Largest Native American Diocese Takes Unique Approach to Synod

NEW YORK – Unlike most dioceses in the United States who have turned to one or two key people to lead their synodal process, Bishop James Wall of Gallup took a different approach by turning to one of the communities nuns of the diocese to take the helm.

“We are a diocese with very few resources and limited resources, so rather than putting this on the shoulders of one person, I thought it would be a little more doable if we had to ask the [Sisters of Our Lady of Guadalupe] religious community, ”Wall said. Node. “Plus they’re awesome and everyone loves them and they’re fluently bilingual in English and Spanish.”

The rare decision provides insight into the unique circumstances Wall faces in the Diocese of Gallup as the synod kicks off with the country’s largest Native American diocesan population, COVID-19, and a continuing lack of resources.

The Diocese of Gallup stretches 55,000 miles across northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. In addition to the diocese divided into two states, which presents its own challenges with state-by-state COVID-19 regulations, it is one of the poorest in the country, although Wall said the money “shouldn’t retain them ”.

The Diocese of Gallup also has the largest Native American population of any diocese. There are four pueblos and three traditionally nomadic tribes – the Navajo, the White Mountain Apache, and the Jicarilla Apache. Like states, each reserve has its own COVID-19 regulations which Wall says are primarily more stringent than most countries due to the disproportionate impact of the virus.

“The number of deaths we have had from COVID-19; it’s so shocking, so they’re very, very careful, ”Wall said. “We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic. “

For this reason, Wall is one of the few bishops to still have a dispensation at the diocesan level from the obligation to attend mass. Some diocesan parishes still have capacity limits of 25% or 50%. Therefore, Wall acknowledged that the situation in some areas of the diocese could force the synod to hold Zoom listening sessions.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but what can we do? Wall said. “And if this is what we have to do to keep people safe, this is how we have to do it because we want to make sure that we are participating and that all Catholics have a voice in this process.”

The Diocese of Gallup launched its Diocesan Synodal Process – which is part of the World Synod on Synodality launched by Pope Francis on October 10 – a little late, on October 24. Like the diocese itself, the way Wall structured the synod process is unique. compared to other dioceses.

Icon the Diocese of Gallup for its synodal process. Each heart represents a member of the Holy Family – the Virgin Mary, Saint Joesph and Jesus. Drawn by artist Jerry Montoya of the Diocese of Gallup Santero (Photo credit: Bishop James Wall).d to other dioceses.

Wall structured the process around the Holy Family with the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Jesus each representing one of the three diocesan synodal phases: listening, discernment and mission. They even adopted a synodal icon for the diocese which represents three hearts, one for each member of the Holy Family.

“Notre Dame’s heart was the first phase we’re in right now because she’s got this heart tuned,” Wall said. “The heart of Saint Joseph represents when we will discern, and then finally the heart of our Lord, which represents our mission and what we are called to do, which is truly to proclaim the good news and the love of God. “

Wall noted that the goal of the step-by-step approach is to make the synod more process-oriented rather than presenting it as “another program” in which parishioners can participate.

The listening phase of the synod in which the diocese currently finds itself is divided into two parts. Listening sessions between Wall and parishioners will not begin until after the New Year. In the meantime, Wall has asked the entire diocese to pray “for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”.

“It has to start with the Holy Spirit, and then it allows us to listen to one another,” Wall said. “Right now, we are in this early stage, and we invite the entire diocese to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we can not only hear the Holy Spirit, but we can hear one another.”

When the time comes to begin listening sessions in the New Year, it is possible that the turbulent past of the church that operated government-funded Indian residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries may be a factor.

While the subject is not new, last summer the discovery of 215 anonymous graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada prompted the U.S. government to launch the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative to search for Graves of Native American children at former federally funded residential schools, supported by the American Bishops’ Conference. Two days after the initiative was announced, 715 graves were discovered at a second site, a former Catholic boarding school in Saskatchewan.

The possibility of the topic being part of the synodal listening sessions reminded Bishop Wall of a listening session he and about eight other bishops had with Native American Catholic leaders about three years ago, in which l he history of the Church’s residential school was mentioned. At the time, he chaired the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, a position he held for a total of six years until he was recently elected to chair the National Collections Committee of the USCCB.

“We didn’t want to answer. We wanted to listen. We haven’t tried to fix the issues, ”Wall said. “We just wanted to listen, and then one of the big issues with that listening session was the residential schools and the injury, the injuries that are still there and that we need to be able to heal, so that’s something that we have already spoken. on. “

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenbourg

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