In listening to the lived experiences of Catholics — including the challenges they’ve faced within the Church — Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said he very clearly saw the presence of God in their lives.
As part of the Synod on Synodality, Archbishop Rozanski met with 10 Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis to listen to their experiences in the Church. Individuals represented in the listening session included members of the LGBTQA+ community and parents of children who identify as transgender.
“What really impressed me with each of the stories shared was the need for a sense of belonging” within the Church, he said. “As secularized as it is reported the culture is, there is still, from those who participated, a deep sense of longing for the presence of God in their lives, and a need to express that presence in one way or another,” he said.
Through the synodal process, Pope Francis has called for the Church to reach out to the margins, the archbishop said. “What Pope Francis has in mind with the synod is to lead our Church to be more of an accompanying Church with people who are struggling with the messiness of life,” he said. “I think what Pope Francis is showing us no matter how much we desire that order in our lives, life is never going to be nice and neat. It’s going to be messy. And that’s where the Church needs to be.”
A local task force of archdiocesan leadership, including representation from laity, priesthood and permanent diaconate, oversaw several discussion groups that met in the spring. Groups include the
LGBTQA+ communities; interfaith leaders; parents of individuals who identify as transgender; people who have left the Church or are no longer active in their faith; communities of color and different cultural backgrounds; people who are incarcerated; and the poor, through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The groups were asked these questions:
• Based on your personal experience, what about the Catholic Church fills your heart?
• Based on your personal experience, what about the Catholic Church breaks your heart?
Several key points emerged from those listening sessions, including:
• A love for the universal Church;
• A concern for the Church’s ability to listen without judgement;
• A divide between what the Church says and what it does; there was a call for clarity and consistency on Church teachings with challenging topics and clear training on strategies for engagement;
• A need to empower women and expand their roles in the Church.
Father Mitch Doyen, a member of the local task force who led several listening sessions, said he was moved by the many participants who shared that their deepest desire is for an intimate relationship with Jesus, as well as a commitment to the people they love who are experiencing exclusion from the Church.
“Pope Francis is asking us to stay connected, stay in dialogue and be open with one another, so the relationships that are formed become the most important thing,” Father Doyen said, adding that many in the Church still struggle to understand what it means to accompany others. A good example of accompaniment is St. Teresa of Calcutta, who walked with and trusted the humanity of every person. “She wanted to bring the truth of Christ fully present, regardless of the circumstances of their lives,” he said.
“We are more committed to the process than we are to the report,” Father Doyen said. “We will continue listening and cultivating relationships, that people who are opening their hearts will be led to Christ.”
Pope Francis has invited Catholics worldwide to reflect on their experiences with the Church. The theme of the synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” The synod coincides with All Things New, the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ strategic pastoral planning initiative. Feedback from the Disciple Maker Index survey, along with interviews, listening sessions and targeted surveys, have been synthesized into a local synod report. That report will be joined with reports from dioceses worldwide and will contribute to the synod on a universal Church level.
There are several phases of the synodal process that have taken or will take place, including a diocesan level listening phase, followed by a continental phase and finally a universal Church phase, culminating with a gathering of bishops in Rome in October 2023.