Whanganui’s Fr Craig Butler to attend pre-Synod gathering of priests in Rome

Whanganui Parish Priest Fr Craig Butler will represent Catholic priests of Aotearoa New Zealand at a gathering of 300 priests from around the world at the Vatican this month as part of the countdown to October’s second session of the Synod on Synodality.

Fr Craig (pictured above) was nominated by the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference to attend the “Parish Priests for the Synod: An International Meeting” in Rome from 28 April to 2 May.

The gathering has been described as a “worldwide meeting of listening, prayer and discernment.”

Fr Craig has been a priest for nearly 30 years in the Diocese of Palmerston North, including 22 as a parish priest. He is a member of the diocesan College of Consultors, the Council of Priests and was the Local Administrator for several years until Bishop John Adams was appointed bishop last year. His work has included youth ministry and helping international priests to settle in New Zealand.

The Vatican asked each bishops’ conference to provide the gathering with parish priests with “significant experience in the perspective of a synodal Church”, while also ensuring the attendees are from “a variety of pastoral contexts.”

“I’m humbled to be asked to go,” says Fr Craig. “I’m looking forward to the experience and the chance to meet Pope Francis there, something I never thought I would experience.

“I wrote to the priests of New Zealand recently saying I’ve been asked to go to Rome as a parish priest, knowing I couldn’t possibly represent them all, and asking if they would share with me their experiences of the synodal process.

“While I wasn’t hugely involved with the Synod process at the parish level when it began, when I became Local Administrator, I became very involved. It’s a wonderful way to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to us from people whose voices are not always heard.”

During the five-day meeting, the 300 priests from around the world will participate in roundtable discussions, liturgical celebrations, workshops on pastoral proposals, and dialogue with experts. Its goal is to listen to and value the experience of parish priests, giving them a chance to experience the “dynamism of synodal work at a universal level.”

It is being held in the lead-up to the second session of the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be convened in Rome in October. The first session was held last October 2023 and produced a 42-page Synthesis Report which among other things recommended a “more active involvement of deacons, priests and bishops in the synodal process,” which led to the priests’ gathering.

The priests will have an audience with Pope Francis on 2 May and the meeting will contribute to the drafting of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for the second session of the synod assembly.