Hispanic parishioners excited after first diocesan Synod session with Bishop Brennan
RICHMOND HILL — When 40 members of the diocese’s Hispanic community split into small groups Tuesday night at the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church rectory to discuss their experiences and needs from the church, the conversations seemed to flow naturally.
That night’s discussions were part of the diocesan phase of the global Synod on Synodality that some likened to the Quinto Encuentro from a few years ago; a nationwide process to discern how the U.S. Catholic Church can better respond to Hispanic parishioners.
“We share with the community the concerns, and then we try to address it,” said Nelly Gutierrez, noting that she’s excited the synod process is open to more communities in the diocese.
Bishop Robert Brennan, who was there participating in what was his first event with the diocese’s Hispanic community, also acknowledged the parishioners’ prior experience with Quinto Encuentro, noting that “people dug right into it and knew what they were doing.”
The group discussions included: companionship, listening, co-responsibility in the mission of the church, and dialogue with other Christian denominations.
One thing Hilda Terrero highlighted during the small group discussions was the need for the community to feel more empowered.
“It’s almost the same goal that we had with the Quinto Encuentro, to know the need for our community, to feel more integrated, and also the way the church can better serve them in language, social, cultural, even emotional issues that our community has,” Terrero said.
Mayra Alvarez focused on the diocese’s youth. She explained how oftentimes parents send their children to catechesis on Saturday and then the parents go off to do something else, and as a result, the children and their families may not be fully capable of participating in the Mass.
Therefore, she said, it’s important for Bishop Brennan to “get this message across” that you and the children are the ones that are going to keep the faith alive in the diocese.
After about 45 minutes of small group discussions, five representatives — one from each group — stood up and presented their findings to Bishop Brennan.
Each of the groups recorded their feedback on paper and handed it in to Bishop Brennan at the end of the event. As more listening sessions take place across the diocese, the feedback from different listening sessions will be compiled.
Their feedback to Bishop Brennan included: the need for more communication, more religious education and faith formation for families, the need for a greater sense of belonging and evangelization.
After the listening session ended, Alvarez noted that Bishop Brennan’s participation gives her hope for the future.
“The hope that we have with a new bishop and how excited everybody is that we started this because we believe that with this we are going to be walking together and we’re going to be listening and getting out of our doubts together,” Alvarez said.
Leybi Lima recalled Bishop Brennan’s earlier statements that he wants to listen to the Hispanic community and learn. His presence on Tuesday validated that, she said, acknowledging that “we see that he wants to know us and he wants to hear us.”
Afterward, Bishop Brennan thanked the parishioners in Spanish and proclaimed his excitement to be with them going forward.
Bishop Brennan paraphrased his remarks to The Tablet: “I said, ‘I’m very proud of this community, I’m thrilled to be a part of it, and they’ve kind of taken me in and that makes me very happy.’ ”
At his side was Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Brooklyn Octavio Cisneros, the diocesan vicar for Hispanic concerns, who moments before delivered his own message in Spanish.
“I said, ‘Bishop, I feel very proud today because you are meeting your people,’ ” Bishop Cisneros said. “You heard them, they spoke to you, and they’re willing to work with you and to work in the diocese, building the kingdom of God.”
The entire evening was a preview of what the listening sessions between Bishop Brennan and different communities in the diocese will entail through the diocesan phase of the synod that runs until Aug. 15, 2022.
The diocesan phase leads into a national phase that will culminate with the Synod on Synodality called by Pope Francis in October 2023, where all of the world’s bishops will gather in one place to discuss the Church’s future.
This first phase was launched globally by Pope Francis on Oct. 10, and at the diocesan level by Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio a day before.