Synod: ‘The Holy Spirit is calling us back to the basics’

Sr Leticia Salazar, Chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino in the US state of California, says the ongoing Synodal process she has participated in has “transformed” her.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

On 25 January, the continental virtual assemblies organized by the Episcopal Conferences of the United States and Canada concluded. There were a total of ten Virtual Continental Assemblies held between 14 December and 25 January in French, Spanish and English.

Synod organizers in North America hoped this format would enable people to participate who would otherwise not have been able to due to the cost of travel and time constraints. People who participated in these virtual assemblies were able to give their feedback regarding the questions raised in the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod.

Sr Leticia Salazar, a member of the Company of Mary and Chancellor of the Southern California Diocese of San Bernardino, has followed the Synodal process since it began in October 2021, and shared her experience with Vatican News.

Synod – a wonderful opportunity

Sr Leticia began her new ministry as Chancellor just as the Synod Process began. She told the bishop that she thought it would be a “wonderful opportunity…to start getting to know the reality of the diocese by listening”.

She was also aware that her experience as a woman religious in both general and regional chapters had equipped her with invaluable experience. After reflecting on the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum, an interdisciplinary core group of six people was created. “It is a very diverse group,” Sr Leticia says, “we have a canon lawyer, a theologian, a pastoralist, theology of care, young people, family life, pastoral planning.”

Discernment Core Team, Diocese of San Bernardino, California

Discernment Core Team, Diocese of San Bernardino, California

The Synod process begins

In the beginning, Sr Leticia admits it was “even difficult for us to explain synodality”. Nevertheless, under the leadership of Bishop Alberto Rojas, and his “commitment and desire to listen to people”, they embarked on the process.

Sr Leticia participated in many listening sessions. She describes these as “very grace-filled”, but also challenging due to the pandemic.

“I met with young people with elderly with immigrants, at detention ministry. The Bishop and I tried to be present at most of them. Then,” she continues, “we collected all the data.” In a two-week retreat with the Bishop and other members of the Diocesan team, this data prompted another type of listening.

“We listened,” Sr Leticia recounts, and “in the listening, we were asking where God wanted to take us from here? Where was the Spirit taking us?” On that two week retreat, she says they not only read the data that had been gathered, but they also “experienced the joy of people sharing their experiences and saying, ‘You know, this is the first time we have ever felt that the Church is listening to us and is open to listen to us’.”

Even though the official listening phase of the Synod at the local level has ended, Sr Leticia insists that the Synod is a process. So, she and the Bishop have committed themselves to “continue with the listening sessions.”

“One of the things that was clear to us was the fact that we need to learn to be a Church that learns how to be synodal,” she says. We are on a journey of learning “the skills needed for a synodal”, Sr Leticia emphasizes.

Diagram of the fruits of the Synodal process, Diocese of San Bernardino, California

Fruits of the Synodal process

Sr Leticia also explained a diagram that they are now using to express the fruits of the Diocesan Synodal discernment process.

“Synodality calls us to walk together regardless of our differences. It is the practice of discernment based on the action of the Holy Spirit, which calls for a participatory, inclusive, and co-responsible Church. The three pillars that emerged from synodal consultations, namely, a Synodal Community, a ‘Back-to-the-Basics’ approach, and just and prudent Rules and Policies, must be set in right relationship to each other and to the Eucharist. When this relationship is established, the dreams and desires expressed by the People of the Diocese of San Bernardino will become a reality: co-responsibility, accompaniment, accountability, participation in decision-making processes, and respect for human dignity.”

A formation process has been set in place so that all diocesan employees can “learn the skills to journey with one another…to listen and dialogue and engage in discernment in the Diocese.” In addition, Sr Leticia says that “this listening is challenging our structures.” All diocesan pastoral structures are currently being “revisited” so all of them might be “dynamic, organic and life-giving.”

Synod listening session, Diocese of San Bernardino, California

Synod listening session, Diocese of San Bernardino, California

Personal fruits

Sr Leticia also shared how being involved in the Synod process has helped her develop the way she accomplishes her ministry, especially in how she “models leadership and how I bring others to the table, especially other women.”

It has also helped her to be courageous, to ask questions and “to partake in a structure that is masculine”, without sacrificing her gifts as a woman and religious. “I think that it has really transformed me”, she says, “and also it has relaxed me in a way. It has been a very beautiful experience in how I can be open to receive the gifts of others and to articulate them in ways that will be helpful for God’s people, to accept diversity of thinking, diversity in the way we are Church and to live with tension in a healthy way.”

The greatest challenge Sr Leticia has faced is “to be an instrument of ‘not-polarization’…to unite in whatever way I can…. Being light in a land of polarization is not easy, but knowing that the Holy Spirit is calling us back to the basics…is not going back. But it is what is fundamental in Communion, Participation, and Mission, trusting in the Spirit and moving as community, not at the pace we want to, but at the pace of the Diocese and the country.”