Janet Rodriguez, a member of the pastoral council at St. Alexander Church in Cornelius, shares her parish’s synodal discernment report at the vicariate synodal meeting held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on May 18. (Patricia Montana/El Centinela)
Janet Rodriguez, a member of the pastoral council at St. Alexander Church in Cornelius, shares her parish’s synodal discernment report at the vicariate synodal meeting held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on May 18. (Patricia Montana/El Centinela)
ALOHA — Leaders of the Tualatin Valley Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Portland met May 18 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church to share the results of synodal discernment sessions held in their parishes.

The event gathered parish reports and will result in a larger report sent to the archdiocese, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and then on to the Vatican.

The Tualatin Valley Vicariate includes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis of Assisi in Roy, St. Alexander in Cornelius, St. Anthony of Padua in Forest Grove, St. Matthew in Hillsboro, St. Edward in North Plains and Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Verboort.

Father Jeff Meeuwsen, vicar and host of the assembly, used a winemaking analogy. “If each believer is like a grape, each parish is a cluster,” he said at the beginning of the meeting. “I believe that, as clusters, all members of this vicariate, the Lord is ‘squeezing’ us in a good way, through these conversations, to produce wonderful wine.”

In an atmosphere of harmony and spirituality, pastors from six of the churches, members of the pastoral councils, parish leaders, and archdiocesan delegates prayed, shared a meal and took turns listening to one another as they disseminated the reports of the synodal conversations that cited the joys, sorrows and hopes of parishioners. Participants also summarized the findings in small inter-parish groups.

Arcie Pérez, a member of the pastoral council of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, said the synod process has been a beautiful opportunity to live and deepen her Christian faith.

God is the way to happiness

Most reports cited God and the Eucharist as what fills the hearts and lives of parishioners with joy. “By receiving the Eucharist we are nourished and enriched. We receive the positive energy to face the challenges of family, work and society,” said Janet Rodríguez, a member of the pastoral council at St. Alexander Parish in Cornelius.

“Being present in the church and at Mass fills many of the parishioners of St. Alexander, regardless of their origin, culture, age or language,” she added.

Jayson Strayer, a member of the pastoral council at St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro, said the sacraments, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, confession and daily prayer were the common answers to the question of what in church fills you with life.

Sadness for spiritual wounds

Parishioners showed consensus on spiritual wounds.

“Many faithful suffer pain caused by the Catholic Church. The sources of this pain are multiple: sexual abuse by priests and church workers, issues related to marriage, divorces and annulments, rules governing the reception of the Eucharist, and priestly celibacy,” said Strayer.

Pérez reported wounds from “racism… families leaving the church, a Catholic Church with polarized or divisive opinions, a church that doesn’t show love, doesn’t address social justice issues, and doesn’t show flexibility with people with disabilities, or with language.”

The faithful also expressed pain at the absence of women in church leadership and the treatment of the LGBTQ community.

Another sore nerve was the closure of churches during the pandemic. “The way it was handled and the lack of communication was terrible,” said Christy Duyck of Visitation Parish.

Hopes and dreams

Parishioners turned their attention to youth and made an urgent call to action in response the synod’s third question, about the future church.

“The main recommendation of the participants is to focus on our youth, keeping the ones we have rather than attracting others,” said Strayer. “Our children and youth are the future of the church. Young people are being expelled from the church due to the interference of social networks and the influence of the culture of greed and ambition, lack of respect, individualism and trust in science in today’s society. Young people are being pushed out by the patriarchal structure and language of the church, by its focus on fear and sin, by an outdated view of sexuality and gender.”

He added: “The church needs to support families and parents in these times of great challenges. Families expressed requiring support at all stages: newlyweds, people with small children, adolescents and young people, as well as in old age.”

Parishioners dream of a more welcoming and inclusive church, specifically for the gay community.

Going forward

Carmen Gaston, director of Mission Advancement for the Archdiocese of Portland, expressed thanks on behalf of Archbishop Alexander Sample.

Father David Schiferl, pastor of St. Alexander Parish in Cornelius, described the synod talks as a positive experience. “Inviting people to speak and being able to listen has been very good,” he said. However, the priest explained that the most difficult thing was also convincing people to come to the church and participate. “There are people who had something to share, but they didn’t do it out of fear,” he said.

He explained that the synod was most helpful in hearing from parishioners on what the parish and church can do to move forward.

“That is a very important question that we have at St. Alexander and in all the parishes: What can we do now with all this information?” Father Schiferl said.

Father Meeuwsen thanked the attendees for their participation and said the most important thing in the entire process has been “the opportunity to learn to listen to each other.”