US dioceses prepare to open synod process this month

null / Vatican pool.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 14, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Dioceses across the United States are preparing for the consultation process for the Synod on Synodality, a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local diocese.

Most dioceses contacted by CNA said they are still in the process of determining how feedback will be collected from the faithful, and several dioceses are planning an opening Mass on Oct. 17.

One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”

The “diocesan phase” of the synod will run until April 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents. Earlier this month, the Vatican released a preparatory document and handbook to help dioceses to take part.

The concept of “synodality” has been a topic of frequent discussion by Pope Francis, particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018. The pope, speaking about the present synod, has said that the synod is “not about gathering opinions, no … it is about listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.” Pope Francis launched the consultation process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality Oct. 10. 

According to Vatican documents, the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over the multi-year process is as follows: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

In San Antonio, the consultation period will begin with an Opening Mass at the Cathedral of San Fernando Oct. 17. The diocesan website for the synod process, available in both English and Spanish, says that “listening and interactive sessions” to collect feedback from Catholics in the diocese are set to be held “in the following months.”

Jordan McMorrough, Archdiocese of San Antonio Communications Director, told CNA that the Synodal Process Steering Committee will “launch a series of meetings in every corner of the archdiocese” in the coming days.  

The Scranton diocese is also set to hold an opening Mass for the Synod on Oct. 17, Bishop Joseph Bambera wrote in an Oct. 4 letter. 

“In the coming weeks, we’ll have more updates on how the consultation process is expected to play out in parishes, schools and other diocesan structures,” Eric Deabill, communications director for the Scranton diocese, told CNA. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge accepting the offertory gifts at the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, Sept. 29. .  ZOEY MARAIST/Arlington Catholic Herald
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge accepting the offertory gifts at the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, Sept. 29. . ZOEY MARAIST/Arlington Catholic Herald

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington will celebrate an opening Mass on Oct. 17, and has said that focus groups and surveys are being arranged to collect feedback from the faithful of the Arlington diocese. 

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark announced he would be celebrating an opening Mass for the synod on Oct. 17 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. 

“Sister Donna Ciangio, OP, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and Father Bismarck Chau, the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, have agreed to coordinate the synodal process throughout our Archdiocese,” Cardinal Tobin wrote Oct. 11. 

“Together with their team, they will ensure that every parish will have the opportunity to participate in this important moment in the history of the Church. But they will also be concerned with voices from the ‘periphery,’ voices that are easily and often overlooked in Catholic discussions. The Holy Spirit is moving throughout the Church and we need to listen. As a result of the diocesan consultation, a report will be written that will collect our voices.”

Carmen Gaston, Director of Mission Advancement for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, told CNA that Archbishop Alexander Sample is set to announce plans to participate in the Synod at a special Mass celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the archdiocese, celebrated at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Oct. 24.

Mark Haas, spokesman for the Denver archdiocese, told the National Catholic Register that plans for how the synodal process will unfold will be “communicated to all the faithful once the plans are finalized.”

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois completed its fourth diocesan synod in 2017. That process included consultations with all the laity, priests, deacons, and leaders of the religious communities in the diocese, as well as delegates from each of the 129 parishes.

“I think much of the information that we are being asked to gather during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality can be gleaned from what we learned from our surveys of active and inactive Catholics and what we heard during our listening sessions and consultations held during our Fourth Diocesan Synod,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki wrote in a recent column. 

“Additional consultations will be done with our canonical consultative bodies, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and parish pastoral councils, supplemented perhaps by focused listening sessions in the deaneries as needed.”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Similarly, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is currently in the midst of its own archdiocesan synod. Some of the information collected for that synod will be applicable to what Pope Francis has requested from dioceses for the synod on synodality, the Catholic Spirit reported. Archbishop Bernard Hebda is set to celebrate a Mass in solidarity with the pope on Oct. 17 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The Diocese of Brooklyn opened its own diocesan synod Oct. 10, and is set to hold a series of “listening sessions”— first at the parish level and then at the diocese’s 22 deaneries — from now until April, The Tablet reported. 

The worldwide synod will conclude with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

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