Bishop Brennan Opens World Synod in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston

By Colleen Rowan

“In union with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the church throughout the world I now declare this World Synod in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to be open,” Bishop Mark E. Brennan said at the end of the Mass he celebrated at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston Oct. 17. The theme of the synod, chosen by Pope Francis, is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The synod solemnly opened with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 10, and then the bishop of every diocese celebrated the opening of the process in his diocese with Mass on Oct. 17. At the beginning of the celebration of Mass in Charleston, Bishop Brennan said that Pope Francis has asked the Catholic faithful to have a period of time to discern the needs of the church and their experience of being members of God’s family. “A process called synodality,” the bishop said. “This is the Sunday when all the dioceses in the world are taking part in this process of reflecting on our experience of being part of God’s family, of being part of God’s church under the light of the Holy Spirit, and then moving forward into the mission of the church which is to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.” Concelebrating the Mass were Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs, Assoc. V.F., rector of the basilica, and Msgr. Sam Sacus, priest in residence at the basilica. In his homily, Bishop Brennan said Jesus wants his leaders to commit themselves as servant leaders and work toget- her, noting Matthew 20: 26-27, “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Pope Francis, the bishop said, understands the notion of putting aside selfish ambition. “He understands that our way of being in the church is not to promote ourselves. It’s rather to work for the common good and to do so enlightened by the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Brennan said. “Our unity is based on our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the sacrament of baptism which joins us, for the first time, to the Lord Jesus in his death and resurrection and all the good that comes to us from that and the mission that we received in our baptism to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of the world and the Savior of all people.” The bishop emphasized that the term synodality is used by Pope Francis to describe this way of being as church. The word synod, the bishop said, really means an assembly, a gathering. In the ancient church, dioceses in regions and sometimes the whole church would gather to talk about issues that had arisen, and they were called synods. The most recent great synod, the bishop noted, was the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “The pope is saying we need to recognize that this is our mode of being as church,” Bishop Brennan said, pointing to three distinct elements that are related to one another in this process of synodality which the pope talks about. They are: Communion with God—seeking from the Lord Jesus, through the Holy Spirit poured out upon us, the will of God; seeking the guidance of God in considering the needs of the church. “So that means we pray,” the bishop said. “We invoke the Holy Spirit, we ask God to guide us.” It also means listening to others and engaging in discussions respectfully, he said. The second element is participation. “We try to involve everyone as much as possible in this gathering, in this discussion. Especially the people we might leave on the sidelines,” the bishop said. “How about our youth groups? What is their experience of church? Or the young people at our colleges?” The bishop also included clients of Catholic Charities and people of other Christian churches as well. For the third element, Bishop Brennan said, all of this is geared toward helping Catholics to grasp more firmly the mission as followers of Jesus Christ. “We are not a Catholic club,” the bishop said. “We are a movement going through history proclaiming the carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus, as the one designated by the father to be the Savior of the world—to save you from sin and from death, the twin enemies we cannot overcome on our own. So, that’s our mission. Proclaim him as the Lord and Savior of all people. To bring them to the Lord, and to bring the Lord to them.” In the synod process, Catholics of the diocese will strive to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit through their conversations with one another, the bishop said, committing to engage in the mission of bringing the gospel of Christ to others. This requires a change of mindset, he said, as Catholics in this country have become reticent in speaking about the faith to others. “We’ve got to get over that attitude,” Bishop Brennan said. “We are meant to share our faith with others. This is what Jesus wants us all to do.” The faithful, he said, must figure out how to reach Catholics who have fallen away from the faith; to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of West Virginians not affiliated with any religion. “With guidance from the Holy Spirit we will figure that out,” the bishop said. “Our diocesan phase for the preparation of the great Synod of Bishops, which will be the fall of 2023, begins today,” Bishop Brennan said. In almost every parish of the diocese, he said, facilitators have been designated and will be trained for the synodality process. “So, that they can guide discussions in their parishes so that no one dominates but that everyone’s voice is heard,” the bishop said. The diocese’s Synod Committee will take the questions for the process and help prepare them. However, the bishop said, it basically comes down to “What is your experience of the church like? What’s going on in your life as a member of this church?” Once input from different groups at the diocesan level is compiled, a report will be sent to the bishops’ conference in Washington. The bishops’ conference then puts together its report to be sent to Rome to the commission that is preparing for the Synod of Bishops. What Pope Francis wants, Bishop Brennan said, is a ground up approach, starting with the people and their experience of being Catholic. “We want as much input from our people as possible,” Bishop Brennan said. There is a suffering involved in the synodal process, he said, stressing that it is not about scoring points or showing off debating skills. Rather, the bishop said, it is about listening closely to what others are saying and trying to understand before one speaks. He encouraged all to speak respectively to others and realize that one’s idea may be not be where the spirit is leading the people to. It is a suffering that bears fruit, he said. “We embark on this diocesan synod process with the hope that it will help us to be a better church,” Bishop Brennan said, “more faithful to the Lord, more fruitful in good works, more committed to sharing our faith with others.” Following the bishop’s homily, diocesan Chancellor Chad Carter came to the front of the church for a moment of prayer to Our Lady. “We now call upon the Mother of our Savior and the Mother of the Church, ‘Mater Ecclesia’ in Latin, to invoke her intercession upon our endeavors,” Carter said. He continued by introducing Diocesan Pastoral Council members, noting the important role in which they serve. “These men and women from various regions across the state of West Virginia assist Bishop Brennan as he shepherds the diocese allowing the voice of the faithful to be heard,” Carter said. “This fits well with the theme of the synod that Pope Francis has called us to begin —a synod on synodality. In other words, listening to each other and journeying together as the people of God.” Members of the council then came forward with lighted candles and placed them before an image of Mary, Mother of the Church, as a symbolic gesture calling upon her for guidance and strength. The members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council who participated in the Mass are Gina Boggess and Jim Copolo of the Beckley Vicariate, Susan Bossie-Maddox of the Charleston Vicariate, Kim Endres of the Charleston Vicariate, Linda Nedeff of the Parkersburg Vicariate, Denis Wilson of the Wheeling Vicariate, and Delegate for Consecrated Life Sister Martha Gomez. Charleston Vicariate Council and basilica co-cathedral representative Kimberly Eagle also participated. During the Mass, those gathered at the basilica co-cathedral prayed that the synodal process may lead all ever deeper into the communion of the church, foster participation in it, and equip all to go out on mission. They prayed that the journey in the coming months will be based on listening together to the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist in the communion of the people of God. The Mass was livestreamed on the diocese’s website at and Facebook Page and is still available for viewing. Consultation and listening sessions will be held in parishes across the state as the synod progresses.

Martina Hart Photo

Bishop Mark E. Brennan processes into the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston for Mass to open the World Synod in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Oct. 17. With him are Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs, Assoc. V.F., rector of the basilica (right), and Msgr. Sam Sacus, priest in residence at the basilica (left).