GREEN BAY — The church is on a journey. Bishop David Ricken officially began the diocesan phase of a “process of consultation,” a journey that will lead to the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October of 2023.
Pope Francis opened the synodal process at the Vatican Oct. 9 and10, launching the listening process in dioceses worldwide Oct. 17. This universal synod is titled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” (To follow the diocesan efforts, visit www.gbdioc.org/synod.)
But what is a “synod” or a “synodal church?” Church is a familiar word, but not “synod.”
Basically, being a synodal church means walking the pathway together with Jesus and each other, listening to all those around us and to the Holy Spirit, and praying and learning how to bring about the Kingdom of God. And that can take us down some familiar (and some not so familiar) paths on the journey.
When Pope Francis made the call for synodality, he intended that every member of the church of Christ listen not only to other voices within the church, but also the voices of those who have left the church and even the voices of those who have always been outside the church.
It’s what Jesus and his followers did all those centuries ago.
The word “synod” comes from two Greek words, “sun” meaning “together”’ and “hodos” for “way,” with both words united to mean “being together on the journey.”
The Apostles and Jesus’ other disciples spent years following him along a pathway, listening to many voices, teaching and healing all those who approached Jesus. In reading the Gospels, one can often hear Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do?” (Mk 10:51, Lk 18:41). That remains our task today. We need to ask what is needed and what people want to help improve their lives. We then need to listen to their answers.
Synodality is about making an intentional and ongoing commitment to deep and broad listening that considers those whose voices may not regularly be heard. The Vatican International Theological Commission defines “synodality” as “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.”
On Oct. 17, 2021, when Bishop Ricken officially opened the diocesan phase that leads to the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October of 2023, he noted that we have been on this pathway of listening and discerning locally for many years.
It’s what led the diocese to develop new ways of offering faith formation (see this year’s Bishop’s Appeal video). It has led to new ways of being with others during the current COVID-19 pandemic, such as livestreaming of Masses and offering webinars. Hundreds of people around the diocese have been able to attend virtual gathering and listening sessions from parishes, schools and communities around the diocese.
Two examples of these are the “Parish Lifeline” and the “Christ, Communication and Coffee” virtual groups, organized by Curia members, that have been gathering together people from around the diocese on a regular schedule since 2020. Each virtual gathering includes prayer and listening on a variety of topics regularly encountered in parish life and ministry, including mental health outreach, racial injustice, outreach and accompaniment during the COVID-19 pandemic, reengagement and young adult ministry.
This is one part of an overarching pastoral map that has been developed and updated over many years. Bishop Ricken noted that this gathering and sharing has been “guiding us ever deeper into an embracing of discipleship and now missionary discipleship reaching out to save souls for the Kingdom of God.”
Throughout the diocese, listening and discernment have already led to changes and new ways of living our faith. One example is the Mental Health First Aid training offered by Catholic Charities. Another is training in cultural diversity offered throughout the diocese. A third is intentional listening and outreach to families through the offices of Families and Schools of Discipleship Formation and Catholic Charities.
As the year progresses, the diocese will continue to walk this synod pathway gathering, praying, listening and discerning, as well as integrating the messages heard.
In the upcoming months, synod reports and updates will provide snapshots of what has been learned — and what is being heard — across multiple ministries and communities throughout the diocese.
Bishop Ricken has expressed confidence that “the Holy Spirit will lead us in these endeavors and teach us to be more flexible, more mobile, more outward looking, more invitational, to the poor, those who have fallen away, those we don’t often listen to.”