Synod Engagement Giving Local Catholics a Voice to Help Shape the Future of the Church

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By Tony DeGol
Proclaim!

Many Catholics around the world would love to have a direct line to Pope Francis to share their perspective and vision for the future of the universal Church. 

After all, each person – whether he or she is in the pews for Mass every day or has been away from the Church for a while – has a unique experience that deserves to be shared.

Since calling the Vatican and chatting with the Holy Father himself is not realistic, the Pope is inviting everyone to perhaps the next best thing. 

A Synod on Synodality, is underway in the world-wide Catholic Church, and faithful in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are invited and encouraged to participate.

A synod is typically defined as an assembly of clergy. This time, Pope Francis has called for the entire Catholic Church – including lay people – to embark on the two-year process, which he opened in October of last year.

In launching the diocesan phase of the synod, Bishop Mark described the synod journey as walking on the same road together with emphasis on three things: encountering one another, listening, and discerning.

“The idea of a synod as a way to encounter, to listen, and discern goes back to the early days of the Church after the Feast of Pentecost,” the Bishop reminded. “The disciples at that time came together to seek the way that they should go that includes their ideas, desires, needs, and dreams, but always led by the Holy Spirit.”

Pope Francis believes that making room for the Holy Spirit is critical to this synod process. This effort, he has stated, is not about implementing programs, but rather listening to the Spirit through prayer and the Word of God regarding how we as a Church can better live out the mission of Jesus Christ.

In order to do this, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is making various opportunities available to the faithful.

  • ONLINE SURVEYS – All Catholics are invited to fill out a quick, easy, and anonymous survey. Click HERE for a link to the survey. Online responses must be completed by April 30, 2022.
  • PRINT SURVEYS – For those who are unable to complete the survey on a computer, phone, or tablet, print copies are available at every parish in the diocese.
  • FAITH SHARING GROUPS – Comprised of the former ARISE Together in Christ © groups and open to new members, the synod small groups are using Scripture to help them reflect, have meaningful discussion, and respond to the surveys as a team. For those who would like to be part of the small faith sharing groups, please contact individual parishes or Sister Linda LaMagna, CCW, at llamagna@dioceseaj.org.

The diocese is also reaching out to specific segments of the local Church for input, according to Justin Kirkland, Communications Coordinator for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

All Catholic school students and Religious Education students in grades 7-12 are being asked to complete the survey, along with their teachers or catechists and their parents, he said.

“This is the first time in a long time that young people in that age group can honestly talk about their faith and know that their voices will be heard through this process,” noted Kirkland.

Also being asked to participate are students engaged in Catholic campus ministry at local colleges and universities, regardless of their home diocese. Clients of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are also being engaged, and chaplains at local prisons will bring surveys to inmates.

All clergy and religious in the diocese will be given surveys unique to their vocation, added Kirkland.

“We want to hear from as many people as possible – from an 80 year old who goes to Mass every day to a 40 year old who hasn’t been to Mass in 10 years,” insisted Kirkland. “Their experiences are only going to help us, as a Church, move forward to build community, have more participation, lift up saints, and live out the mission.”

After April 30th, all responses from the Altoona-Johnstown surveys will be reviewed, and the common themes will be included in a 10 page summary, which will be sent to the Vatican, along with similar summaries from dioceses around the world in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

Bishop Mark is encouraging local participation in this diocesan phase of the synod and continued prayers for the future of the Church.

“The Holy Spirit is part of the Blessed Trinity and animated by the experience of being in communion with the Father and the Son, and so we need that kind of breath and energy to move us forward,” he stated. “After the last two years of a pandemic hitting the Church throughout the world, we need a breath of fresh air, and I’m confident that the Holy Spirit is ready to move us in that direction. It’s already happening.”