DOVER – As the diocesan phase of “Synod 2021 2023 — For a synodal church” concluded June 22 with Mass at Church of the Holy Cross, Bishop Koenig said many parishioners over the last several months came forward in the Diocese of Wilmington to help guide the church.
He said Pope Francis wants the synod process to be “not an event or task,” but a way for church members “to hear and be heard together.”
The concluding Mass came after months of group “listening sessions” and other efforts of inclusion launched locally last October by Bishop Koenig and elsewhere among Catholics in dioceses across the world.
“Personally,” the bishop said during Mass, “it was an opportunity to listen, to discern how to move forward. It was very, very significant to me.”
Bishop Koenig and bishops across the world launched the synod with Mass Oct. 17. The pre-synod phase included members of the diocesan synodal team, which took part in a consultation process. The team led by co-chairs Father Glenn Evers and Arlene Dosman of Holy Cross Parish helped shape the format and prepare to train facilitators for the deanery, parish and school rollout that began in early 2022.
In a report delivered at the end of Mass, Father Evers said 51 group sessions across the diocese included more than 1,400 people. The summary of the input included major themes in three categories.
- Strengths: Value faith and teachings of the Catholic church; treasure the gift of the Mass and sacraments, and recognizing dedicated and loving communities.
- Challenges (or opportunities): Insufficient opportunities for faith formation; significant decline in church participation, notably among the youth, and growing pains of diversity.
- Action items: Increase opportunities for prayer and faith formation; be welcoming and hospitable to everyone, and the church must strive to be what it is called to be (one holy, Catholic, apostolic; body of Christ – Jesus to others).
Father Evers, diocesan vicar for clergy, described the review as “a brief summary – a snapshot” after “consulting the people of God and listening to the Holy Spirit.” He said the synod committee connected with people in the three counties of Delaware and nine in the Eastern Shore of Maryland. People had the chance to participate in three formats – in person (which became easier as COVID restrictions eased), virtually via Zoom and in an online format where people could watch a video and fill out a survey.
Father Evers said meetings were held in seven deaneries, or regional sections of the diocese, and an additional 19 parishes. He said the effort connected with various cultural groups and demographics, schools, students of all ages, religious education participants, Catholic Charities, divorced people, those who identify as LGBTQ and “a multitude of other people.” Sessions included as few as two and as many as 130 people.
“People are longing to see the face of Jesus,” Father Evers said.
Among the next steps, he said, will be a 10-page report submitted to Bishop Koenig and shared with those in the diocese by mid-August.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the short-term goal of local efforts is to “have successful diocesan consultations in a synodal spirit reflecting on the state of the church in ‘journeying together.’” The long-term goal is to “re-orient the local church toward an inherent synodal attitude in decision-making processes through communion, participation, and mission.”
The bishops’ conference will author its own report, a summary of reports compiled around the United States, that will be presented at the 2023 synod.
Pope Francis is then expected to issue a report.