New Zealand dioceses prepare for synod first phase

Preparations are underway in New Zealand dioceses for the local phase of Synod 2021-2023, even though Rome has been told that October to February is not an ideal time for this country. 

Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe

Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe has welcomed the synod material that was sent to dioceses from the Vatican, saying it is refreshingly short, readable and understandable. 

Bishop Lowe said that he, as NZCBC secretary, and Cardinal John Dew, as NZCBC president, have been in Zoom meetings with other Oceania bishops and with synod organisers in Rome ahead of the synod. This is the first time a consultation in this face-to-face fashion has taken place with regional bishops ahead of a synod process starting, and Bishop Lowe welcomed this.  

But the timing of the synod for this part of the world is not ideal, and synod organisers were told this, Bishop Lowe said, adding that the Australian bishops agreed with this too. 

“We go into summer, everything is winding down in December, nothing happens in January, and it takes until after Waitangi weekend for anything to start cranking up again,” he said. 

“We have made that point, and we have made that point for future synods. But what we did ask for was, when the documentation for it comes out, that it comes out early, so that we could have time, . . . .” 

Nonetheless, Bishop Lowe said the essence of synodality, which the synod will consider, is that “God calls every one of his people, individuals, to his love and life and service, and so he calls the Church, and so it about this discerning Church that is listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit”. 

Bishop Lowe told NZ Catholic that there is going to be a national online survey, as part of the local consultation process. “That is being worked out by all these representatives from different dioceses,” he said. “This is going to be the direction for the future.”  

Opening Masses for the synod process are scheduled to take place throughout New Zealand on October 17. Numbers attending in person will depend on the Covid-19 alert level restrictions in place in different regions. Auckland diocese is already inviting people to gather digitally at 7pm on Sunday, October 17, for a liturgy at which Bishop Patrick Dunn will formally open this phase of the synod in his diocese. 

Following this, the process of engaging with people, having discussions and feedback and collating responses, will start. A broad outline of the approach being adopted in some dioceses is that people will be formed to facilitate this process, then discussions and feedback will take place (with the aim that these involve as many people as possible), with diocesan summaries being prepared in December and January. Various prayer resources are also being made available. Pre-synodal diocesan meetings are envisaged for the end of January. 

Submissions from dioceses will then be sent to the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference in time for their meeting in February. According to the Christchurch diocese website, the New Zealand bishops’ “synthesis of the diocesan consultations will then form part of an Oceania document which will be submitted to the Vatican for the synod of bishops”. The Wellington archdiocese website adds that the six diocesan responses will be sent to the synod office in Rome. 

Each diocese is forming its own approach to the consultation process.  

In Auckland diocese, original frameworks concerning how the local phase of the synod journey would be implemented have had to be reconsidered, given the continuing lockdown restrictions facing most of the diocese, said pastoral services group leader Sr Sian Owen, RSJ. 

In October, eight zoom sessions are open to provide information and formation to those that will lead the process at local community level in Auckland diocese, Sr Sian said. Resources for sessions will be provided to communities through the diocesan website. 

“November and early December will be spent engaging as many people as possible in this important process,” Sr Sian said. “Every effort will be made to reach out to those at the periphery of the faith community.” 

“Through the diocesan website (, groups and individuals will be able to respond to the synod. There will also be instructions concerning how non-digital responses might be made.” 

In Hamilton diocese, there will be various ways through which people can contribute, said diocesan media and events coordinator Brigid Conroy. People will be able to meet in groups physically and online to discuss and discern on key themes highlighted by the synod. They can also provide responses to a survey (online, email or postal), and can contribute to polls on social media. Prayer resources are also provided. 

In Dunedin diocese, Stephanie Swann is the diocesan contact person for the synod, and a synod organising committee has met several times. 

Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley said that all parish Masses on October 17 will incorporate the official beginning of the synod process.  

“This will be followed up with opportunities through meetings, surveys and one-to-one interactions for people to participate over the next few months,” Bishop Dooley said.  

More information on the synod process in New Zealand dioceses will be available on diocese websites. The preparatory document for the synod is at 


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Michael Otto

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