SASKATOON — A year-long Sobor focused on building vibrant parishes of “families evangelizing families” recently concluded in the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon.
A Sobor is a formal assembly of the faithful who make up the eparchy, explained Bishop Bryan Bayda, expressing his appreciation to all clergy and lay leaders, as well as volunteers, who contributed to the process.
“The Sobor provides a compass for the spiritual and charitable journey that lies ahead. It sets the general goals and now we need to set more specific steps to take on this journey,” he said. The eparchial Sobor document is now being circulated, officially taking effect on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 2014.
A Sobor in Action followup initiative is planned for 2015, to implement recommendations and find resources to make the eparchial blueprint a reality, the bishop added.
The 2014 eparchial Sobor included gatherings of clergy and laity in May and in October, as well as an eparchy-wide survey, and input from Ukrainian Catholic parishes across the province, who undertook planning sessions based on a pastoral letter from His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UCGC).
In his 2011 letter The Vibrant Parish — A Place to Encounter the Living Christ, the patriarch outlined six components of a vibrant parish: the Word of God; liturgy, holy mysteries and prayer; serving one’s neighbour; leadership; fostering and serving unity; and a missionary spirit.
In 2013, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) bishops from around the world were asked to hold a Sobor this year focused on the patriarch’s theme, in a process that also coincided with preparation and reflection surrounding the papal Synod on the Family in October, noted Bayda.
“The words of John Paul II were quite fresh in my mind. He said: ‘the future of humanity passes by way of the family,’ ” Bayda said. “The building block of society is family. As marriage goes, so goes the family; as the family goes, so goes society.”
The bishop added: “This is also true for parishes — the domestic church is the building block of the church — and so we took the theme of families evangelizing families.”
For Bayda, this theme also resonated with his personal reflection at the time of his episcopal ordination in 2008, with one portion of his coat of arms featuring an image of the star of Bethlehem to symbolize the Holy Family, again reflecting the importance of families evangelizing families. Bayda’s heritage as a Redemptorist also points to the importance of evangelizing together as a community, rather than simply as individuals, he said.
“To do parish missions, historically the Redemptorists would go out as a community to a parish and evangelize. It was their interaction together that spoke as powerfully as any homily,” said Bayda.
“Jesus chose to evangelize as a member of a family — he was born into a family, and used the context of a family, when he came to redeem the world. . . . We discover the Trinity in our family relationships. God is love, a Trinity of love. Marriage, families, parishes — these are living examples of the Trinity.”
During the Sobor gathering in May, participants heard powerful personal testimony from those encountering Christ, finding faith and conversion in the everyday struggles and challenges of family life, said the bishop.
Speakers gave witness to Christ in their lives in what proved to be a grace-filled moment, said Bayda. “Their witness was not instruction or teaching. Rather, in their sharing, we saw the reality of the new evangelization taking place right before our eyes. People shared how they encountered Christ in their struggles — and that resonated with others.”
For Bayda, it is clear that facilitating that kind of faith sharing will lead to more vibrant parishes, and greater missionary outreach by ordinary families evangelizing other families. “With that simple message — you are not alone — listeners experienced evangelization.”
Many of the goals listed in the Sobor document focus on ways to form families as evangelizing disciples, and to form and to facilitate opportunities to witness to one another, he noted. “We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather, it is about taking the Gospel message and going deeper with it. This is not a change of direction, but it is a deepening.”
Input from the Sobor echoed the wisdom of Pope Francis, he added. “It’s not about preserving ourselves, it’s about reaching out with compassion.”
It is often by recounting, remembering and rebuilding our encounter with Christ that we can be rejuvenated in our zeal, which will in turn renew parishes and the church, he said of the Sobor process.
In addition to finding ways to help the faithful share their faith, other recommendations, objectives and action items in the 50-page Sobor document include such areas as the formation and education of clergy and laity, a continuation of the Strong Catholic Families/Strong Catholic Youth program in the eparchy, ongoing support for the Ukrainian Catholic Religious Education Centre, greater use of technology and social media, renewing liturgical practices and sacramental preparation, the establishment of an eparchial social justice office, identifying resources for families in crisis, fostering effective leadership, ensuring Eastern Christian perspective is well-represented in catechetical and Catholic school materials, providing formation in the Theology of the Body, ensuring that parishes have resources and support in outreach to the marginalized, and proclaiming a vision of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as a vibrant and growing community that is welcoming to all, Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians.
In moving ahead, Bayda echoed the messages of our most recent popes: “Do not be afraid; seek the truth in a context of love, and there is joy in sharing the Gospel.”
He added, “I pray that this reflection will lead to personal conversion, communion and solidarity in our families, parishes, the eparchy and beyond.”