By Father Alex Zenthoefer
Special to The Message
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called for a Synod to take place in 2023 with the title, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” Let’s dig a little deeper into this word Synod. Generally speaking, it is a meeting of bishops addressing a particular topic. In recent years, for example, the Church has had Synods on youth and on the Amazon. In preparation for these synods, surveys are sent to dioceses and, oftentimes, reports are generated at the diocesan level and are collated into a preparatory document for the bishops to use as a starting point for their discussion.
For the upcoming Synod, the net is being cast much wider. Every diocese is being asked to call upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to listen to the experiences of their people. This is not a discussion on abstract concepts or ideas; it is not an analysis of our programs and policies; we want to know how you, the people of our diocese, are encountering God: how you have seen God working in your lives and how you have been changed.
In order to do this, we are planning listening sessions across the diocese with people from our parishes and our community coming together to reflect on a few questions that will help us to see how the Holy Spirit is working among us. In essence, we want to say to everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, in the 12 counties of Southwest Indiana: “What God is doing in your life matters! It matters to us and it matters to the entire Church.”
The big question we want to respond to is, “How are we journeying together as a Church?” In other words, how do we experience the companionship of our brothers and sisters, and how do we accompany others along the way? Or how have we felt this companionship lacking in our lives?
We have been through a lot over the last couple years; and maybe we have a new perspective on the value of the Church in our lives. Maybe you have been challenged to practice your faith differently and experienced positive fruits as a result; or maybe you have faced circumstances that have made you rethink your relationship with God. Whatever it is and wherever you are … we want to hear it.
It is important to keep in mind that these are not meetings to talk about how we are going to get things done. First and foremost, these are meetings to talk about where we are, about what we need – and to ask how the Holy Spirit is guiding us to take the next step.
The goal is not to create some big project or implement a program; the goal is to find out where our people are. That means the people who come to Mass regularly, people who have left the Church, the poor who may not feel welcomed, people who feel disenfranchised and all people of every faith. All of this information will be synthesized and passed on to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and will eventually make its way to Rome. But for us, it is an opportunity to do the important work of finding out what God is already doing and where God may be calling us here in the Diocese of Evansville.
It may result in a new focus on ministry in our diocese or lead us to explore how we respond to certain issues as a local Church. But we are leaving that up to the Holy Spirit and focusing, at this point, on what you have to share with us.
Please join us for one of the listening sessions or fill out an online survey, which will be available in February, if you cannot make it in person. But please know that we want to hear from you. You can find more information and links to videos from the people of our diocese on our diocesan website at evdio.org. We look forward to hearing about your experiences of walking together on this path of faith. We are ready to listen.
Father Alex serves as Vicar General of the Diocese of Evansville, and pastor of Sts. Mary and John Parish in Evansville.