By Colleen Rowan

The past year has been a humbling experience for Jim Copolo. From being chosen by his fellow Catholics to serve on the Beckley Vicariate Council to his election to the Diocesan Pastoral Council, he has now been named a leader of synod listening sessions for his local faith communities of McDowell and Wyoming counties. This proud member of Sacred Heart Mission in Powhatan knows the gravity of the latest role he has taken on and that the World Synod is paramount to the life of the church and its future. He along with Bishop Mark E. Brennan and other synod leaders want all voices to be heard in the process. “It is important that we all participate in our own way whether it be a small mission church as my own to the larger parishes and cathedrals of the Universal Church,” Copolo said. “It is important that we journey together in the individual listening sessions while we invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Copolo and the many others designated as parish coordinators to lead listening sessions have or will undergo training to facilitate the discussions to ensure that all voices are heard. In order for this to happen, Copolo said the faithful must be careful not to make the listening sessions about their own personal gripe of topics they are unhappy with in the church. Instead, he said, focus on the synodality of the synod. “May our synod on synodality in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston be marked by our discernment of listening and reflection as we seek the appearance of the Holy Spirit,” he said. Copolo was one of six members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council invited to participate in the opening Mass of the synod in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston celebrated by Bishop Brennan Oct. 17 at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston. Each council member came forward and placed a candle before an image of Mary, Mother of the Church, as a symbolic gesture calling upon her for guidance and strength. The other members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council who participated in the Mass were Gina Boggess 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. As the synod progresses, Copolo said is important to keep Pope Francis’ emphasis on “communion, participation, and mission” at the forefront. Bishop Brennan emphasized these three elements in his homily for the Mass opening the synod here in West Virginia. 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 said 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 the 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 took the questions for the process and helped 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.” Listening sessions will be held in parishes across the state. Dates, times, and locations will be announced on the diocese’s website at dwc.org and in The Catholic Spirit.

Martina Hart Photo Diocesan Pastoral Council member Jim Copolo places a candle before the image of Mary, Mother of the Church, at the Mass opening the World Synod in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Oct. 17 at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston.