Ecole St. Mary students have unique opportunity with Papal Synod

Ecole St. Mary/Photo by Prince Albert Catholic School Division

Students and staff at Ecole St. Mary High School have a unique opportunity to take part in a Papal Synod from Pope Francis.

The entire Catholic Church is part of the project, but there is an emphasis on the voices of the young in this Synod. Ecole St. Mary Principal Mark Phaneuf is excited by the entire idea.

“I will tell you with Synods, they don’t happen very often,” Phaneuf explained. “It’s very rare that a Pope would call Synod. The last one was Vatican II, so we are talking mid 1960s, early mid 1960s, and we have got Pope Francis, who really has attached himself to the people.

“He wants to hear from the youth worldwide and those connected with youth on what they want out of the church, how they feel connected to the church and what they want out of it.”

Bishop Stephen Hero and the Prince Albert Diocesan Planning Committee have prepared a process and timeline to include Ecole St. Mary High School students and staff. Through contemplation during Catholic studies, youth will be invited to participate in a survey correspondence through Diocesan Synod activities. Deacon Harrold Salalhub is working with both the committee and youth at Ecole St. Mary as facilitator of the process.

“We are just pleased that all of our students will have an opportunity to participate in this as well as our staff,” Phaneuf said. “It is a unique opportunity and we are blessed to be able to do it.”

Phaneuf explained that the survey can be done by every single person in the school before the information is collected by Hero. Hero will then take the information to the Western Canadian Bishops before it eventually makes its way to Pope Francis.

“I think it’s really exciting, number one, that he cares to ask what the kids think and what we as staff that work with the youth think, and number two he is involving all of the students in Catholic school. You don’t have to be Catholic to do the survey,” Phaneuf said.

“In fact, there is an opportunity in the survey to identify with a different religion or no religion whatsoever but still talk to Francis, nd that is really what this Synod provides an opportunity to do. It’s for me to have an opportunity to talk to Pope Francis and that’s pretty exciting.

Phaneuf himself will also get a chance to offer feedback. He said it’s neat that as a 57-year-old, he gets the same opportunity as the students do to identify where the church could be deeper, and where it should go forward.

The division received a letter from Hero in January detailing some of the background. Hero appointed the committee in in September. It’s chaired by Andrea Gareau and represents various parts of the Diocese.

The Synod opened in October 2021 and is a preparation for the 2023 gathering of Bishops with Pope Francis in Rome for a “Synodal Church.” A preparatory document (called the Vademecum) was sent in September 2021 with information and topics of reflection to be used at the local church level.

“The call came from Pope Francis where he invites actually the whole church and all of the people of the church to work on a two-year journey of prayerful reflection to articulate their responses to what does it mean to be a part of the Catholic Church and what does that look like in terms of the future,” director of education Lorel Trumier said.

A larger goal of this particular Synod is to consult with young people in parishes and in Catholic schools as well as staff and teachers. The letter from Hero explained that because of COVID-19 and other factors, not all staff and students can be at Sunday services. The Diocese remains committed to consulting with school populations.

Phaneuf said that this generation of students will have something that they can hold forever because they have a chance to help shape the future of the Catholic Church.

“What’s interesting is that Pope Francis has availed himself and has made himself available to people largely and what he is asking us to do in return is avail ourselves to him,” Phaneuf said. “He wants us to connect with him.”

Phaneuf said most people commonly interact with the Pope by reading his words or listening to his comments. It’s interesting, he explained, to see the roles reversed.

“The really unique factor here is that Pope Francis is asking us to make ourselves available to him. Think about the relationship that creates on a level with our current Pope and with the people. It is something pretty profound for our generation,” Phaneuf said.

Trumier is also happy to have students take part.

“I think it is pretty exciting that our students would be participating in that,” she said.

Trumier added that she is excited by all of the activities in the Diocese surrounding the Synod.

“We know that our students are witnesses to the faith too, and that we need to hear what they are saying as well,” Trumier said,

“Our Holy Father is enlightened and he is our Pope. He is able to discern and navigate what’s needed and that is what he is doing so I am excited by it,” she added.