By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Bishop Thomas Zinkula wondered why Pope Francis chose the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a moment of prayer in support of the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome in October. “Probably because the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth had synodal dimensions,” he said in a homily during a diocesan Mass on the feast day (May 31) at St. Paul the Apostle Church. In the joyful encounter of the two cousins “there was communion, participation and mission,” the three dimensions of the Synod’s theme.
Mary and Elizabeth “are in communion with one another. They are journeying together. They participate in God’s saving plan, which involves the sons in their wombs. They say ‘yes’ to the role each of them will play in the story being told by God,” Bishop Zinkula said. “They embrace the mission of Jesus, they recognize Jesus as the Savior. Mary travels in haste to see Elizabeth; that was her mission.”
The bishop recalled a painting of the Visitation displayed in the rectory dining room of the parish he served in his second assignment as a priest. The painting “portrayed the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth as a dance, a bit abstract. There was a sense of movement, graceful touching and flowing and twirling.”
“Let’s envision the Synod as a dance,” he suggested, sharing this definition: “The movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to music and in a given space, for the purpose of expressing an idea or emotion, releasing energy, or simply taking delight in the movement itself.”
He compared the movement of the body to the movement of the Church at the diocesan, national, continental and universal stages of the Synod. Its rhythm is reflected in the paced, managed structured flow of the documents, listening sessions and the syntheses of those sessions, of which he was a part from the diocesan to the continental stage. His experience of the listening sessions further fit the description of dance.
A balancing act
“Using dance imagery, these are three of my takeaways on the Synod thus far: first, dancing, especially styles like ballroom dancing, involve give and take, partners joyfully encountering one another and synchronizing their movement. I observed this in the listening sessions and I am observing it now in our ongoing diocesan synodal process.”
“Second, when dancers move together as one body — whether it is ballroom dancing, ballet, Irish dancing or tap dancing — it is a beautiful sight. Arguably, even hip hop dancing is a work of art — but probably not the chicken dance!” he said, to laughter. “I have experienced much beauty in the synodal process as well — when people come together, listen respectfully to each other and work together to accomplish the mission Jesus entrusted to his disciples.”
Citing a passage from the first reading (Romans 12:9-16), Bishop Zinkula said it “brought to mind the first phase of our ongoing diocesan synodal process involving welcoming and belonging — ‘exercise hospitality’ … ‘love one another with mutual affection’ … ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’ … ‘associate with the lowly’ … Our efforts during the next year can be a beautiful dance in our local Church — in our parishes and in our schools.”
“Third, sometimes, dancing is messy. Someone might make a wrong move or step on someone’s toes. The synodal process can also be messy, with some advocating for major changes in the Church while others worry about changes in Church doctrine. This tension can be healthy,” the bishop said. “I think the Lord of the Dance is calling the Church to be more welcoming of people on the margins while at the same time upholding the teachings of the Church. Balancing this may be messy at times and we make some mistakes along the way.”
He asked for continuing prayers for the Synod of Bishops and for “our local synodal journey here in the Diocese of Davenport. In our journey together, may we be open to the Holy Spirit leading us in this dance, leading us deeper and deeper in our missionary discipleship and into the mystery of the Kingdom of God.”
The bishop’s dancing metaphor wove its way throughout the Mass, concelebrated by Fathers Bruce DeRammelaere, Rich Adam, David Steinle and David Paintsil. For example, five individuals with active roles in the synodal process led the procession. One at a time, they processed to the sanctuary, holding up a booklet representing each stage of the synodal process as diocesan Evangelization Director Patrick Schmadeke read a description.
Retired professor Corinne Winter carried the Diocesan Synod report; Jean Dickson of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf, carried the Regional Synod report; diocesan Multicultural Ministry Director Miguel Moreno carried the U.S. National Synthesis report; diocesan Social Media Coordinator Sarah Adams carried the Continental report; and Diocesan Pastoral Council member Colleen Burke carried the North American Final Document for the Continental Stage.
Dickson became involved early on in the diocesan synodal process as parish council president for Our Lady of Lourdes. She took delight in seeing it all come together at the May 31 Mass. “This was awesome … one door opens and then another one opens.” As a convert to Catholicism, she is amazed at the journey she has traveled.
Burke said she has been reflecting on the next day’s meeting for diocesan Synodal Summit representatives. The theme of the June 17 summit is welcoming and belonging. “For people to have a sense of belonging, we need to be joyful and love people.” That point “really came through in the bishop’s homily,” she said, as did the music. “The songs were well chosen.”
“Spirt-led: that’s how all the synodal events I’ve been involved with have felt!” Adams said. She appreciated Bishop Zinkula’s homily, particularly his references to joyfully encountering one another and being OK with tension, the gray areas.
Winter, the author of the Diocesan Synod report, said she is grateful for all of the steps in the process, “which keep the Synod in front of our eyes. It’s easy for us to get busy and stop thinking about it but we can’t afford to do that. This is the transformation the Synod intended to bring about in the Church, that all of us are aware of our responsibility for the mission of the Church.”