Cardinal Wuerl preaches the homily during the May 19 Opening Mass of the Archdiocesan Synod. The Mass was celebrated on Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. (CS photo by Rafael Crisostomo)
Cardinal Wuerl preaches the homily during the May 19 Opening Mass of the Archdiocesan Synod. The Mass was celebrated on Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. (CS photo by Rafael Crisostomo)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington celebrated Mass on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and issued a decree initiating the formal beginning of the preparatory phase of the Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington. The Cardinal also announced his intention to convoke the final session of the archdiocesan Synod on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014, the 75th anniversary year for the Archdiocese of Washington.

"Our Archdiocesan Synod gives the Christian faithful - all of us - an opportunity to participate in the work of our local Church as we examine its mission in manifesting the kingdom of God here in our community. All of us are invited to reflect on how the Archdiocese of Washington can be the best local Church that the Church calls us to be," said the cardinal in his homily. "The Church's celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a fitting time for us to initiate this stage in our work. It is the faith of the Church that our very identity as followers of Christ, as Christians, comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit."

"The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit was on the Apostles [Pentecost] in a way that empowered them to begin their mission," the Cardinal said. "...The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles but that same Spirit continues to enliven the Church and be present today - as we await the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory. The ongoing continuous visible presence of Jesus in the world today continues in his Church - in the sacraments and word."

"This brings us to reflect today on our local, diocesan Church. This archdiocese, as is every diocese, is described as the faithful gathered with their pastors around the chief pastor of the diocese. This takes place in smaller faith communities, primarily our parishes where the faithful gather for worship, the Eucharist, instruction in the Word, education and acts of love, charity and service. Thus it is so appropriate that today as we embark on this process of self-examination and renewal that is the synod, we gather in a formal manner to ask the prayers of everyone in the Church for the success of this endeavor and assign specific tasks to those who we are asking to work closely with me as we reflect on how well are we being the Church that the Church asks us to be," said the cardinal.

In a letter to the faithful on the archdiocesan Synod, the Cardinal said the 75th anniversary of the archdiocese provides "...an opportunity to rejoice in the past accomplishments of the Church of Washington and also to plan for the future. Looking forward challenges us to embrace the New Evangelization which is the call to deepen our knowledge of our faith so that we are more confident in its truth in order that we can share the Good News with those who have not heard or have forgotten it."

A local Synod is defined as "a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular Church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community."

The official participants for the archdiocesan Synod attended the Pentecost Mass and included archdiocesan officials such as the auxiliary bishops, priests, religious sisters and brothers who serve in the archdiocese, and lay members from all 14 deaneries (geographic jurisdictions) throughout the Archdiocese of Washington's five Maryland counties and the District of Columbia. These individuals, who will be directly involved in the undertaking of this archdiocesan Synod will follow the directives set in the Code of Canon Law (laws and legal principles of the Catholic Church) and the Holy See's Instruction on Diocesan Synods. At Mass, today, these Synod delegates made an extended profession of faith and following the Mass, they received their commission and letter of appointment.

All of the faithful throughout the archdiocese were invited to participate in listening sessions at parishes and through online communications in order to take a look at the life of the archdiocesan Church, to evaluate areas where ministry is successful and where there may be need for more attention. The frame of reference for the reflections and discussions within the archdiocesan Synod include the five areas of Church life, referred to as the "Indicators of Vitality." These areas are: Worship, Education, Community, Service and Administration/Stewardship. The official participants of this archdiocesan Synod will now begin the task of evaluating and reflecting upon what has been heard in parish and online listening sessions and prepare the conclusions of the Synod. This Synod would also be the setting in which existing policies in the Archdiocese of Washington would be reviewed and, if necessary, updated. The final moment of the Synod will be the gathering on Pentecost 2014 when the priorities of the archdiocesan Church and any declarations and statutes will be promulgated.

The context for the archdiocesan Synod is the call to the New Evangelization unfolding throughout the Universal Church. In October of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the topic of the New Evangelization in a month-long meeting of bishops in Rome, the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, for which Cardinal Wuerl was the relator general.

The Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington is taking place within the Year of Faith, which invites the faithful to reflect more profoundly on the Catholic faith and the attempt to live it more fully. During the Year of Faith, many archdiocesan efforts will continue to reach those who may have been away from the practice of the faith. Initiatives such as Find the Perfect Gift, The Light Is On for You and Living Catholic have engaged people in new ways.

With the election of Pope Francis, the Year of Faith continues and the call to know and live the faith is just as great. The new pontiff has shown us the model for the New Evangelization in both his words and actions, said the cardinal.

"May this formal act of the Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington and the commissioning of the participants be a moment of grace and a time when we renew our faith and our commitment to respond with open hearts to the Holy Spirit's inspiration and motivation," said Cardinal Wuerl.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics in Washington, DC, and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's.