in listening to the Word. 

Some 40 people representing 10 parishes (Jesus Light of the World, St. Luke, St. Thomas à Becket, St. Richard, St. John Brébeuf, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ascension of our Lord, St. John Paul II, St. Augustine of Canterbury and our host, St. Monica) as well as other religious organizations gathered on Friday night to view together the film ‘Of Gods and Men’, released in 2010, which relates the story of a group of Trappist monks from the Abbey of Our Lady of Atlas, in Tibhirine, close to Médéa, in Algeria who, in 1996, during the Algerian Civil War, while serving an impoverished Algerian community, were forced to decide whether to leave or stay.  

After the film, participants broke into small groups to share around three questions related to how the three priorities of a synodal Church - communion, participation and mission - are portrayed in the film, specifically as they relate to: (1) how the monks journeyed in solidarity with the local community and other key people, (2) how they made their ultimate decision and sacrifice to stay, and (3) the influence of structures, governance and authority on those decisions.  

Popcorn, soft drinks, and water were available throughout the evening. Participation was high and the sharing was rich. The session ended with evening prayer and the Adsumus, an invocation to the Holy Spirit. 

The questions on Friday evening paved the way for a deeper dive during the Saturday morning session which focused on three questions from the worksheets in the Instrumentum Laboris, the working tool for delegates participating in the second phase of the synodal journey taking place in Rome in Oct. 2023. Before engaging in small groups, the group of 20 participants who continued the synodal journey, was led in prayer by O.E.P.S director, Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V., who also introduced the morning’s session and objectives. 

Then, the delegates, joined again by the O.E.P.S. team, formed small groups of six people enabling everyone’s voice to be heard and a facilitator ensured that people had time to listen to the others in their small group and for the Holy Spirit. After each session dealing with one question, participants noted key messages that emerged and posted them on posters. The O.E.P.S. team has collected all the comments by question and will compile a short document of what emerged, i.e. what the participants felt was asked of them and what they needed to bring back to their communities. 

Before the final prayer and blessing, there was spontaneous appreciation expressed for the experience and formation in the art of spiritual conversation, synodality and the modelling of co-responsibility in mission. Participants were encouraged to invite new people to the continuation of our synodal journey with an online evening series based on The Chosen, starting on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, and continuing for three more Fridays until Dec. 8. 

The O.E.P.S. would like to thank St. Monica Parish for hosting the event and the team for the warm welcome and beautiful set-up of the two spaces for prayer and conversation. Thank you also to Gianluca, a volunteer from Loyola High School and Alana who also helped in a variety of ways during the weekend. We especially appreciated hearing the voices of these young people.