Participation in global synod helps Catholics listen, dialogue - Catholic Courier

Participation in global synod helps Catholics listen, dialogue

The Catholic Church’s global Synod on Synodality opened in 2021, and although it is still in its interim stage, it already is bearing fruit in parishes of the Diocese of Rochester.

“We found this synodal process to be very healthy,” remarked Father James Schwartz, pastor of Holy Spirit and St. Joseph parishes in Penfield.

Various councils and groups at his parishes have adopted the communication strategies they learned through the parishes’ participation in the synodal process, Father Schwartz said. They’ve utilized those strategies — which focus on giving all parties a chance to speak and actively listening to each other — in situations ranging from parish-council meetings to discussions about such potentially controversial issues as climate change, he said.

“People are really engaging in it and committing themselves to listening to understand rather than listening to refute,” he explained.

Synod efforts focused on listening to Catholics worldwide and sharing information

This focus on listening to and dialoguing with each other is exactly what Pope Francis was hoping to see when he convened the Synod on Synodality in 2021, according to Elizabeth Johnston, diocesan synod co-leader with Michael Sauter, director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Services.

“Using this style of dialogue continuously is what makes a synodal church, so a synod on synodality is about taking a process and implementing it and using it to your best advantage for decision-making as a community, for just getting the heartbeat of a community and their needs, meeting people where they are,” said Johnston, who also coordinates the Diocese of Rochester’s offices of life issues and cultural ministries.

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano opened the diocesan phase of the synod on Oct. 10, 2021. Throughout the next several months, the diocese gathered input from parishioners via online surveys as well as face-to-face listening sessions. More than 2,500 people contributed information, which was incorporated into a report sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops’ conference then compiled into a national report the information gathered from the nearly 200 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States. Using their national reports, committees from neighboring countries worked together to create continental reports, which were sent to Rome, Johnston said. These findings were discussed during the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome Oct. 4-29, 2023. A second assembly will take place in Rome in October 2024.

“A report came back, … a global synthesis that has 20 points,” Johnston said, noting that the 41-page document is available on the Diocese of Rochester’s synod website.

For each point, the report shares what the bishops heard and what came out of related conversations. Also included were suggestions intended not as one-size-fits-all directives, Johnston said.

“You have to take what comes out of it and connect it to your lived reality in your neck of the woods. It’s not telling you what you have to do, but (suggesting you) use this as a synodal conversation,” she said.

Diocese sought input from many during second round of listening sessions

In January, Pope Francis asked the world’s bishops to conduct a second round of listening sessions in their dioceses, this time reflecting on specific questions but again keeping their current realities in mind, Johnston said. The questions considered in the Diocese of Rochester were:

• How can we encourage and enhance stronger relationships between the Church’s structure(s) / organizations / leadership / life and each baptized person that moves us towards greater unity as one Body of Christ in proclaiming the Risen Lord and His Gospel for our Diocese today?

• How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of truth, love and mercy in Christ?

Johnston and Sauter again invited local Catholics to share their insights. They received input from more than 450 people representing 52 different constituencies or communities within the diocese, including the various cultural communities, parishes, young adults, homeschooling families, migrant communities and prison ministry. This information formed the basis for a report Johnston and Sauter submitted to the USCCB in April, and which may be found on the diocesan synod website.

“People can go online and read it, and it reflects who we are as a diocese,” Sauter said.

The process of coming together, listening to each other and having spiritual conversations was just as significant as the report itself, Johnston said, noting that the guidelines for conducting such conversations also are available on the synod website.

“Some of the groups are seeing the value of using this process moving forward, and that’s what the Holy Father wants,” she said.

Tags: Priests, The Synod on Synodality
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