Seated in the front pew was a contingent of students who represented the youth of the Diocese.
Seated in the front pew was a contingent of students who represented the youth of the Diocese.
An historic day was observed Oct. 17 when faithful from throughout the Diocese of Trenton joined their Catholic brothers and sisters from around the world to commemorate the opening of the 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops on a local level. The day also commemorated the 140th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese. 

The milestone was marked with an afternoon Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., serving as principal celebrant and homilist.

Explaining that the word “synod” is of Greek origin meaning “common road or path,” the Bishop added, “They have been a regular part of our Church life throughout our history. They are not new to the Catholic Church.”

Photo Gallery: Opening Mass for 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops

The concelebrated Mass, which was livestreamed on diocesan media sites, was attended by more than 40 priests and about a dozen deacons. The congregation included religious sisters who teach in schools and minister in parishes and outreach organizations, diocesan Chancery staff and laity, some of whom will represent their parish during the Synod process. In the front pew was a showing of Catholic high school students, representing youth of the Diocese.

As he made his way down the center aisle during the Entrance Procession, Bishop O’Connell paused at one of the Cathedral’s side altars where he enthroned a Bible. After the homily, the Bishop led the congregation in the Renewal of Baptismal Promises and the congregation was blessed with holy water by concelebrating priests.

Following the reception of Holy Communion, Bishop O’Connell officially opened the Synod when he asked the newly named co-chairs of the synod’s diocesan phase – Mary Liz Ivins and Deacon Patrick Brannigan – to approach the sanctuary. With that, the Bishop read the decree opening the Synod and then handed them the decree letter. The Bishop then asked the assembly to pray the Synod Prayer that was printed on the prayer cards.

‘The Next Two Years’

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell recounted that on April 24 of this year, Pope Francis announced the 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops, which is a two-year period of reflection on the nature and goals of the Catholic Church in the third millennium. The Synod, the Bishop explained, will have three distinct yet connected phases: a diocesan phase, “which begins today;” a continental or national phase, and a phase for the universal Church.

Noting that the Synod’s theme is “On the Church’s Synodal Path: Communion, Participation, Mission,” Bishop O’Connell said its emphasis is not simply upon an event, but rather “upon a continuing ‘process’ that is called ‘synodality.’” In quoting the Holy Father, Bishop O’Connell said it’s the desire that all Catholics will be “walking the same road together, a journey that leads to ‘communion, participation and mission.”

Bishop O’Connell spoke of the “beautiful coincidence” it was that the Diocese could mark its 140th anniversary on the same day “when we join the Church’s dioceses throughout the world to embark upon our synodal ‘common path.’”

As the Diocese celebrates its history in New Jersey, Bishop O’Connell said the coincidence reminds him of the words by British writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis, “there are far, far better things ahead than we leave behind.”

“That does not mean we forget the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the people and event of the past, but, rather, that it does not end there,” he said. “We take hold of the present moment and look to the future as a Church, as the people of God, as a Diocese, as parishes as Catholics ‘journeying together.’”

Setting Priorities

Bishop O’Connell referred to the Sunday before, Oct. 10, when Pope Francis opened the worldwide Synod during a Mass. In his homily, the Pope asked faithful from throughout the world “to use this Synod as a time for ‘encounter,’ for opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit in prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, in hope and charity, ‘journeying together’ with one another.”

Continuing to quote the Pope’s homily, Bishop O’Connell said the Synod is “a time for ‘listening’ and not judging, for opening our hearts and minds to God and to one another  in the midst of the challenges we find in the world around us. For ‘discerning’ what the Holy Spirit is saying to us today.

“These are the synodal paths to ‘communion’ and unity in our faith together, to ‘participation’ and getting involved deeply in our faith together; to ‘mission’ and evangelizing, sharing the Gospel in love together,” said Bishop O’Connell.

To the faithful seated before him and those who were watching from home online, Bishop O’Connell encouraged all to see the diocesan Synod as a time to “rediscover your faith.

“Return to your faith. Listen to one another’s stories. Dry one another’s tears. Support one another’s faith in the truth. Listen to one another. Inspire one another’s hope. Love one another as Christ has loved you,” he said.

Mass participants reflected on all they had heard and experienced about the Synod.

Some like Jen Petro, wife of Deacon Sal Petro of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, said she was glad to be part of what Bishop O’Connell called “an historic day” and that her curiosity is piqued to learn more as the Synod process progresses.

The youth in the Diocese were also proud to be part of the historic event.

“I feel special because of how many people there are in our Diocese, we were chosen to be a part of it,” said Zach Adomski, 11, of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, New Egypt.

“I think it’s important to have youth representatives. We are very strong in our faith,” offered Kitty Vernon, a senior at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and member of the school’s campus ministry.

Her sister, a junior at Notre Dame added, “We are very honored to be here.”

Fellow Notre dame senior Nora Convoy shared her thoughts as well.

“I think it’s important that all people are represented and that the youth have a voice.  We are the next generation of the Church and it’s important to look at what happened in the past and look at what’s happening now so that we can look to the future.”