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‘People shared from the heart’

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FORMED: Participants reflected on the Eucharist on Oct. 2 at a synod dialogue at Mission San Diego de Alcalá Parish. (Credit: Denis Grasska)

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SAN DIEGO — In small-group dialogues at parishes and schools across the Diocese of San Diego, Catholics are opening up and sharing how much the Eucharist means to them.

These gatherings, which started in early October and will conclude in early November, represent a continuation of a worldwide consultation, called a synod. Pope Francis called for this consultation to encourage all faithful to listen to one another and develop pathways to address modern challenges, working together to renew the Church.

In fact, the Synod on Synodality, held in October at the Vatican, examined the results of the initial small-group sessions held in the spring of 2022.

For this current round of dialogues at the diocese, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy has sought to use the process employed last year at 1,100 synod sessions as a way to engage local Catholics in the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival. The revival is a three-year initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deepen understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist.

The diocese has asked all 98 of its parishes, the three diocesan high schools, and the middle-school grades at its 42 elementary schools to host dialogues. The sessions began with a brief video message; then, participants broke into small groups of about six to eight people. Seated in a circle of chairs, they engaged in a confidential dialogue guided by three questions about the Eucharist.

What has the experience been like?

“Oh, it was wonderful,” said Lisa Mersereau, 60, after an Oct. 2 session at Mission San Diego de Alcalá Parish.

“People shared from the heart,” said Mersereau, who is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. “There was crying, there was laughing, there (were) awe-inspiring stories from the really learned people that were in my group. And so, I was very glad I came.”

Max Sonnier, 27, attended the same session.

“I was curious about the direction of discussion that was going on in the synod and, as someone who converted to Catholicism recently … I was curious where the laypeople’s minds were at with the synod. That’s what drew me in,” said Sonnier, who became Catholic last Easter.

He expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to meet “a lot of fabulous people” and to engage in conversations where “a lot of intimate, personal experiences” were shared.

Mission San Diego held its synod sessions on Oct. 2, 4 and 16, and its bulletin promises a “special bonus session” on Nov. 6.

At St. Michael Parish in Poway, parishioners had three opportunities to attend a synod dialogue session — in the evening on Oct. 2 and Oct. 4 and in the morning on Oct. 3.

Participants shared their experiences after the morning session.

Patrick J. Murphy, 64, reflected on the importance of the Eucharist.

“It is the way in which you connect with Jesus Christ, not just once a week, but as many times as you can,” explained Murphy, a St. Michael’s parishioner for more than 30 years. “We think it keeps us grounded in a very chaotic world and, without it, I would think that we wouldn’t be as happy as we are.”

Murphy found the dialogue with his fellow parishioners to be “enlightening.”

“I think a lot of the people in my group, we all share similar loves and yet similar frustrations with the Church,” he said.

Murphy noted that within his group were parishioners whose entire families still attend Mass weekly as well as those with family members who have become “CEOs,” those who attend Mass on Christmas and Easter only.

“What I found as the common theme was: We really want to get our youth back to the Church … because they’re the future,” he said.

Kim Collins, 61, had some misgivings at the start of the small-group dialogues Oct. 3 at St. Michael’s. She was initially disappointed to learn that the discussion would be based on prepared questions and, when the first one was posed, she didn’t feel like she had an answer.

But these feelings subsided.

“I think the questions were so profound and the people were so open that it inspired in me something I didn’t even know that I thought,” said Collins, “and, as it turned out, it was a great way to communicate. Everyone was heard. Very valuable, important things were said.”

Collins said that she had been away from the Church for about 30 years before returning in 2013. Her return came about through the confluence of two events – a spiritual experience at Eucharistic adoration and the support she received from fellow members of her Catholic homeschooling group as she went through a painful divorce.

Collins felt “very positive … and very hopeful” after the synodal discussion.

“We don’t talk in our society much about actual experiences with God in our day-to-day life,” she said. “So, to hear people talking about that so truthfully, and honestly, and simply, it was wonderful.”

Dr. Robert Ehnow, director of the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice, coordinates the diocese’s synod, along with Chancellor Marioly Galván. He said that, like dioceses throughout the world, the Diocese of San Diego conducted small-group sessions at parishes and schools in the spring of 2022.

“As far as I know, there are no other dioceses in the United States that are continuing to have these kind of diocesan-wide, synodal consultations throughout the parishes,” Ehnow said of the recent round of synod dialogues on the Eucharist.

The data will be analyzed by researchers at the University of San Diego, who will prepare a report that Cardinal McElroy can share with the faithful in early 2024.

More information is available at sdcatholic.org/synod.

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