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    For Catholics, a year to reflect

    Bishop Lynch calls the first synod to discuss issues important to the bay area's 500,000 Roman Catholics.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001

    [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
    At Tuesday's Chrism Mass, an annual ceremony when oils used in church sacraments are blessed, Bishop Robert N. Lynch, standing, announced a yearlong series of meetings for Catholics to look at issues facing the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
    ST. PETERSBURG -- Think of it as a sort of Vatican II for the Tampa Bay area's half-million Roman Catholics.

    For the first time, the spiritual leader of the Diocese of St. Petersburg has called a synod, a yearlong series of meetings inviting all area Catholics to look at the most important issues facing the local church. But they won't be discussing changes in church law, such as the ordination of women or the marriage of priests.

    "We shall work within the law of the church, and we shall not ask for what we cannot have," Bishop Robert N. Lynch told about 1,300 people Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. "But short of that which is prohibited," he added, "there is much which can and will be done."

    Synod topics could sweep from new admission rules for Catholic schools to the format of worship services to questions as basic as whether Catholics should donate money for weddings or baptisms. The synod will establish a second consultative body, besides the priests council, that Lynch could consult before a major decision.

    The bishop hopes the synod will push for a new name -- the Diocese of St. Petersburg-Tampa -- for the jurisdiction, which actually encompasses Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

    Vatican II, which first met in 1962, spurred a revolution of renewal and reform in the Catholic church. The synod called by Lynch, while not as seismic, will be locally significant.

    "I believe the time has come to bring new energy to this local church, to give it direction and to set a course that will see it through to its 50th anniversary in 2018," Lynch told the gathering that included close to 200 priests and representatives from the diocese's 79 parishes and missions.

    Scheduled to begin next spring, the synod will culminate in a diocese-wide gathering that ends with a Mass at Tropicana Field -- the bishop hopes -- in the fall of 2003.

    "It's a time to look forward," the Rev. Callist Nyambo of St. Joseph's Catholic Church said as he left the traditional Holy Week service for the blessing of sacramental oils. "It's a good time for reflection and for renewing our commitment."

    Besides tending to bureaucratic matters, Lynch said, he hopes the synod will stir his flock to refocus on the lessons that Jesus taught.

    "I want more people to understand that being a good Catholic means more than going to Sunday Mass and receiving the Eucharist. It means doing something for the least of our brethren," said Lynch, who was named the diocese's bishop just more than five years ago.

    "I would think that we would invite all the various bodies of the diocese to come and share their dreams -- the youth, the Hispanics, the Vietnamese and Koreans, the elderly, the newly marrieds, the young families. ... I don't want institutional navel-gazing, and I think that's what you get if the institution itself looks at itself and says how can we do better," he said.

    "I think that the thing will be successful beyond my wildest dreams if it reflects the people in the pews and not just those of us who committed our life to it."

    Lynch, 59, faces mandatory retirement a few years before 2018.

    "I would like whoever moves into that three years before our 50th anniversary to look back on what we did and say, "They laid the groundwork and what I've inherited is something wonderful for the Lord."'

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