Whitby's parish to take part in Synodal process, started by Pope Francis

How different the Whitby skyline would be without the majestic ruin of Whitby Abbey.
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But do we remember the men and women who founded the Celtic monastery on the headland and brought Christianity to these parts by their lives of love and service?

Or even Whitby´s important role in the history of Christianity because of a major Synod held there?

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More significantly for Whitby today, and following directly in that tradition, the Catholic parish of St Hilda's is taking part in a new synodal process, started by Pope Francis last year as part of the preparation for a global Synod in 2023.

St Hilda's RC Church, Whitby.St Hilda's RC Church, Whitby.
St Hilda's RC Church, Whitby.

Father Pat Keogh, parish priest in Whitby, said: “It is not the first time that there is a synod taking place in Whitby.

"St Hilda, the Anglo-Saxon abbess, organised a synod that changed church history, so what we are doing is really quite ambitious.”

Although probably best known for having determined the date on which Easter is celebrated (the first Sunday after the Spring equinox), the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 was more about

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unifying different ways of living Christianity - Celtic and Roman.

The Celtic church, which followed the monastic tradition of St Columba of Iona, St Aidan and St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, played a significant part in missionary activity both of Britain and of Europe.

It was more based on monastic communities in rural settings whereas the Roman church was centred on the towns.

Despite people coming from these different traditions, listening to the Holy Spirit, at the Synod in Whitby, they sought a way forward in their love of God to embrace the unifying reality of the one Church, rather than quarrel about superficialities of their own tradition.

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“What Pope Francis wants in this new synod is to listen to what ordinary people think, not just the bishops,” Father Pat said.

“We are all journeying together and the pandemic has made us very aware of just how much we need each other.”

Both synods have the importance of listening to each other and learning from each other´s journeys through life and in faith.

“By doing this,” said Father Pat, “we are able to find out from each other where the Holy Spirit is leading us.

"That is so important.”

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At the first synodal meetings at St Hilda's, around 40 parishioners took part in a mixture of Covid-careful house groups and break-out groups, all linked together online by Zoom.

After time spent together in prayer and reflecting on Scripture they spoke openly and thoughtfully about their individual journeys in faith and in the Catholic Church.

“They have been very meaningful evenings,” said Father Pat.

It is hoped that in future meetings as many people as possible, including those who no longer attend mass, will be able to share their joys and concerns, hopes and fears for the Church with the parish.

“Only if we listen to people and really hear what they are saying,” said Father Pat, “can we give the feedback about the faith of the people in Whitby today that Pope Francis has

asked us for.”

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If you would like to say more about your personal journey in faith and with the Catholic Church so that it can be included it in the church's feedback to Pope Francis (via the Diocese of Middlesbrough), email [email protected] or visit the parish hall on Whitby's Walker Street on Fridays from 10.30am to noon.