BIS #6604 Naigaon MHOC Parish Pre-Synod Consultation
by Father Joaquim Fernandes for BISMumbai
India - The Parish Pre- Synod Consultation of Mary Help of Christians, Parish run by the Salesians of Don Bosco at Naigaon, East, Diocese of Vasai, Maharashtra, India was held on 13 March, 2022. Nearly 100 delegates from the parish participated in the Synodal Consultation and discussed the theme “For a Synodal Church - Communion, Participation and Mission”. Five Salesian priests from the parish, various delegates, school teachers and other parishioners attended the gathering from 10.30am to 1.00pm at the Don Bosco School Hall, Naigaon( E).
Naigaon is in the vicinity of the Vasai-Virar green belt of the city of Mumbai in Maharashtra, and is an intrinsic part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The townships in Naigaon East are located at least 1 km. away from the railway station. The station, surrounded by mangroves and saltpans on both sides was formerly a part of Thane district, and is now under the Palghar District limits. It is 19 kms. away from theMumbai city limits.
Historical Context – The Formation of Vasai Diocese
Vasai was in the Archdiocese of Goa between 1535-1886 and later in the Archdiocese of Daman between 1886-1928. It finally came under the Archdiocese of Bombay in 1928. The new Diocese of Vasai was created out of the Archdiocese of Bombay by Pope John Paul II on May 22, 1998. St. Gonsalo Garcia, the Patron of Vasai, and the first Canonized Martyr of India, hails from the Diocese.
THE SALESIAN JOURNEY BEGINS- GOD’S PROVIDENCE
With the formation of the Vasai Diocese in the year 1998, Fr. Tony D’Souza SDB, Former Provincial of the Salesian Province of Mumbai offered his approval to open the new house of Don Bosco at Naigaon (East).
1998 was a special year, as the Salesians were beneficiaries of the kindness of Mr. Anthony Pereira the CEO of Pereira Builders who donated land to the Bombay Salesian Society to commence the mission to educate the young and spread the Gospel Values.
The Salesians established a house at Naigaon (East) with the priority objectives of engaging in intellectual and spiritual formation, promoting missionary fervour and expanding God’s Kingdom while facilitating dialogue with Christians and people of other faiths. Hence the Salesians began the pastoral, educational and developmental work of setting up a Don Bosco High School and Junior College, and Parish of Mary Help of Christians at Naigaon ( East).
The Citizen Co-operative Housing Society, donated a parcel of land adjacent to the Citizen Housing Colony, to the Diocese of Vasai with the hope that it would be used to build a beautiful church at Naigoan East for the parishionersand the same was handed overto the Mary Help of Christians Church Trust to build the Church.
On 3rd October 1999, his Lordship Bishop Thomas Dabre officially announced that the Naigaon East community wouldbe a Parish under the independent charge of the Don Bosco Fathers in the Diocese of Vasai.
FIRST PHASE OF THE PARISH PRE-SYNOD CONSULTATION AT MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS PARISH, NAIGAON(E)
The Parish Priest, Fr. Dominic Martis SDB, welcomed the gathering and gave the introductory speech. He urged the various Parish representatives who were present at the gathering to walk together, listen to one another and discern the will of the Holy Spirit while working towards a more Synodal Church in the Parish. “The Gospels portray Jesus in conversation with people and his disciples indicating a ministry in continual communion and interaction with one another. We are called to build the Kingdom of God” said Fr. Martis.
The programme began with a thanksgiving prayer dance by our parish children, and the lighting of the lamp by the dignitaries. The Parishioners then invoked the Holy Spirit, the only protagonist who can bring fruit to our small endeavour. This was followed by the reading of a passage from the Word of God, in the knowledge that the Word of God itself can give rise to the right questions with which to listen to what the Lord wants to tell us, starting with our work, our being together and the personal stories of each one of us.
