Emphasis on genuine listening stands out among participants in the first sessions of the Synod in the Archdiocese – Catholic Standard
Parishes in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington this month and in February and March will hold listening sessions as the most local part of the Synod of Bishops 2021-2023, titled “For a Synod Church: Communion, Participation and mission ”.
With the busy Advent and Christmas season now in the past, parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington are moving forward with events meant to spark discussion and listen to “the joys and hopes, and sorrows and anguish ”, as the participants’ guide for the Synod describes it. People who have attended listening sessions have offered advice to others, including the observation that “as funny as it sounds, this is exactly what it is, a time to listen”, such as said Cheryl McLaughlin of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Washington. “It is not designed to criticize or influence the Church to do a thing. It is to listen.
Launched by Pope Francis in October 2021, parishes and religious communities around the world are invited to spend time listening to their members before reporting to their dioceses and archdioceses the concerns raised there. Once the diocesan reports are compiled later this year and submitted by the episcopal conferences in each country, the Vatican will host a meeting of bishops and other delegates to review the information in October 2023.
The guide goes on to say that “Listening and speaking in the Church always involves prayer. We listen, dialogue and pray together to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The “goal” of this journey together is not to create a new vision or a new pastoral plan with objectives. On the contrary, the purpose of our journey together is to be present with one another, to listen and to learn from one another and to draw closer to the Lord and to his Church.
Father David Beaubien, pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish in Leonardtown, Maryland, one of the two archdiocesan delegates to the Synod, told Catholic standard that his ward held two listening sessions before Thanksgiving, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The summary report of the parish to the archdiocese has already been submitted, he added.
Father Beaubien said participants in one session were quite critical of the Archdiocese and the Vatican, while the other group discussion was rather positive. Among the issues raised during the sessions was, he said, the perception that there are sometimes “mixed messages” from Church leaders on certain issues and concerns about how to attract into the life of the Church those who have been marginalized in one way or another.
He said this group could include “people you meet in the hardware store or in the school parking lot.” In reporting this concern in his summary to the Archdiocese, Father Beaubien said that the awareness of marginalized people is done on an ongoing basis, such as through the ministry of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul to the poor “and of all those in need. and on the fringes of society.
He added: “There is always an ongoing awareness of people on the fringes. It just doesn’t sound like evangelism.
Jeannine Marino, Archdiocesan Secretary for Pastoral and Social Affairs, and the other local contact for the World Synod, said feedback on the parish listening sessions was that parishioners are involved in the process and that dialogues are generally productive.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory hosted a listening session in December for the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. Some of the useful comments from the session included comments on the value of starting and ending the session with prayer, Marino said.
McLaughlin of Holy Name Parish in northeast Washington, DC, is a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and was in the December session. She said everyone who attended “really put a lot into it.” She described the group as “very down-to-earth people,” who were forthright in their hopes of what the Synod might produce in new approaches to listening to one another in the Church.
She admitted as I walked into the rally, “I wasn’t sure what to expect.” But she was pleasantly surprised at how productive it was, especially as an exercise following the dramatic effects of the past two years of the pandemic. “We discussed the need to bring people back to church and how to get there.”
McLaughlin said a few families have left Holy Name in the past two years. At the same time, “We have had a surge of people interested in marriage preparation and baptism. It was more difficult to get people to come to church, but they come for different reasons.
One of the main lessons to be learned from the pastoral counseling session for McLaughlin was the emphasis on a concerted effort to encourage parishioners to return to Church after forced distancing by the pandemic. It may mean phoning parishioners or reaching out in other ways, “letting them know we want them to feel comfortable coming back.”
James Gant of St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Md., Another member of the Pastoral Council, said he was also pleasantly surprised that the session “was really a place where the listening part mattered.”
Reflecting on how a session might unfold at St. Joseph’s, he said: “The questions generated a lot of thought. Like McLaughlin, he said the discussion of parish life after the pandemic seemed the most relevant. “How are we going to invigorate and bring people back? ” He asked.
Gant said attendees of the pastoral council session “were instructed to listen and not to respond,” which he found to be valuable guidance. He described a more typical town hall-type session where people take turns speaking but others wait to argue or rebut those who do speak. Synod sessions take a different approach.
“Synod meetings should really listen and let people speak,” he said.
(Those in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese who are not able to participate in the parish listening sessions for the Synod are invited to take a online survey.)