PHILADELPHIA — Jennifer McMahon, a sophomore biology major at Villanova University, said recent campus listening sessions in preparation for the Catholic Church’s 2023 synod made her feel that her concerns “were being acknowledged not simply by the Church, but my peers.”
“I was nervous that I would feel alone in my struggles with my faith, and it made me embarrassed to talk about it,” she said. “However, I felt welcomed and comforted by my peers who experienced similar struggles.”
In April, nearly 50 college students from across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia gathered at La Salle University for a cross-campus listening session as part of the first phase of the global “Synod on Synodality.” The diocesan phase in dioceses across the world, including in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, took place through April, with the next stage being a continental phase that will open in September.
The event in Philadelphia was the culmination of a six-week effort across 14 participating institutions — involving all 11 Catholic campus communities and three Catholic Newman Centers — to integrate college students into the synod.
A number of administrators from across the campuses, including three presidents, several vice presidents of mission and student life and a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, attended in a listening capacity.
Among the listeners was Philadelphia’s Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, who participated in both a small-group listening session as well as the larger plenary session.
Facilitators designed the cross-campus listening session in light of what more than 30 campus “animators,” trained in the synodal listening process, learned from the nearly 400 students who participated in 43 listening sessions held across the campuses since early February.
Those listening sessions, in keeping with similar sessions being held around the world, were aimed at eliciting students’ joys and obstacles of journeying with the Church, as well as their hopes for its future.
To that end, the event created opportunity for social connection, personal reflection and sharing, prayer and accountability.
Highlights included an institutional roll call; student reflections on the Gospel account of Pentecost; a large group examen, or reflective prayer, about their gathering that day; and smaller listening sessions oriented around themes that surfaced in campus listening sessions.
To amplify the students’ engagement with the synodal experience “of bold speech and deep listening,” artist Becky McIntyre, an alum of St. Joseph’s University, created an interactive art installation to visually capture students’ joys and obstacles of journeying with the Church.
Students offered their ideas on translucent colored paper in the shape of footprints, which they added to a life-size sketch of the official logo that McIntyre painted on a large panel window in the gathering space, creating a stained-glass window that could be seen by passersby outside.
The installation was titled, “A Window in the Future of the Church: Journeying Together in Celebration and Accountability.”
Justin Hartranft, a first year public health major at Gwynedd Mercy University, called his experience of the listening sessions “uplifting and inspiring.”
“Not only did I share common experiences with my peers, but I felt a strong sense of community and belonging with those I have never met,” he added.
“I was able to see that the youth are very much alive in the Church,” said Hanna Mariyam Mathai, a senior neuroscience major at Holy Family University.
She expressed a desire for more activities and gatherings to engage young people, some of which could even include exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in some way, she said.
“We need our youth to be strong for the Church as they will be the next generation to lead the world!” Mathai added.
For information on synod preparations in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, visit https://allthingsnew.archstl.org/Ways-to-Engage/Synod-on-Synodality
Catholics with disabilities share their vision of a synodal Church
By Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Catholics with disabilities can be and want to be active members of the Church and missionary disciples, but that will require fighting discrimination, exclusion and paternalism, participants told an online listening session for the Synod of Bishops.
The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, in collaboration with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, sponsored a two-hour session May 19 with representatives of bishops’ conferences and international Catholic associations to hear directly from Catholic with disabilities, “who are often on the margins of our Churches,” according to a media statement.
“Although many of them have already been involved in the meetings promoted by parishes, dioceses and associations” in preparation for the 2023 world Synod of Bishops, “the meeting was in fact the launch of a true international synodal process dedicated to them,” the statement said.
Some 30 participants with sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities joined the meeting from more than 20 countries and shared in their own languages — including three types of sign language — their reflections on the synod questions: “How are we walking with Jesus and our brothers and sisters to proclaim Him? For the future, what is the Spirit asking of our Church to grow in our journey with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters to proclaim Him?”
“Four moving testimonies from Liberia, Ukraine, France and Mexico drew attention to the need to overcome discrimination, exclusion and paternalism,” the Vatican said.
A French woman with Down syndrome, who has received a mandate from her bishop as a catechist and evangelizer, told the gathering, “At birth, I could have been aborted. I am happy to live. I love everyone and I thank God for creating me.”
Schonstatt Father Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, told participants that one challenge of the synodal process is to “overcome every prejudice” of people who think that someone who has difficulty expressing herself or himself “doesn’t have a thought of their own or anything interesting to communicate.”
The dicastery and the synod office are hoping to be able to continue the discussion with an in-person meeting, and participants in the online session already have made a commitment to draft a document to submit to the synod.