Three of our parishioners shared their faith experiences with Christ. Mr Sanjeev Gandhi, a convert shared his faith journey of how “Christ is a Gift to him and his family”, Ms Elyren Guedes (Youth) shared her faith in the midst of her loss of her mother due to Cancer and Mrs Sumanta Sampey, shared her faith journey in the midst of her pregnancy and devastating loss of her child in the womb.
Fr. Joaquim Fernandes SDB, Assistant Parish Priest and Priest In-charge of the Synod for the Parish presented an Overview of the Synodal Process and the road map from 2021-2023. He explained the Synodal journey from October 2021- April 2022 in the Diocese and the Bishops Conference.
Pope Francis officially launched the Synod in Rome on Sunday, October 10, 2021. A week later, on October 17, 2021, the Diocesan phase was kicked off in dioceses across the world.Archbishop Felix Machado inaugurated the Synod in the Diocese of Vasai. Fr. Thomas D’Souza, Diocesan Priest and a team of priests and laity were Incharge of the Synod for the Diocese of Vasai and coordinated with all the parishes in the Diocese. He requested each parish to form the Synod Core committee team which would coordinate the proceedings in the Parishes.
The Synod Core Committee team members comprised of Fr. Joaquim Fernandes SDB, Mrs Judy Valladares, Sr. Sangeeta Manbhat, Mrs Pooja Nair, Mr Carlton D’Souza, Mr Raju Pagare, Mrs Lavina D’chuna who were responsible for planning the Synodal process in our parish. The team studied the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum which would lead to the preparation of the Synthesis and the Working Document which needed to be given to the Diocese.
Fr. Joaquim Fernandes invited Mr Conrad A. Saldanha as a consultant to the Synodal Process for our Parish. Conrad A. Saldanha has worked for 32 years in industry at senior positions like VP and Executive Director. He retired from the Times of India in 2009 as Vice President (Training and Market Research). He has conducted numerous workshops on “Vision, Mission and Values” and on “Knowledge, Attitude and Skills”for Religious Institutions both in India and abroad and for Educational Institutions and Organisations across the country. He was the Principal Advisor to Don Bosco College of Learning at Kurla in Mumbai.
Mr. Conrad A. Saldanha, Consultant for the Synodal Process, shared the findings and a synthesis of the outcomes of the Synodal Process, at Mary help Of Christians Church, at Naigaon through a succinct presentation.
INSIGHTS FROM THE LISTENING AND ACCOMPANIMENT PROCESS TOWARDS A MORE SYNODAL CHURCH
The Listening and Accompaniment Process began with identifying the areas which need to be addressed as per the Diocesan Guideline Letter dated October 23, 2021 viz. For a Synodal Church, Listening and speaking out; Celebration – The Liturgy, Co-responsibility in the Mission and Authority, and Discernment and Decision Making.
To be authentic to the spirit of this process, it was felt that two stages would be necessary viz. a qualitative phase where representatives of the different segments of the Parish would discuss the identified areas in a very open and discerning manner; and a quantitative phase where based on the findings of the Group Discussions a questionnaire would be drawn up and administered to the whole Parish. In this way one would get a holistic picture of what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do.
For the Group Discussions, representatives from the different Parish segments were selected in an appropriate manner. The groups were Confirmation students, College going youth, Early working adults, Singles and early married, Senior citizens and married couples, People of other faiths, People from the periphery, and Priests and Religious. Each Group consisted of around 8-10 participants and had a facilitator and ‘note taker’. There was a Group Discussion Guide which was followed by the facilitator. It covered all the areas which needed to be addressed. An online zoom training session was held, prior to the Group Discussions, for all the facilitators and ‘note takers’. The results of the Group Discussions were collated and analysed and based on these findings a questionnaire was drawn up to be administered to the whole Parish. The questionnaire was made available online and offline. The responses were collated and analysed.
