The Diocese of Little Rock will begin the diocesan phase Sunday, Oct. 17, of a two-year process of discussion and reflection to better understand and articulate the Church's mission.
Pope Francis formally launched the "Synod on Synodality," the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, with a Mass in St. Peter Basilica Oct. 10.
The local synod phase will begin with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor at 12:05 p.m., Oct. 17, at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.
The diocesan theme is "Journeying Together: Communion, Participation and Mission." Synod is Greek for "walking together on the same path." A synod is a process in which the Church discerns a particular issue. Since becoming pontiff, Pope Francis has held synods on the family (2014), youth (2018) and the Pan-Amazon region (2019).
The pope asked each diocese worldwide to hold listening sessions with a special focus on people who are marginalized in the Church and community. In Arkansas, this could include those in prison, the homeless and the poor.
Each parish and deanery will hold discussions within the Church and community in the Diocese of Little Rock through April 2022. They will then compile a report and turn it into the diocese. The diocesan team will summarize the parish reports into a 10-page document for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB will then write a report to the Vatican for the synod's general assembly in October 2023.
"The Synod on Synodality is for the universal Church and will have its greatest impact in places where there is not already a culture of consultation within the Church," Bishop Anthony B. Taylor told Arkansas Catholic. "Here in Arkansas, we will be building on the foundation of numerous consultative bodies already flourishing in many of our parishes and other organizations, but the ultimate goal is for this journeying together to lead to missionary outreach to those on the margins in our parishes and in our communities, including the 94 percent of Arkansas that is not Catholic.
"Within the Church, the hope is to engage not only those who are very active, but also those who are not very well connected. Within the larger society, the hope is to engage not only non-Catholic fellow Christians and believers in non-Christian religions but also to journey with those children of God whose manner of life is far from Church teaching or whose circumstances of life are far from what we normally see in our churches."
Bishop Taylor appointed Sister Mickey Espinoza, MCP, director of Hispanic Ministry Office, and Liz Tingquist, director of Catholic Campus Ministry and Catholic Youth Ministry offices, to lead the process at the diocesan level.
"It will start with a six-month listening process," Tingquist said. "The Church wants to listen, and the main questions are: Do you feel like you're part of the Church? Why or why not? What is your experience? Why do you feel that way? How can the Church make you feel more included? When and how have you experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life and in the life of the Church? And what brings you joy in the Church and in your life?
"There's going to be a special emphasis on people who are on the margins. For the Diocese of Little Rock, that means talking with Hispanics and young people, which is why Sister Mickey and I have been asked to do it, as well as fallen-away Catholics, the interfaith community and people dealing with LGBTQ issues. At the same time, we want to listen to the families in the pews," she said.
Sister Mickey said everyone should be included in the process for the synod to be successful.
“I believe here in the Diocese of Little Rock there has been a process of listening and gathering the voice of the Hispanic community, especially those that participated in the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry,” she said. “They will be key people in the communities and parishes to bring together those on the margins to express their voices and participate in their parishes. I believe there is a sincere effort to reach more people with the help of the diocesan team, the parish teams and support of the pastors.”
Each parish or deanery will have a synod representative or team trained on how to conduct the process and assemble the report. While the process calls for group discussions, Tingquist said there might be times when Church leaders can have one-on-one conversations with someone who is not active in the parish or outside of the Church.
"I think it will give us a more intimate awareness of what's going on... But I think this process will really be important in countries that may be more clerical systematically," she said. "I think in the United States, the Church is not a democracy, but our world view is democratic. I think our priests are formed with that worldview, so there's a lot more discussion and involvement at the parish level.
"It's a good thing just to have a listening ear. You can't change capital-T truth, but people feel included when they're listened to. Ultimately, we want to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling us to do as a Church."
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