A Sacred Journey of Listening and Discernment

by Sister Clare Marie Beichner, SSJ

In October 2021, Pope Francis announced a two-year process of listening and dialogue in the Catholic Church, known as the “Synod on Synodality.”  A “synod” is a journey of discernment rooted in the Holy Spirit.    

Synod 2021-2023: For a Synodal Church, invites the entire Church to discern how the Spirit is moving through, and with, the Body of Christ–inside and outside the Church—so that we may continue to fulfill our mission of evangelizing in the world. During this Synod, all Catholics are invited to listen with open hearts and minds, share their experiences, and make space for the voices of those often marginalized or excluded.

The theme of Synod is journeying together in solidarity. Our Baptism calls us to deepen our vision of a Church for today, building relationships with all people for the sake of building up the Church relevant to a third millennium. More than 3100 people participated in listening sessions in the Erie Diocese during 2021-2022. The reports were synthesized locally, then regionally to include Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and then nationally. The final report was then submitted to the Vatican. The report can be accessed via www.eriercd.org.

The Erie report included this comment: “Person after person expressed their joy that someone, finally, was asking what they thought. Someone was finally listening.”  Many themes emerged including Welcoming and Inclusivity, Mission and Outreach, Communication, and Leadership.

Representatives from around the world prayed with the reports and worked to further capture the essence of the message for the “Working Document for the Continental Stage.” Each Diocese was then asked to select 3-5 persons to meet in virtual listening sessions; I was one of the five chosen to represent the Diocese of Erie at the Continental Stage for North America (Canada and United States). In December 2022, there were 125 of us who prayed and reflected on the major themes that were surfacing. 

It is to a people living the experiences of exile that the prophet addresses words that help us today to focus on what the Lord is calling us to through the experience of lived synodality: “Enlarge the space of your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly, lengthen your ropes and make firm your pegs” (Isaiah 54:2).

These sessions will continue through January and a report will be written by March. In June, a group from around the world will meet at the Vatican to develop the report for the first session XVI General

Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2023. In October 2024, there will be a second Assembly of Bishops to further develop the themes and priorities identified throughout the world.

This has been an exciting and sacred journey of listening and discernment. I agreed to be a voice from the Erie Diocese because I believe that the Church is the people of God, and each person has an integral role in living the Gospel message that all may be One. In the coming months, I will further share in Interim some of the common themes that surfaced. Here is one statement from the working document that gives me hope.

The vision of a Church capable of a radical inclusion, shared belonging, and deep hospitality according to the teachings of Jesus is at the heart of the synodal process: “Instead of behaving like gatekeepers trying to exclude others from the table, we need to do more to make sure that people know that everyone can find a place and a home here” (USA). We are called to go to every place, especially outside the more familiar territories, “leaving the comfortable position of those who give hospitality to allow ourselves to be welcomed into the existence of those who are our companions on the journey of humanity” (Germany).

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