By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A prayerful, Spirit-led approach guided the synodal synthesis process of Region IX, which represented the 15 dioceses of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, said Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Diocese of Davenport. He led the process for Region IX, which produced a synthesis of diocesan listening sessions in a nine-page report submitted to the U.S. Bishops’ Synod Team last week. Bishop Zinkula has accepted an invitation to serve on the bishops’ national team.
The national synodal synthesis process is the next leg of a two-year synodal journey that Pope Francis opened in October 2021, inviting and encouraging Catholics worldwide to participate. “The process was conceived as an exercise in mutual listening … conducted at all levels of the Church and involving the entire People of God,” the Holy Father said in an address to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome. “It is a matter of listening to the Holy Spirit” (Sept. 18, 2021).
Dioceses in the U.S. held listening sessions that wrapped up at the end of April. The fruits of those listening sessions were compiled in reports submitted to the regional synodal teams, which concluded their work at the end of July. Bishop Zinkula described the Region IX team of five members from five different dioceses “as positive, collaborative, and desirous of being faithful to our task.”
“In one sense, it was easier leading the regional synodal process than the diocesan process and in another sense it was more of a challenge,” said the bishop, who served as the representative for his brother bishops from Region IX.
“At the regional level, we had only 15 reports to read and digest, and some of the reports were not a full 10 pages, whereas at the diocesan level, there were hundreds of pages of comments to consider. The thing that made it a little more challenging was that every diocese took a unique approach. Some of them worked the Synod into a planning process they already had under way. So it was kind of apples to oranges.”
Bishop Zinkula’s appreciation for theologian Corinne Winter’s work in writing the Diocese of Davenport’s Synod report led him to recommend her as the writer of the Region IX Synod Synthesis report, which the team accepted. Bishop Zinkula said, “The process Corinne followed demonstrates that she herself did deep synodal listening, and the Holy Spirit was present. A lesson to be learned.”
“I had the opportunity to hear from the five members of the regional synthesis committee and to read their summaries of diocesan reports,” said Winter, a retired professor of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. “I also had access to the diocesan reports from the 15 dioceses in our region and I reviewed some of the preparatory materials on the goals and themes of the Synod. All of these helped me in my efforts to pull things together.”
Winter followed a process of listening, reading, reflecting and praying about what was coming through. “When I felt stuck, I would stop, read a bit more from some of the materials, and ask the Holy Spirit to help me convey the message clearly and correctly. I felt a heavy responsibility to represent the voices coming from all the dioceses.”
Her immersion in the process left her reflecting on the participants’ thoughts (17,044 people of the 15 dioceses participated in listening sessions and 37,666 completed online surveys). “One inspiring fact is that many people are expressing a desire to grow spiritually and in their understanding of our faith,” she said. “A challenging fact is that members of the Church have many different and sometimes opposing ideas about how we should be working and praying together. This situation calls us to listen to one another, to pray for guidance, and to find our common ground.”
Evangelization Director Patrick Schmadeke, the Davenport Diocese’s representative to the Region IX team, observed many commonalities among the region’s dioceses. “We’re not alone in the joys and challenges we experience in the Church.” Among the joys is the Eucharist, which the faithful say strengthens their faith and their connection with one another as members of the body of Christ. Among the challenges is polarization. “We need to participate in the healing that has to come, which points back to two things: the Eucharist and thoughtfully tending to the fabric of our communities.”
He hopes the U.S. bishops will receive the regional synodal synthesis reports from across the country as “a gift to lead us as the U.S. Church based on what people shared about their experiences. What comes out of this is a gift. This is a communal project. We are all responsible for stewarding this gift.”
The convening of the 15 dioceses of Region IX shows people that this Synod is going somewhere and it’s moving on to the national, continental and universal level, Bishop Zinkula said. “We need to keep on doing this, the listening, here in our diocese, as we engage in our planning process. What we do going forward needs to represent what people are saying.”
Winter hopes that the synthesis reports “will serve as a reminder to all of us that the Synod sessions we held were not an end, or simply a task to be checked off, but a beginning of a beginning. We are being called to ‘form ourselves in synodality,’ which means learning to speak honestly, to listen without passing judgment, and to trust that, as the Synod prayer says, the Holy Spirit ‘is at work always and everywhere.’”