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Catholic Life Features

Surprises in our diocesan synod sessions

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(Pope Francis has invited the worldwide Church to journey together in a Synod to think about how the future Church needs to serve its people. This is the first of three articles taking a look at our own diocesan synod document, how it relates to documents around the country and around the world, and where we go next in our diocese with the movement to become a synodal Church)

It’s hard to believe that it is now just over four months since we submitted our diocesan synod report (available here) to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since then, the U.S. Bishops have assembled a national synthesis (available here) of the 197 reports from around the country.

In addition, all of the national syntheses from around the world have been examined and a large committee of mostly laity have issued a working document summary of what they read for what is called the “Continental Stage.” In other words, our diocesan document was combined with dioceses around the country into one, and all the countries around the world are putting them together into documents organized by continent. The Holy Spirit is certainly moving through this process.

Given how rapidly things are moving throughout the universal Church, we thought it would be a good idea to review some of the extraordinary things that we heard through our 35 listening sessions earlier this year. In a future article, we’ll look at some of the hopes as well as some of the challenges that were expressed, but now we want to share some of the things that really surprised us.

Remember that when we assembled the diocesan report, we did so without an agenda, and made every effort to keep our own thoughts and opinions out of the document. Our only responsibility was to receive the thoughts from the people of God and relate it back to them (you) as faithfully as we could.

We titled one of our sections of the report “What Surprised Us.” And it was not all negative surprises. First, one of the major surprises was how spiritually uplifted people felt for having participated in the conversations about the future of the Church. We heard overwhelmingly from folks how central the Eucharist is to people’s lives. We had expected to hear a commitment to the Eucharist, of course, but the acknowledgement that the Eucharist is what makes us uniquely Catholic was heard in every session, and with great enthusiasm.

We were surprised by some negatives as well. For example, we certainly knew that folks are still hurting from the abuse crisis, but when we listened carefully, it was clear that the distrust and the wounds are deeper and present even in those active in our faith communities. That has also caused a level of apathy – many people have lost enthusiasm for the Church and are in a “wait and see” mode hanging on and hoping that something will inspire them to return to a level of involvement that they had before.

One other surprise was the level of polarization in our Church. Given how polarized our country is, it is not surprising that is reflected in our Church as well. But there were widespread differences in whether our Church should engage the modern world and continue to update our teachings or return to a per-Vatican II Church. Despite these extreme differences, we heard broad calls for a larger role for women and to be more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community.

These surprises gave everyone involved in the synod much to consider. We hope that your reflection on our Church inspires you to raise your voice and come together to help to heal the wounds and lessen the divides among us.

(Next time: What we learned about our hopes and concerns)

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