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Local synod listening session highlighted positive aspects of Church, areas for growth

Archdiocese’s synod report will inform national report to the Holy See

Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis experienced synodality at a local level via a listening session held earlier this spring.

Sister Maureen Martin, ASCJ, was among more than 60 people who attended the March 23 listening session at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. “Everybody who was there seemed to appreciate this opportunity to share their personal experiences and the positive aspects of life in the Church … and where there was growth potential and could reach out in areas that weren’t being served as well,” said the coordinator of family life for the archdiocese.

Dioceses across the United States were asked to hold additional listening sessions following a request from the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, which is preparing for the second global assembly in Rome in October.

The sessions focused on two questions: “Where have I seen or experienced successes — and distresses — within the Church’s structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage or hinder the mission?” and “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 love and mercy in Christ?”

Participants at the local listening session spoke about their desire to increase lay leadership roles in the Church, especially among women, Sister Maureen said. “The feeling was that in order to free our priests more for pastoral work, we should use the gifts of the laity,” she said. “That was an area for growth and something widely affirmed” by participants.

Other areas where participants said they experienced distress included heightened clericalism, the clergy sex abuse crisis, inequitable resource distribution throughout the Church, a lack of welcoming and inclusive presence, and divisions within parishes and ministries.

Successes included the Eucharist and a strong sacramental life; a witness of the Holy Spirit working through priests and laity to evangelize; All Things New, which restructured parishes within three vicariates to bring the Church closer to the people; welcoming parishes that focus on community, multiculturalism and a neighborhood-focused presence; social justice work; and ecumenism.

The synodal process is meant to encourage people to reflect on what Jesus is asking us to do, said Father Mitch Doyen, chair of the archdiocesan synod task force. “Pope Francis is encouraging us to listen to Christ and the Holy Spirit and not just to ourselves,” he said. “There’s so much to surrender … and our culture is not about surrender and listening. I hope the Synod on Synodality can draw us together in relationship — because that’s when we recognize Christ.”

Diocesan reports will be condensed into 15 regional reports, which will inform a national report due to the Holy See on May 15. The national report will include synthesis from 17 additional national listening sessions the U.S. synod team led earlier this year. These sessions brought together experts to speak on particular synod focus areas, including Catholic higher education, campus ministry, Catholic schools, women, lay movements, young adults, youth, social justice, health care, migration, poverty, vocations, consecrated life, diocesan clergy and seminarians and bishops.

With the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops — also known as the Synod on Synodality — is in an interim phase between its two-session meeting at the Vatican. After a two-year preparation phase, the first meeting in 2023 drew more than 450 participants (including 364 voting delegates) worldwide to Rome for most of October. The meeting is scheduled to reconvene Oct. 2-27.

OSV News contributed some information for this story.

>> Catholic Family Conversation

Young couples and singles are invited to join the Office of Family Life for a listening session from 9-11 a.m. Saturday, June 8, at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury. The conversation will focus on participants’ experiences of the Church and how the Holy Spirit is moving within family life. To register, visit archstl.org/family-focus.

>> Successes in the Church

  • The Eucharist
  • The Holy Spirit working through priests and laity to evangelize
  • All Things New, which restructured parishes within three vicariates to bring the Church closer to the people
  • Welcoming parishes that focus on community, multiculturalism, and a neighborhood-focused presence
  • Social justice
  • Ecumenism and outreach to neighboring churches
  • Contributions of women religious and seeing women in Church leadership positions

>> Distresses in the Church

  • Clericalism
  • Little discussion from the pulpit about injustices
  • Clergy sex abuse crisis
  • Lack of opportunities for women to hold leadership roles
  • Inequitable resource distribution throughout the Church to serve the poor
  • Lack of welcome and inclusiveness toward groups including LGBTQ+, divorced Catholics, young people, unhoused neighbors, people with disabilities
  • Divisions within ministries and parishes

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