Editor’s note: This document was prepared by Father Alex Zenthoefer, based on the full Executive Summary.
Over the last several months, it has been a joy to listen to the people of the Diocese of Evansville share their experiences of how God has been present and active in their lives. It is clear that there is a great treasure in the hearts of our people that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. It is our hope that the work we have done in doing our part to prepare for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on Synodality will not only be an offering to the Universal Church, but a starting point for more intentional dialogue with our people. We need to find more ways to highlight the great cloud of witnesses who simply and often silently bear witness to Christ.
The Diocese of Evansville conducted over 25 listening sessions throughout its 12 counties in Southwestern Indiana. There were over 600 people who participated in either a listening session or completed an online survey. At the same time, we realize that there were still those who were not heard. We hope that ongoing efforts at synodality will result in a deeper relationship among the people of our Diocese.
A team of 16 lay facilitators were trained to guide the listening sessions and generate a synthesis for each session. These syntheses were used, along with the feedback from the online surveys, to create a synthesis, which was submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those who facilitated the listening sessions were also invited to review our full synthesis to ensure its accuracy. This Abbreviated Executive Summary summarizes what we discovered throughout this process. We will publish the full Executive Summary in the Sept. 9 all-diocesan issue of The Message, and it can be found at evdio.org/synod.
The Eucharist was the predominant theme that emerged from the People of God in the Diocese of Evansville. “It is through the Eucharist that Christ makes himself present in our lives.” The people of our Diocese strongly emphasized the importance of encountering Christ in the Eucharist. It is through Christ that we come to know and understand ourselves and our mission in the world. The Eucharist brings a wide diversity of individuals together, strengthening us as a family in Christ, who in receiving the Eucharist, are then sent out to act. The Eucharist is what helps us listen: it is what puts us in front of Jesus so that we can listen to Him.
Many people shared that their parish community is a source of joy in their lives. We journey together by participating in Mass and through opportunities to share our faith with each other through programs and retreats, working at parish picnics and serving in various ministries within the Church. People noted that involvement is essential to the life of the community; that we need to find ways to remain connected and that outreach is a critical part of our mission.
“By being involved in smaller groups, we are more effective in journeying together.” The following movements and retreats were identified by our people as having a substantial impact on their lives: Cursillo, Christ Renews His Parish, Teens Encounter Christ, Communion and Liberation, Source and Summit, The Christian Family Movement, Renew, and Why Catholic? They help us to share life and change culture; they are an entry point into the life of the Church and they help us to deepen our spiritual lives.
“I believe God is asking us to come together as a family and take care of each other.” There was a sense among our people that, as Catholics, we are being asked to be part of a larger community and to be in relationship with one another. There is a real desire to be welcoming and accompany new people, but also an awareness that we sometimes fail in this regard because of fear, uncertainty or discomfort. But, we can be better ambassadors of the faith; God is asking us to speak of our faith to those who are hungry for something more than the world can give.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused our people a lot of sadness and distress as churches were closed in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy. It led to feelings of frustration and anger toward the Church, and many expressed a profound loss at the absence of the sacraments. The desire that churches not be “closed” again was a point of significant emotion and concern. We had to adjust to virtual liturgies; people missed their parish communities; and there was an opportunity to grow from this period of struggle.
CHURCH MISSION & METHODS
With regard to the Church and her mission and methods, there were a number of themes highlighted by our people. On one side, their comments show a great love for the Church and the immense value of their faith; while at the same time, there is some frustration with the Church: dealing with everything from lengthy processes, seemingly meaningless protocols and a perceived lack of leadership.
A number of challenges were listed that need further attention and dialogue. These challenges highlight everything from ecclesiology to pastoral care; from unity to addressing the changing culture in which we live. These challenges are listed in their entirety in the Final Executive Summary.
This experience of intentionally listening to our people and inviting the gift of the Holy Spirit to shed light on our experience has offered some important insights into the lives of our people. We noticed that many struggled to speak from their own experiences of God and tended to focus on the things they didn’t like at their parish or in the Church. We also noticed that people wanted to be heard and understood. They appreciated the opportunity to share their experience of faith with the local Church. The final observation is the need and desire for faith to be a lived experience. Our people want to understand how their faith relates to life and what relevance it has to their families, their work and their leisure.