Following a months-long process of listening, dialoguing and discerning, the Diocesan phase of the universal Church’s Synod on Synodality concluded on June 29 with a solemn Mass celebrating the period of encounter and the richness of our community of faith.
The Synod, a word which means “together on the way,” is a two-year process in which Pope Francis is calling upon the universal Church to listen, encounter, dialogue and pray, so that its members can be present with each other, learn from each other, and grow closer to the Lord and His Church.
The Synod began in October of 2021, and during this time of the Diocesan phase, parishes, schools, Catholic communities and individuals came forth to share their personal experiences of the Church.
According to local leaders for the Synodal process, parishioners from 54 of the Diocese’s parishes and missions participated through local gatherings, small-group reflection, written responses and online surveys. Conversations included the laity, clergy, women religious and students in grades 6-12 from 26 of the Diocese’s 36 schools.
“The Synodal process is a time for encounter, listening and learning so that we recognize the movement of God’s Holy Spirit in one another – not just the hierarchy, not just the leaders of the Church. The Spirit has been given to all of us,” Bishop Ronald Gainer said in his homily during the closing Mass, celebrated at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Harrisburg. “Pope Francis trusts that truth and he asks us to rely on it as we spent this time in the Synodal process.”
Rather than projecting onto others what we want to see, the Synod put forth an opportunity “to encounter one another in a sincere way and listen to one another, to see what the real issues and concerns are,” the bishop remarked. “Who is the person that is in the pew behind me, or in front of me, or sitting beside me when I come to the Holy Eucharist?”
With the conclusion of the local phase of the Synod, a synthesis of the Diocesan responses and conversations will now be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for inclusion in the universal Church’s Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in 2023.
Father Joshua Brommer, Deacon Gregory Amarante and Karen Hurley served as the Synodal Leadership Team for the Diocese, promoting and encouraging participation; assisting parishes, schools and groups; collecting responses and preparing the summary report.
The report will now to go to Region III (Pennsylvania and New Jersey), where those Diocesan reports will be summarized and presented to the USCCB for inclusion in the Church’s Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in 2023.
Although the Diocesan Synod has ended, local Synodal leaders say the work is just beginning.
“A report goes now to the region, to the USCCB and to the Vatican, but it’s what we make of it here. That’s what I’ve been telling people all along – the importance of how we can grow here in the parishes and the Diocese,” said Hurley, who presented a summary of the Diocesan report at the closing Mass. She has been appointed to serve on the Region III writing team to synthesize responses from the Dioceses of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“People were thoughtful in their comments, showing their great faith, their love for the Church and the Eucharist. The responses gave me great hope that people want to do more, learn more and grow spiritually,” she told The Catholic Witness.
“We see that our people care about their parishes, they care about the Church, and they want to say something about it,” said Deacon Amarante, the Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Life and Evangelization. “People could say anything they wanted in the process; there was no judgement. It was an opportunity to educate us. We can’t respond to the needs of our Diocese if we’re not actually listening.”
“Listening to people’s experiences of the Church allows us to engage with a parish,” he said. “My department works alongside the parishes in a relational way, helping them to have a vision and strategy. This is the first part of a conversation that leads them to their next step on where they want to go as a parish.”
“Throughout the process, I enjoyed seeing people get together to talk about things,” Deacon Amarante added. “I’m pleased whenever folks can sit down together. In my opinion, this should be a regular experience for people in the Church. We want that ongoing encounter with the voices out there. This process spoke a lot to my desire to better understand what it means for the Church to be a family, and to be a family of families.”
A Desire for Deeper Communion
Presenting the summary of the Diocesan report to Bishop Gainer and the congregation at the closing Mass, Hurley remarked, “We can acknowledge honestly and confidently that, however imperfectly, the Church of Harrisburg is calling others to, and experiencing among ourselves, a spirit-filled participation in the life of Christ, a sincere response to the mission entrusted to us by Christ, and a mature desire for deeper communion with Christ and one another.”
Themes and topics that surfaced throughout the process include the desire to listen without prejudice while journeying together; making all individuals feel invited, welcome and needed; increased involvement of youth and young adults in the life of the Church; and the desire to learn more about the faith and grow in spirituality.
“The consultation process provided for meaningful dialogue and open reflection on personal experiences and encounters with the Church,” Hurley said. “Many recognized that the Holy Spirit is indeed active among us, even amid the struggle to be faithful to Christ as individuals or as an institution. The Synod has enkindled hope that these opportunities will continue to bear fruit as an integral part of our Catholic communities of faith.”
In his homily, Bishop Gainer expressed the significance of concluding the Diocesan Synod on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
“Peter is the rock on which Jesus has built the Church, and Paul is the great evangelizer, the great apostle to the nations,” he said.
“There are two different dimensions represented in these figures, and both are essential to us in the Church,” the bishop said. “The Petrine dimension seeks the center. Peter leads us into the very center of our faith, to Christ, to the revealed truths of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Paul moves us out, to enlarge, to enrich that by reaching out and going beyond.”
“Without the Petrine dimension of the Church, the Church would simply be an association of fragmented communities throughout the world…. Without the Pauline dimension moving out to enlarge and enrich the Body of Christ, we still may be a sect of Judaism. The Pauline dimension has moved out to the four corners of the world. Both dimensions are essential to the mission of the Church,” he said.
The bishop prayed that Saints Peter and Paul would be a model for the Church during the Synodal process and as it moves forward.
“We have different emphases, different preferences, but if our eyes are on Jesus Christ, then those are always secondary. They’re never essential and they will not divide. They’ll only add to the variety and the richness of the community of faith,” he said.
(The Mass concluding the Synodal Process also included the presentation of the Lorica Awards. Click here to see the story.)
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness