Synod listening sessions encourage
and empower, participants say

Paula Hernandez, left, led a listening session for students in the chapel at Bellarmine University March 27. (Photo Special to The Record)

Members of the faithful who’ve answered Pope Francis’ call to gather and share their experiences, hopes and dreams for the church as part of the Synod on Synodality, said the gatherings have left them surprised, hopeful, empowered and encouraged.

The Holy Father’s invitation to believers to participate in the Synod on Synodality — “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” — came last fall. The response in the Archdiocese of Louisville includes synodal listening sessions in parishes, organizations, among vowed religious communities, within ministry groups and in other venues throughout the archdiocese.

Kevin Wangler, a parishioner of St. Gregory Church in Samuels, Ky., attended his parish’s session. “It was a great experience. It’s such a rare opportunity for meaningful input in the universal church. I don’t recall a time when that’s happened before, at least not in my lifetime,” said Wangler.

“It was a really good experience. It had a lot of purpose, a clear mission. We all walked away feeling very hopeful.”

St. Gregory’s session was composed of about six small groups. Their discussion partly centered around participation in the church. They agreed that their parish could be more welcoming and encouraging. It could do more to help non-traditional families whose life responsibilities are keeping them from fully participating in the church, he said.

Wangler said the discussions also focused on mental health issues, finding common ground, welcoming people on the margins, including same-sex couples, and addressing the shortage of priests and deacons by ordaining women.

“I was surprised with some of these answers. There were very progressive ideas,” said Wangler.

He said those who participated were in agreement that they wanted to find ways to support people on the margins.

“It’s what Jesus wants. It’s not about condoning people’s behavior,” he said.

The goal is to let people know they are welcome in the Catholic Church, he added. The session “gave us a sense of what we’re doing well and what we can work on. Even if it didn’t go beyond our walls, it left us feeling hopeful.”

Richard “Tink” Guthrie, vice-chancellor and coordinator of the synod process for the archdiocese, said about 50 parishes are holding listening sessions.

These sessions are also being held by religious congregations, schools and other agencies. The archdiocese has received the results of about 25 sessions so far, he said. Some of the recurring themes he’s noticed are:

  • The need to make the Catholic Church and Masses more welcoming to young adults.
  • Frustration that the polarization in society is becoming more evident in the church.
  • The need to “recognize, welcome and include those who are often overlooked or feel opposition from the church.”

Guthrie said he believes the archdiocese has been “successful in creating a healthy environment for listening sessions. I’m highly reassured and encouraged by the input so far,” he said.

Paula Hernandez, a student at Bellarmine University, led a session for young adults in the school’s Our Lady of the Woods Chapel.

Hernandez said the session, held March 27, started out with “awkward silence,” but by the end of their time together it felt more like a group of friends. The 16 young people reflected on the topic of speaking out — one of 10 topics from which to choose. Among the questions they pondered was, “What enables or hinders speaking up courageously and candidly in our local church and in society?”

Hernandez shared with the group that some people’s negative views of the Catholic Church hinder her.

“When we speak out, other people’s opinion of the Catholic Church beats down on our views,” said Hernandez. “When I start a new relationship, I don’t tell them I’m Catholic. I wait” until the relationship has been established, she said.

She heard from the group that some who are proud to say they are Catholic notice that they “are viewed differently” after revealing their faith tradition.
The young adults also discussed the question, “What new or bolder voices might enrich our church?”

Hernandez said the church could do more to create a space for the voices of young people, members of the LGBTQ community and Hispanic and Latino people to be heard. Hernandez said she believes “100 percent” that the voices of people in the LGBTQ community need to be heard by the church.
“People say they are in the wrong, but for my generation, it’s very important that their voices be heard because it’s already rough for them,” she said. “Our generation needs to be heard and can make the change.”

Hernandez said the experience of the listening session has made her feel empowered to help bring about needed changes.
“It felt like the Holy Spirit was saying we need to be a better community. I come from a tight-knit family and the church should be a tight-knit community,” she said.

Barbara Klump presented a report of her group’s discussion during a Synod listening session for the Queen’s Daughters in early April. Nancy Poole, left, and Leigh Raque listened. (Photo Special to The Record)

Barbara Klump participated in two listening sessions, one with the diaconate community and one with the Queen’s Daughters. Her husband, Deacon William Klump, serves at St. Louis Bertrand Church.

The diaconate listening session met in late March and the Queen’s Daughters met in early April. Klump said both groups seemed “very prayerful and respectful.”

“People seemed interested and wanted their stories to be heard,” she said. “What impressed me was people’s willingness to be sincere and to share what their hope is for the future of the church.”

One of the topics the diaconate group discussed was celebration and walking together, she said. The group, she said, discussed the “importance of including people, making people feel like their participation is wanted and desired,” said Klump. The group also talked about the importance of “listening with your heart and meeting people where they are.”

The Queen’s Daughters centered on listening and the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them in meeting people where they are. Klump said they agreed that they should “hold to the truth and foundation” of the church while loving those they encountered.
Klump said the experience has helped her grow “as a person.”

“I’ve learned to be more aware of myself and the times I need to listen and look for opportunities when I can reach out to others struggling with issues in the church and walk with them,” she said. “It was encouraging to know the church is listening to everyone, whether they are deacons or women. It gave me a new sense of hope.”

There are still sessions planned and those can be found by visiting https://www.archlou.org/synod-2022/.

The archdiocese is also offering an online synodal listening opportunity available through May 31 for anyone unable to attend an in-person session. The online session can be found at www.archlou.org/synod-2022-online-listening.

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