Growing in faith, welcoming outsiders and people who are marginalized, listening with intent to understand, and finding new ways to work together at all levels of the Church.
These are some of the things Catholics throughout Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska have indicated the Church needs to keep working on.
“The documents of (the Second Vatican Council) speak of the universal call to holiness and of our call to recognize the many gifts given by the Spirit to different members for the sake of the whole Church,” observed the authors of a recently submitted report for the international “Synod 2021-2023: For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”
“The diverse charisms are to be celebrated and called forth so that the life of the Church may be enriched and its mission fulfilled,” the authors stated.
The report is a synthesis of the reports generated by each of the 15 dioceses and archdioceses in the four states that make up Region IX of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Those who have read the diocese of Jefferson City’s report will notice common themes.
“The regional report affirms for me that what is on the hearts and minds of the people in our diocese is not isolated,” said Helen Osman, diocesan communication director.
The reports are part of the listening phase of the Synod, which is a two-year, worldwide process of praying and listening in order to discern how best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ at this time in history.
Pope Francis initiated the Synod to help spur ongoing renewal of the Church throughout the world.
It will culminate with a formal gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops in Vatican City in 2023. The focus will be on promoting communion, participation and mission among all members of the Church.
The framers of the report for Region IX set out to identify common themes throughout the diocesan reports.
“The reports show that the Synod is describing a new path for the Church in which all members take responsibility for the Church’s mission, and where all are welcome, grow together in faith and worship, and confidently offer their gifts for the sake of the whole community,” the regional report states.
The region itself, constituting the geographical and population center of the continental United States, contains a few large cities, many smaller cities and towns, and large rural areas.
It includes many small parishes. Patterns of migration are making many of the communities more diverse.
A broad spectrum of viewpoints was actively solicited in each diocese for the listening phase, with varying degrees of success.
“Several dioceses made special efforts to engage with people who are perceived to be marginalized in the Church and in society: with those who have left the Church, with members of cultural minorities, with those who have been imprisoned, with those who are homeless, with others who feel they are not welcome,” the report states.
Many of the sometimes mixed messages reported by the dioceses point to a Church challenged to fulfill its mission within a rapidly changing society while wounded by polarization and the ongoing effects of the clerical sex-abuse scandal.
Many of the dioceses in the region reported a positive sense of communion among people who are actively engaged in their parishes, but not nearly as much by people who are separated by age, language, culture and life experiences.
Participants expressed a common desire to halt the wave of young people leaving the Church or becoming lax in practicing their faith.
Many spoke of the need for parishes to provide lifelong opportunities for growing in faith and consistently putting it into action in the broader community.
A sizable portion recognize the need to share the faith actively throughout their everyday lives but don’t feel confident doing so or don’t know where to begin.
As laypeople now handle most of the faith formation and sacrament preparation for young people, a common need was identified for specific training for adults carrying out this work.
In fact, participants tended to see a need for more-extensive formation and preparation for laypeople engaged in all sorts of ministries throughout the parish.
People in some dioceses reported friction between clergy and laypeople over how best to make decisions and work together on carrying-out the mission of leading people to Christ and preparing them to spend eternity in heaven.
Many of the noticeably small number of young people who took part in the listening process said they’re frustrated that their experiences, needs and concerns are not being addressed by their parishes or the Church.
Polarization and division were evident both in the sometimes strident way opinions were expressed during the listening process, and in what many participants stated to be part of their experience.
This seemed particularly evident among people who are drawn to the Mass in Latin from before the Second Vatican Council and those who “are frustrated that not everyone embraces the Conciliar liturgy.”
Some participants said their experience of polarization in the Church reflects that of the rest of society.
The hot-button social and cultural issues of the day, along with the Church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, were shown to be particularly polarizing.
“Respondents in one diocese asserted that there is no safe place for discussion of difficult issues,” the report states.
Participants overwhelmingly indicated support for the teaching authority of the Church while acknowledging distrust for members of the hierarchy for allowing the abuse of minors by members of the clergy to go unaddressed for too long.
“The whole Church continues to suffer from the loss of credibility and from evidence that members of the hierarchy were more concerned to protect the institution than they were to protect its members — even its most vulnerable members,” the report states.
Quest for communion
People’s stated experience of welcome varies widely.
The regional report quotes one of the diocesan reports: “People want to be known, valued and loved.”
Many women, young people, people who are divorced, and people who identify as being attracted to the same sex indicated through the process that they do not feel welcome in their parishes.
Immigrants and people with different cultural backgrounds indicated having similar experiences.
Many who are elderly, especially those who cannot regularly attend Mass due to health, tend to feel cut-off from their parishes.
The merging of parishes due to demographic changes and a decreasing number of available priests poses challenges for people trying to remain active in newly-constituted faith communities.
Many who participated in the listening process said they see the work of the Synod as an important step in the right direction.
The full text of the report for Region IX and the full text of the report from the Jefferson City diocese can be found online at: diojeffcity.org/synod.