Diocese submits listening sessions report for Synod on Synodality


CLICK HERE to read the full text of the latest report from this diocese to the Synod.

Listening with the heart is a sacred act.

That has been the message throughout the Churchwide Synod on Synodality and all the preparations leading up to it.

And it’s what people in the Jefferson City diocese experienced while participating in listening sessions for the Synod.

“Your listening exercise is a spiritual experience,” Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general for the Synod of Bishops, told participants at a diocesan-wide listening session on Feb. 27.

The cardinal spoke over a live video feed to about 300 Catholics taking part in simultaneous listening sessions at already-scheduled parish leadership meetings in the diocese’s five deaneries.

“You are not only going to listen to one another, you are not going to share only personal concerns and opinions, but you are going to share what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to the Church through YOU!” the cardinal stated.

The Synod is a multi-year, worldwide process of praying and listening in order to discern how best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ at this time in history.

Pope Francis initiated the Synod to help spur ongoing renewal of the Church throughout the world.

It will culminate with a second, monthlong formal gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops and other Church representatives in Vatican City in October 2024.

Participants from throughout the world will focus on promoting communion, participation and mission among all members of the Church.

Each diocese submitted a report last year that helped set the agenda for discussions throughout the process.

Following the first formal session this past October, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called upon each U.S. diocese to hold an additional listening session to gain further information for the Synod’s second and final session this October.

The Jefferson City diocese submitted its report from the latest listening session on April 4. The full text can be found on Page 17 of this issue of The Catholic Missourian.

Among its sister dioceses and archdioceses of Region IX that had submitted their reports as of April 8, the Jefferson City diocese reported by far the highest number of participants in this year’s listening session.

Clear messages

Helen Osman, a Meta native and former diocesan director of communications, has been the diocese’s coordinator for participation in the Synod on Synodality since 2021.

She is also president of SIGNIS, the only association of lay media professionals officially recognized by the Holy See, and is serving a five-year appointment as a consultant to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication.

She noted that the listening sessions and other efforts to gather information and engage parishioners for the Synod also provided insight for ongoing pastoral planning in the diocese.

She said a consistent theme throughout the process has been an urgent need to engage younger people in the life of the Church.

“That’s not just in our diocese; it’s happening in the Church overall,” Mrs. Osman noted.

It’s becoming clear that many young Catholics want to get involved but don’t feel welcome to do so or don’t see their perspectives being taken seriously.

It’s as if older parishioners are afraid to let go of control, said Mrs. Osman.

“Sometimes, I think, we get so fixated on what’s being lost that we aren’t able to move forward into the resurrection that God has planned for us,” she stated.

She pointed to several other themes that have remained consistent throughout the diocesan portion of the Synod process, as well as things that appear to be changing.

She noted that since coming to this diocese in 2018, Bishop McKnight has been urging people to recognize and act on the calling everyone receives in Baptism to seek holiness and actively help God lead people to himself.

“We know that that’s a fundamental understanding of stewardship, that we are all called to be stewards, because we’re all baptized Christians,” Mrs. Osman stated. “So, that has been our approach even before the Synod.”

Many laypeople who took part in the first round of listening sessions in 2022 and in the Feb. 27 session this year spoke in various ways of wanting to feel welcomed and accepted in the Church.

“I heard people say they’ve been coming to church two or five or 10 years, and this the first time they felt invited to participate in something,” said Mrs. Osman.

That concern became consistently evident as dioceses throughout the United States and other countries submitted their reports for the Synod.

“Again, it goes back to: we are all baptized. We all have a place at the table,” said Mrs. Osman. “What I think this synodal process is about is figuring out how to make the table bigger.”

On a journey together

Mrs. Osman said one major change she’s recognized during the process has been subtle and gradual: the understanding that the Church can’t tackle all of the “tough questions” at once. People first need help finding and knowing their place in the Church.

“And, we’re beginning to realize that things like small faith sharing groups, multigenerational events, multicultural events and the annual Stewardship Renewal process are effective ways of doing that,” she said.

“These are all venues where people can come together, feel welcome, break bread and share their faith together,” she stated.

None of these things diminish the importance of the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, “but they do expand our understanding of what it means to be a baptized Christian,” said Mrs. Osman.

All of this is consistent with what Pope Francis has been emphasizing throughout the preparations for the Synod.

“He said we’re not going to focus on all the hot-button issues of the day but on the question he gave when he first announced the Synod: how do we enliven the mission of the Church?” said Mrs. Osman.

Those issues will certainly not be ignored as the Synod moves forward, “but they’ll be answered as we answer that fundamental question of ‘how can we accompany one another?’ — ‘how can we live the faith?’” she said.

Relational encounter

Toward that end, each participant at the Feb. 27 listening session was given time to speak openly about what they have seen as successes and as challenges in their own experience in their parishes.

According to the responses, people are understanding the need to move away from “transactional encounters” in the Church and toward more of a relational encounter.

“As we deepen our spirituality of stewardship, and as we’re attempting to be more co-responsible, and expanding how our parishes are centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy, it’s changing how we think of ourselves and how we fundamentally relate to others in our communities,” Mrs. Osman said.

Called to change

Pope Francis has made it clear that part of the work of the Synod on Synodality is helping the whole Church make a habit of listening better to its fellow members and the rest of the world.

“This can’t be a ‘one and done’ thing,” said Mrs. Osman. “It will be essential for us to continue to engage in these kind of disruptive — I use that word intentionally — processes if the Church is going to be able to serve the next generation.

“We have to normalize the work of continually discerning what the Holy Spirit is asking of us right now,” she said. “While acknowledging the answer is always: to change, to grow, to be open to God’s dream for each of us and for our parishes.”

At the Feb. 27 listening sessions, Bishop McKnight thanked the participants and facilitators for helping prepare “for the next stage of our synodal journey.”

He said he hoped that in keeping with past experience, the participants would meet, get to know and find new friends among fellow Catholics from other parts of the diocese.

“That’s what happens at these gatherings,” he noted.

“May the Lord put your heart on fire!” Cardinal Grech told the participants. “Because this is what the Church needs today, this is what the world needs today.”