Friday May. 13, 2022
SALT LAKE CITY — The “Synod on Synodality” listening sessions for the 2023 Synod of Bishops have now concluded in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, and the diocesan team is compiling the results into a final document, which will be sent to the USCCB by the end of June.
Pope Francis has asked every parish around the world to hold these listening sessions for people, Catholic and non-Catholic, to share their thoughts on the nature and mission of the Catholic Church. During the sessions, participants were invited to discuss selected questions from the manual prepared by the Vatican General Secretariat for the Synod.
Across Utah, nearly 5,000 people participated in the sessions. Members of 21 parishes and missions, four Catholic schools, an interfaith group, and a Catholic LGBTQ+ and allies group in Salt Lake City gave their thoughts on questions posed to them by the Church. The notes collected during these sessions will be synthesized by the diocesan synod team into 625 words for each theme. Next, a team of writers will assemble a draft of the final diocesan report.
While 5,000 is only about 0.17 percent of Catholics in Utah, Father John Evans, coordinator of diocesan synod efforts, said he believes a diverse group of Catholics are represented at the sessions. ‘listen. Prof. Evans is pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Cottonwood Heights.
Attendance was voluntary at all sessions, and parishes and other organizations reported a mixed response to the process.
No one showed up to participate in the two scheduled sessions at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Salt Lake City, said steering committee chair Michele Paoletti-Schlep. “I’m a Catholic cradle and this is the first time the Church has asked for a contribution, so I just feel like they missed a really valuable opportunity,” she added.
Only four people joined a Zoom meeting with members of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable and people of other faiths organized by the father. Langes Silva, diocesan judicial vicar. The low turnout was partly due to a lack of understanding by some Roundtable members of Christian practices and what the Church is asking of them. Silva said. Those who participated seemed to struggle with the questions but appreciated the opportunity to participate, he said.
“One of the things they said was that it’s necessary for all of us as Christians to work together, but how are we going to work together if we don’t know each other?” he said. “If we want to work together on different projects, we have to know each other beforehand.
The participants of the interfaith group also asked about the practice of having celibate priests in the Church, something that was not part of their faith, which gave him the opportunity to explain the position of the ‘Church. The experience underscored the need for people of different faiths to learn more about each other, he added.
At St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Helper, parishioners were initially reluctant to participate in the process, said note-taker Lenora Callor. “When he first came out, everyone was very, very hesitant. They didn’t understand what was going on.”
However, after parish organizers explained the process in more detail and went through a first session, several people wanted to participate in a second, Callor said. “The first session was, ‘Oh, I don’t want to say anything because I’m scared.’ Once they opened up and realized that we weren’t there to judge them, we were there to listen to them, and we weren’t going to stop them in mid-sentence, they were very open.
Several participants in the listening sessions shared how pastors, the parish and the church helped them through difficult times. They also asked that the priests and the parish community become more involved with the children and show them more support.
Attendees “felt like they were being heard and there was good direction” at St. Martin de Porres Parish, Taylorsville, listening session, note-taker Robin Marvive said. They particularly appreciated the interaction with the members of the clergy who took part in the discussions. People had different opinions on the issues, but most were looking for ideas to bring their families back to church.
“We all came to the same conclusion,” Marvive said, “that it would be the youth; that we need to re-engage young people in the love of Christ, and not lose them after their sacraments, and that would help re-engage their families.
The parish is already working on some options to reach young people, such as community work, she said.
Note-taker George Jockish said parishioners who participated in the listening session at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kearns were thrilled to be part of the process.
“None of us had a clue what we were getting into; we had never done anything like this before. I think they were glad they did,” he said. “In church, normally you are told what to do and you just try to follow. That our opinion made a difference, it seemed like we were part of it and we learned a bit about each other.
At the listening session at St. Ambrose Parish, Salt Lake City, attendees struggled with what they thought were the blurring of the questions, noted note-taker Mary Foye. Two scheduled listening sessions were poorly attended. They weren’t well advertised, and with the pandemic still active, it might not have been the best time to plan for such events, Foye said. Some parishioners told her later that they had read the topics and felt they had nothing to say about them, so they did not attend the sessions, she added.
During the Zoom session of the Catholic LGBTQ+ and Allies group, people had a lot to say, said note-taker Julie Boerio-Goates. Participants especially wanted church leaders to understand their pain as they struggle to be part of the church, she said, “from commitment to the church to a desire to be seen as a human. Often they are seen as different – “other than” not being accepted or allowed to participate in Church activities.
These attendees expressed compassion and concern for others who are barred from receiving the sacraments, such as those who have divorced and remarried outside the Church and some people with disabilities, Boerio-Goates said. They also wonder about the attitude of the parish communities which, in their view, expect them to justify their presence in the life of the Church.
“Why is it up to marginalized and minority communities to show the rest of the community that they are human and have feelings and deserve to be listened to, to participate, instead of just saying, ‘Here who are we as Christians?’ they asked,” Boerio-Goates said.