The Synod, Listening Sessions on Synodality. What is all that exactly? | Fr. Charles Zlock
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The Synod, Listening Sessions on Synodality. What is all that exactly?

Vatican logo for the worldwide synod leading up to the 16th Synod of Bishops, the “Synod on Synodality,” to be held in Rome in October 2023.

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I want to write to you all about the worldwide Synod… What is it? Why has Pope Francis called for one? What is its purpose? What is Saint Monica’s role in it? What is this “Listening Session” you have heard about?

Finally, what is your role in this?

Let me answer that last question first. I’m inviting you to come to the Listening Session. I’d also like you to bring someone with you - especially someone on the “fringe.” This might be a person who has been away from the Church. It could be someone who feels that the Church doesn’t listen to them. It could be a person who says they’re “spiritual” but not “religious.” It might even be someone who is not Catholic.

What is a synod? In the past, the Church has used large meetings - called synods - to listen to the Holy Spirit to examine a specific topic or to address a particular challenge facing the church. For example, in the 4th Century, questions arose as to which books of the Bible were truly “inspired” by the Holy Spirit. So, in 393 AD, the Synod of Hippo drafted and approved the official list of books in the Bible. More recently, the synodal document On The Family in the Modern World was published in 2015. The synod document “Christus Vivit” (“On Youth”) was penned by Pope Francis in 2019. Another synod document in 2019 addressed issues surrounding the environment (“Laudato Si”). It is typical that a document from the Holy Father or the bishops of the world is published after each synod.

What’s the background of the current synod? Coming out of COVID, Pope Francis looked around the world. Like almost everyone, he realized that the world, and correspondingly, the Church, has changed. This presents challenges: “We’re not sure what we are anymore. What should we do now?” It also presents opportunities: “What should we be in the future? What are we doing well? What can we do better?”

The most recent synod called by Pope Francis is a synod on ”synodality“ or how does the Church come together to help discern the voice of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Father has said that a synod is about listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Thus, this voice speaks through ALL the people of God. Pope Francis has often mentioned that not enough voices have been included in these listening sessions. He is especially keen about inviting “people on the fringes.” Thus, the next synod is going to focus on the way that the church listens. The phrase that has been adopted for this is “synodality.” It will involve a two-year process of listening and dialogue beginning in 2021 and concluding in 2023.

Listening Locally. The process to listen to the people within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (Catholic and non-Catholic) is titled “Called for More.” Called for More has a number or components:

Archdiocesan Listening Sessions: These will have a wide focus. The listening sessions are being held both virtually (10 sessions) and in-person (18 sessions). They are being held at parishes around the Archdiocese. All of these sessions will address the following points:

Topic 1: Joys and Concerns about the Church from the people of God

1. What fills you with joy about the Church?

2. What concerns do you have about the Church?

Topic 2: Listening Aspect of the Church

3. In what ways or moments has the Church encouraged you to speak up? How does the Church listen to you or hear what you are saying?

4. How can the Church create greater opportunities for people to be heard?

Topic 3: Accompaniment/Journey

5. How can the Church help you and others to grow in your relationship with Jesus and your relationship with the Church?

6. What can the Church do to support people on their faith journey?


What channels are being used to listen to the people of Saint Monica?

A Saint Monica Listening Session: One session exclusively for parishioners, for people invited by parishioners, and people associated with the parish will be held Monday, May 16. Details on the specific time and location are still being worked out. The Listening Session will address the same issues mentioned above.

Between now and 2023, information from all archdiocesan Listening Sessions across the country will be compiled by the (arch)dioceses, summarized, and sent to Rome and the Holy Father.


The Disciple Maker Index: This has a local and regional focus. This tool measures the spiritual, temporal, devotional and liturgical health of a parish. Locally, it provides information as a basis towards decisions about the parish for the next few years. Collectively, it will provide Archbishop Perez an overview of the strengths of his archdiocese and where are the areas for growth for Philadelphia.

We closed the DMI in April and had over 300 responses! Results are currently being tabulated and evaluated. The priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are going to meet with Archbishop Perez during a Priest Convocation in Hershey between May 9 and May 11. I suspect that initial results will be introduced to the priests at the Convocation with wider distribution following soon afterwards.

In closing, let me reiterate the importance of the May 16 Listening Session. We will never thrive nor grow as a parish unless we “cast our nets into deeper water.” We need to invite people outside of the typical Saint Monica parishioners and include a wider group of people. Please come. Bring someone with you. Let your - and new - voices be heard. It’s an exciting time for the parish and the Church. I’d like you to be a part of it.

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