The dialogue amongst the people of God that Pope Francis has said is foundational to the Synod on Synodality has begun in the faith communities of the Diocese of San Bernardino.
Several parishes held the first of their Listening Sessions in January. These sessions are considered the primary vehicle for gathering feedback from the faithful during the consultation phase of the Synod. In many cases, they began by holding a listening session with a smaller group such as the parish staff or parish council.
“The staff has been very honest,” Father Timothy Do, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Upland, said of the listening sessions with his staff. “[The parish synod team] and I just kept listening more than responding.”
Following the staff listening session, St. Joseph prepared written surveys for parishioners that were published in the parish bulletin. Fr. Do dedicated about 10 minutes of his homily at weekend Masses to explaining the Synod consultation. Parishioners were invited to take the surveys home and discuss them and the following week they were given a few minutes at Mass to fill them out.
“It’s been a blessing for the parish,” Fr. Do said. “It’s important for me as the pastor to know what’s going on.
“We’ve already learned a lot.”
At Sacred Heart Parish in Rancho Cucamonga, members of the Synod team were tasked with “going out” and engaging with members of the public that are not often encountered at the parish. The Synod Team at St. Peter and St. Paul parish in Alta Loma has scheduled listening sessions with parents of children and youth who are enrolled in Religious Education programs.
An important precursor to many pastors scheduling listening sessions in their parish was a listening session with the priests of the diocese and Bishop Alberto Rojas. The Jan. 18 gathering on Zoom included about 110 priests, including religious, externs and diocesan priests. The three-and-half-hour session included small and larger group sharing. Key questions posed to the priests included:
- How has the Diocese accompanied you in your ministry as a priest? How has it abandoned you?
- What are the concerns and worries of your parishioners?
- What would keep you enthusiastic as a priest?
“It was good to hear the sharing of the other priests, both good and bad,” said Father David Andel, JV, who co-facilitated the listening session. “I think people felt like they were heard. We wanted to give a good meeting that helped the priests start the listening sessions in their own parish.”
The Diocese continued to provide guidance to those members of parish synod teams who will be tasked with facilitating listening sessions. Trainings were held Jan. 18 and 19, which saw over 500 participants, and the Diocese published a 20-page facilitator’s guide and recorded instructional videos for each of the five training modules for facilitation.
All Synod resource materials, articles and videos can be viewed at https://www.sbdiocese.org/Synod/index.html.
The annual Combined Vicariate meetings, scheduled for Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, will focus largely on the Synod. Bishop Alberto Rojas will address the diocesan phase of the Synod, and Sister Nathalie Becquart, the keynote speaker, will address it from a more global perspective. The breakout sessions at the Combined Vicariate meetings will feature three panels representing different groups in the Diocese, including youth and young adult ministers, clergy and lay ministry leaders.
“They’ll be sharing responses and stories derived from questions in the Synod consultation materials,” said Dr. Amanda Alexander, Director of the Department of Ministry Formation Institute, and a member of the Diocesan Synod Core Team.
The consultation phase of the Synod is expected to last through Lent, after which the comments and feedback received will be reviewed and synthesized in a report due to the Vatican in October.
Fr. Andel said he believes listening and reflection among all the local participants in the Synod are key to the consultation.
“I think it’s important that we take it seriously and we look for the fingerprints of God in it,” he said.