In a process of this type it becomes very important to see the findings of both the qualitative and quantitative phases together. And then draw inferences which can be used as guidelines for ongoing dialoguing and accompaniment in the spirit of building synodality and communion. These findings were presented to the Parish on March 13, March 2022. At the end of the presentation once again an opportunity was given to the Parish members who were present at this function to discern if there is anything new which needs to be addressed and what should the priorities of the Parish be going forward.
In light of the above, the key highlights of the findings of the entire process are as delineated below:
Unity in the Parish – Hierarchy (Priests)
Even though there is a strong feeling that there is unity among all the members of the Parish viz. Priests, Religious, and lay people, there is still a divided opinion on whether the hierarchy listens to the views of the lay people and nuns (religious), and engages enough with the lay people.
Unity in the Parish - Laity
Similarly there is a divided opinion on whether lay people are willing to share in the responsibility of the priests and religious towards the mission of the Church. Other areas where one found a divided opinion were whether enough importance is given to how youth and children think and feel, or whether lay people welcome newcomers, or allow caste differences to come in the way of working towards synodality. However, there was strong agreement that lay people indulge in gossip without checking facts and this mitigates against the synodal process.
People of other Faiths
When it comes to people of other faiths, there is strong agreement that we should respect other faiths and festivals but not participate in the rituals of their faiths. There is a divided opinion regarding whether our faith is superior to all other faiths and whether we should participate in the festivals of other faiths.
There is strong agreement that we need to be open to understanding other Christians and their beliefs; not discriminate against them and be able to correct their wrong beliefs. However there is a fear about them. They seem to know the Bible better than us and will be able to convince us regarding their beliefs and therefore we need to stay away from them.
There is a strong feeling that we do not understand the complete significance of the Liturgy and this keeps us from totally engaging with the Liturgy. Also the Masses need to be in different vernacular languages especially for the marginalised to participate. There is a divided opinion on whether the sermons are tailored to the needs of the people, are long and boring or whether the readings are explained adequately.
Group Discernment among Representatives Present at the meeting
The Moderator, Fr. Joaquim Fernandes SDB led the Synodal Group and discussed the listening and dialogue phase, current realities, priority areas for growth, challenges, contributions and the way forward for the Synodality process in our Church.
He quoted Pope Francis “Synodality is more than just a word or a slogan. Synodality is an expression of the very nature of the Church – the process of discerning how the Spirit is moving us, so that we may continue to fulfill our mission to evangelize in the world.”
After a brief personal reflection in silence and a moment of conviviality, the assembly divided into small subgroups (8-10 people) to make the experience of dialogue and mutual listening as concrete and effective as possible. At the end, the group returned together to the initial assembly, and each group reported what struck him or her most about what they had heard.
Mr Conrad Saldanha led the gathering to the Plenary Session wherein suggestions were taken from the floor of the house.
On an overall basis which includes the suggestions and comments made in the Group discussions held on March 13, 2022 the following would be the key areas which would need to be emphasised going forward.
The session concluded with a thanksgiving prayer followed by a fellowship lunch.
Mrs. Judy Valladares, Synod core committee coordinator, expressed her views saying,“For many centuries the church was governed by the hierarchy of clergy. Thanks to Pope Francis for giving the congregation of laity an opportunity to voice our opinion in terms of what we expect from the church.”
Pooja Nair , Synod core committee member shared her views saying, “ I have learnt that the Synod is Not a Product But a Process. If implemented well it can completely change the concept of the traditional church which is registered in people’s minds.”
“ For the first time common people could express their concerns about the church”, stated Gail Fernandes, a teacher from the parish.
“The energy was infectious and I celebrated the spirit of Synodality through the valuable insights presented during the meeting. An enriching experience indeed” said Mrs Christaline Pinto, SVP, President.
Today the Salesians working at Naigoan(E) have 2,200 students enrolled in our Don Bosco High School and Junior College and nearly 1,000 Catholic families in our Parish Church. The Holy Spirit shows the way to preach the Gospel and serve the Lord.