PROSPECT PARK — Bishop-designate Robert Brennan doesn’t view his arrival in the Diocese of Brooklyn in the midst of a time-sensitive global synod as a challenge, but rather as a “blessing,” because it’s an avenue to integrate himself into the diocese.
“[The synod] has a practical matter of doing what Pope Francis has asked us to do, but for me, it’s a chance to get to know people relatively quickly, and it is kind of quick, but I don’t want to be a stranger for too long,” said Bishop Brennan, currently shepherding the Diocese of Columbus. “I want to feel at home pretty quickly.”
His new home diocese will be in the thick of the first preparatory period of the Synod on Synodality when he is installed here on Nov. 30.
The diocesan synod phase requires every diocese in the world to hold listening sessions at the parish level to get feedback from both frequently-attending and non-active parishioners. Pope Francis opened this phase with a Mass on Oct. 10. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated an opening Mass in the Diocese of Brooklyn on Oct. 9.
This first phase begins a two-year process that includes national and continental phases before the global Synod on Synodality is convened by Pope Francis in October 2023.
The Diocese of Brooklyn has started listening sessions at the parish level, according to Father Joseph Gibino, vicar for evangelization and catechesis. Father Gibino is co-directing the synod along with Sister Maryann Seton Lopiccolo, S.C., the episcopal delegate for religious.
Father Gibino said that each parish will submit a report of the listening sessions. Representatives from each parish will then come together for deanery listening sessions, which is where Bishop Brennan will join the process. Deaneries are geographical groupings of parishes.
Bishop Brennan so far has approved 28 listening sessions, Father Gibino said, including one within each of the diocese’s 22 deaneries, plus the Spanish, Polish, and Haitian Creole language apostolates, the diocese’s apostolic movements, deacons, and men’s and women’s religious orders.
Bishop Brennan acknowledged that, synod or not, he would have used the deaneries to introduce himself around the diocese. The deaneries, he said, are a good way to connect with people from different parishes; plus, it allows him to meet with diocesan priests in small groups and celebrate Mass in different areas.
The synod, Bishop Brennan noted, is a good context for all of that to take place because it helps him understand what the “feel is, what’s going on, and what’s the need.”
He continued, “You want to get to know what matters, where are the needs, what the struggles are, how do we bring the good news of Christ to the people of Brooklyn and Queens today?” Learning about the parish conversations directly from the deanery representatives is “an efficient way of trying to listen to the larger voice of the people of God.”
After Bishop Brennan’s installation, he will have four synod-related meetings in December, according to Father Gibino. The first meeting is with the synod committee and the diocesan pastoral council. Following those, he will meet with the vicariate for Spanish ministries. Then, the series of deanery meetings begins, extending into the new year.
“He’s going to be a very busy man, but it’s going to be very exciting,” Father Gibino said.
The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops extended the deadline for bishops’ conferences to submit summaries of their diocesan consultations to Aug. 15, 2022, in an Oct. 29 statement. The summaries were originally due by April 2022, six months after Pope Francis opened the first synod phase on Oct. 10.
Father Gibino said the extension was crucial for the diocese with the arrival of Bishop Brennan taking place in the middle of the process. He said it will give Bishop Brennan more time “to get to those groups he hadn’t met with.”
In particular, he noted it will help them reach more immigrant communities that make up the diocese’s more than 25 international apostolates.
“Because we have so many international apostolates arranging those meetings just takes time. We need translators. We need facilitators,” Father Gibino said. “So, the extension is going to be really helpful and then it will give the committee a chance to go through all of the data thoroughly and come up with our 10-page report for the USCCB.”
Bishop Brennan said the extension has less of an effect on him directly because, extension or not, he was going to be “full speed ahead” in accomplishing the goals he has of getting to know the priests and praying with each deanery.