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Facilitator training sessions underway for diocesan synodal process

News of the Diocese

November 18, 2021

Facilitator training sessions underway for diocesan synodal process

Training sessions began Nov. 17 and continue through Nov. 29 for facilitators who will lead discussions locally throughout the Diocese of Cleveland as the diocesan process begins for the Synod on Synodality. The two-hour sessions are offered both in person and virtually.

This synod, the most recent undertaken by Pope Francis, “is a call to conversion for the Church, to become more Christlike in communion, participation and mission of all her members. The pope is reminding us that we’re journeying together to the Promised Land, and he wants to be certain that everyone is invited,” said Father Damian Ference, diocesan vicar for evangelization.

He and Lynette Saenz, assistant secretary for Parish Life and Development, were named by Bishop Edward Malesic to coordinate the synodal process in the diocese. Pope Francis set 2021-2023 as the timeframe for the synod.

Saenz said Pope Francis is an advocate of the synodal process and previously convened them for youth and the Amazon. We – both the Church and society at large – were unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, adding that the Church continues to struggle from wounds caused by the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people. In addition, racism intolerance and violence have fomented divisions not only in the Church and society, but also within families. There has been a continual rise in mental health needs, the effects of climate change and anxiety in family life, Saenz noted. “It is easy to feel discouraged. And yet, we are a people of hope,” she said, adding that St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans to “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.”

As the synodal process unfolds and constituencies across the diocese begin to listen to each other, “We will notice patterns that have developed where we see the Holy Spirit coming alive within the lives of the people, and where we see that people are still in need of God’s grace,” Saenz said. She also reminded attendees of Bishop Malesic’s caution at last month’s opening Mass for the synod that it not intended to be a complaint session, but a time for all to be heard.

“Let the Spirit speak to and through us,” she added.

Father Ference opened the training session with the Prayer for the Synod before Saenz guided the group through the process. The facilitators are being trained to lead others throughout the diocese in listening sessions. Saenz described it as “a process of hope that should bear much fruit.”

She said throughout the synodal process we must let ourselves be led by the Spirit, to look beyond parish walls and to hear other voices, to have an open mind, to avoid conflict and to focus on the main objective, “walking together as a people of faith and finding a way forward.” The process requires us to be humble, open to new ideas, to be ready to change our minds, to step out of our comfort zone, to listen and hear out of love and the spirit of communion.

The listening sessions will take place beginning in Advent and into early 2022. Information will be compiled on the diocesan and national levels before being shared with the Vatican for compilation into a larger report.

“It’s not something that will sit on a shelf and collect dust,” Saenz said, emphasizing the idea is to find ways to move the Church forward through communion, participation and mission, the three themes of the synod.

Facilitator training sessions underway for diocesan synodal process

Locally, Saenz said the objective is to hear from as many of God’s people as possible, including young, old, homebound, clergy, religious, laity, all facets of the education community, lay organizations like the Knights of Columbus, ministry groups, volunteers, cradle Catholics and everyone in between. Input from non-Catholics about their feelings on the Church is also invited.

She said the diocese has adopted six steps for the listening and discernment experience:

  • Let’s pray.
  • Let’s reflect.
  • Let’s share and listen.
  • Let’s think locally.
  • Let’s give thanks.
  • Let’s respond.

Each step will be incorporated into the listening sessions guided by facilitators. Saenz also stressed the need observe respectful communication guidelines during the sessions, explaining those speaking should:

  • Take responsibility for what they say and feel, speaking with words others can hear and understand.
  • Use empathetic listening.
  • Be sensitive to differences in communication styles.
  • Ponder on what you hear and feel before speaking.
  • Examine your own assumptions and perceptions.
  • Keep confidentiality.
  • Trust the process in order to experience true dialogue.

After praying, reflecting and taking time to share and listen, groups will be asked to identify a few concrete, practical action ideas. The listening sessions will end with giving thanks. The group facilitator and note taker will record the information on a form and submit it to the contact person for the parish, organization or school that hosted the session.

Each diocese throughout the country is asked to compile a 10-page document summarizing its synodal process. These will be submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will prepare a national report for the Vatican’s synod office.

A variety of resources on the synod, including the facilitator guide, frequently asked questions, the Prayer for the Synod and Bishop Malesic’s homily from the opening Mass for the synod, can be found here.

Click here for a digital version of the November/December issue of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine, which includes columns written by Bishop Malesic and Father Ference relating to the synod.

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