Listening was vital to church during pandemic

By Justine Lodl | Special To The Compass | May 4, 2022

Listening is one of the most important things an individual, a group or an organization can do. Being open to the thoughts and views of other people achieves a common goal, a direction forward, a solution to a problem. The Catholic Church is being welcomed, at this very moment, to be a church that listens, and for this we are blessed.

Right now, Pope Francis has called all dioceses throughout the world to engage in a synodal process. To “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say,” as the Holy Father said upon introducing the synod in October 2021. The fundamental questions before us are: “How do we journey together at the different levels of the church (from local to universal) to proclaim the Gospel? And what steps is the Holy Spirit inviting us to take to grow as a synodal church?” The Holy Father asks us to “become experts in the art of encounter.”

For more information on the synod in the Diocese of Green Bay, go to www.gbdioc.org/synod.

As director of communications in the Diocese of Green Bay for the past 10 years, I have seen us on a synodal journey together for many years. This is visible in a diocesan-wide process of listening and consultation. From my view, this approach has established a culture of discipleship at the diocesan offices, rooted in the vision of leading all people to the Kingdom of God, through fostering households and communities of discipleship. Missionary discipleship, at its core, sends out the faithful to listen and learn, encountering people exactly where they are.

I look back to 2018 for a specific example. Working with a local marketing agency, the diocese embarked on a series of listening sessions and a values survey. We listened to groups of engaged, connected, disconnected and non-Catholics in Green Bay, the Fox Cities, Door County and Marinette. We found that the topic of religion and spirituality remains very important to people. We also found that across population segments — old and young — there is common ground and sincere respect around how the church cares for people. This provided us with opportunities to continue, and even ramp up, our already good work in communications over the past two years.

Moving forward, I saw many examples of how the core theme, “Loving All God’s People All the Time,” was lived out. Honestly, I often wonder how we would have gotten through those early months of COVID-19, and really the past two years, had we not had that theme as a guiding light.

Whether it was the weekly celebration of the Sunday TV Mass on WFRV Local 5 from St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, or the quick pivot parishes took to air their own Sunday Masses and other offerings through livestream and social media, we were there. We brought the familiar Mass right to people’s living rooms because that is what they needed. To this day, both the diocese and WFRV receive notes and emails thanking us for continuing to share the Sunday Mass with those unable to attend in person.

Following the listening sessions and values survey, in 2019, a “Field Guide for Encounter” was created, providing a framework for living our vision, mission, values and culture. Deacon Kevin DeCleene said this field guide has been an inspiration as he ministers as pastoral leader to parishioners, college staff and students at St. Joseph Parish on the St. Norbert College campus.

“As I have encountered students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, the five values — Connect to Inspire, Embrace People’s Hearts, Empower to Act, Explore Potential, and Nurture Abundant Life and Growth — have been foundational in breathing life into “Loving All God’s People All The Time,” said Deacon DeCleene.

COVID-19 changed how we did things on the diocesan campus. We listened closely and began outreach through Zoom meetings, phone calls to parishes and webinars on a variety of topics. Providing these tools offered some solace during troubling and uncertain times. For me, this work was powerful and illustrated vividly the light, hope, and guidance of the Holy Spirit in and around those in need of comfort.  

For years, my team and I have dreamed about connecting Catholic communicators around the diocese. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be time. And then came COVID-19. Out of that, “Christ, Communication and Coffee” — a regular livestream meeting of parish and diocesan personnel — was introduced. It served not only to connect people, but to provide education and communication tools in areas suggested by participants. This group continues to meet monthly to discuss current communication opportunities and challenges facing staffs, as well as provides spiritual encouragement, through retreat sessions. It is a beautiful way to network and find unity around our common goal to connect and share the love of Jesus Christ throughout the 16 counties of the diocese.

The diocese’s increased presence in social media has been embraced by young adults and families. This past fall and during Advent 2021, we took our messaging to social media and to billboards along major highways to invite people back to the Mass in-person and to connect them to our website, catholicinmotion.com. We are currently working with a task force of engaged Catholic communication professionals to create a robust strategic plan to propel our messages out into the diocese to connect with the more than one million souls Bishop Ricken is responsible for ministering to. It’s a huge audience, and one we are committed to continuing to encounter, engage and journey with during this ongoing process of synodality.       

All the listening, all the questions asked and answered throughout these last five years have shaped the work of the office of communications as we explore new ways to reach out to people exactly where they are.

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