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Synod: Plan to listen to diverse voices takes shape

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SAN DIEGO — The Catholic Church is inviting 1.3 billion faithful around the world to offer their insights, challenges and prayers to shape the Church in the future.

In October, Pope Francis began that three-year process, which goes by the formal name of Synod on Synodality.

Locally, two San Diego Diocesan Synod Commissions will guide the process, one in San Diego County and the other in Imperial County, given the distinct characteristics of each region. The commissions include lay ministry leaders, priests, religious women, Catholic school principals and university educators.

A “synod,” an ancient Greek word that means “traveling together,” is a gathering. In the Catholic Church, a synod brings a distinct group together, usually bishops, to discuss an issue and make recommendations to the pope.

This synod is different than previous ones that have focused on a single topic, such as family life or young adult ministry. This one asks the faithful to examine the Church’s culture and see to what extent it engages the faithful in decision-making at all levels — that’s what makes this synod so important.

“We’re examining how we discern what God is calling us to do,” said Bishop Robert McElroy in a meeting with synod commission members in San Diego on Nov. 3.

The synod’s theological consultant sees this process as a powerful invitation.

“It’s an invitation to remember that all of us are Church together. It’s an invitation to become aware of how diverse the experience of being Church can be,” said Victor Carmona, an assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies, at the University of San Diego.

“And this awareness will come about through listening to one another, through conversation and dialogue,” he continued. “That’s something that I think is deeply needed within the Church right now and in broader society.”

The synod will be carried out in three phases in the diocese. In Phase 1, October 2021 to August 2022, the diocese will lay the foundation for the process and begin to engage the faithful. In February, small groups will gather in guided sessions at parishes to examine questions about how the local Church listens to its faithful and to what extent involves them in its decision-making. Afterward, small groups from service organizations, movements, cultural communities, young adult groups, among others, will hold these sessions.

Those living on the margins of society will be invited to participate, including refugees, newly arrived immigrants, the homeless and formerly incarcerated, as will those who have left the Church.

In Phase 2, August/September to October 2022, synod commission members will analyze the insights that came from the small group sessions and from data gathered through a diocese-wide survey. The members will propose strategies to strengthen the faithful’s participation in the governance of parishes and the diocese.

In the final phase, October 2022 to May 2023, the diocese will implement a plan to deepen the voice of the faithful in the Church at all levels.

The synod process will be shared every step of the way through the diocese’s media in English and Spanish: the webpages sdcatholic.org/synod and sdcatholic.org/sinodo; its publications “The Southern Cross” (print) and thesoutherncross.org; and its social media (Facebook @DioceseSanDiego; Instagram @SDCatholics, and YouTube (SDCatholics).

This will be the third synod held in the San Diego Diocese since Bishop Robert McElroy arrived six years ago. He implemented the proposals that resulted from the first two synods, which had significant impact on the life of the Church locally.

The 2016 Diocesan Synod on Embracing the Joy of Love transformed the way the diocese prepares couples for marriage and serves today’s families, with all the challenges and opportunities they face.

In 2019, the diocese held a synod focused on how to engage young people in the life and mission of the Church. By year’s end, the diocese had begun to implement the 30 proposals that resulted from that synod, called “Christ Lives! A Time of Dreams and Decisions.”

The diocese also participated in a consultation of Latino faithful nationwide, called the Fifth National Encuentro for Hispanic Ministry, to discern ways the Church in the U.S. can better respond to their presence. The multi-year consultation occurred at the parish and community, regional and national levels, starting in 2017. The U.S. Church and dioceses are in the process of implementing the recommendations that emerged from that process.

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