By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Nearly 5,500 adults and youths participated in Synod listening sessions in the Diocese of Davenport during a four-month period that concluded April 30. In addition, at least 260 people participated in the 58,000 Cups of Coffee one-on-one conversations and 578 submitted comments about their experience of the Catholic Church through #SynodVoices. Altogether, Synod participants had a lot to say.
Now a 34-member Diocesan Synthesis Committee is poring over themes that emerged from all of this listening. The themes encompass liturgy; welcoming/belonging/inclusiveness; leadership; youth/family engagement; polarization/politics; Church rules; community; Church teaching/Tradition; prayer/spirituality; outreach/evangelization; image of the Church; and “other.”
Further synthesis of the themes will eventually result in a 10-page, single-spaced typed report due June 30 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The USCCB will synthesize reports from around the nation and forward a report to the Vatican for the Synod of Bishops in 2023. Bishops around the world will do the same.
Pope Francis opened Synod 2021-2023 last fall, inviting “the whole Church on a two-year journey of reflection and sharing of the whole Church.” The listening sessions in parishes, dioceses and communities worldwide are a response to this call to journey together, to discern how the Holy Spirit calls the faithful to share the joy of the Gospel in the third millennium.
“The Synod challenged us to listen better and, because of this, we have discovered more deeply how central listening is to evangelization,” Patrick Schmadeke, diocesan Director of Evangelization, said. “When we share the Gospel, we don’t do so in a vacuum. We do so in relationship with people who have concrete lives and experiences. If we think that Jesus has something to say to people’s lives we can’t simply preach Jesus in the abstract, we have to share how Jesus speaks meaningfully in people’s lived reality.”
Another insight gained from the Synod listening process: “People just need a ‘reason’ to reach out. The Synod gave people an excuse to have conversations that they’ve wanted to have, whether that is with friends or family members,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges has been reaching out to people beyond the walls of the parish. While people around the diocese have done a good job reaching out, “we realize that we have room for growth. If we are only inward focused, then we aren’t engaging in evangelization in a full sense, we aren’t living out the call of Christ.”
Schmadeke described this next process of the diocesan Synod as “a prayerful process of discernment. Over 5,000 people participated and shared their experience of the Church. This is a gift because we can begin to think about the future of the diocese in a more informed way. The synthesis process is very synodal. None of the 34 committee members has the whole picture or the vision for what comes next. Each person has a piece of the puzzle. This is a very interdependent process.”
“It is time now to analyze what we have heard, find common themes, and summarize/synthesize the points that were made related to each of those categories,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “We will share a draft summary with the people of the diocese, get their input, make revisions, and send the final summary to the USCCB.
Then the next phase of the synodal process will begin. Meanwhile, here in the diocese, we will follow the see-judge-act method of the Catholic social tradition. We have already done the ‘see’ step, in this case ‘hearing’ the thoughts of many people in the listening sessions. We will design a deliberative, reflective process to judge or discern what we have heard, and then develop action steps.”
A Vatican official has singled out the Davenport Diocese’s Synod effort. “At a recent webinar Sister Nathalie Becquart, Under-Secretary for the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, was asked to give examples of how the Church is reaching out through the Synod. She pointed to efforts in four places: Spain, Italy, Kenya, and the Diocese of Davenport. This is a testament to your collective efforts to ask how the Holy Spirit is calling us,” Schmadeke said in an email to leaders and representatives in diocesan parishes and entities.
(Coming ahead: The Catholic Messenger will publish an article June 2 with a link to a draft version of the Synod document. People will have a two-week period to comment on it.)