Ministry providers can take part in worldwide church synod

March 15, 2022


The Catholic Church has embarked on a synod, or a "journeying together," to learn how the Holy Spirit is moving in today's church, how people are experiencing the church and what is needed to fulfill the church's mission in the future.

This illustration for the Synod on Synodality represents how Christ, crucified and risen unites humanity with God the Father. The Holy Spirit is pictured as a dove inside the chalice that is held by Christ's mother Mary.

In October Pope Francis called upon the entire church to take part in the "Synod on Synodality." The goal, according to a handbook from the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, is for people around the world to discern how best to seek God's will and to "pursue the pathways to which God calls us — towards deeper communion, fuller participation, and greater openness to fulfilling our mission in the world."

The synod is in the listening phase, and dioceses around the globe are gathering people's input. The dioceses will provide summaries of what they learn to their bishops' conferences. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather all of the U.S. input for the synod by late June.

The information will be used to create a U.S. national synthesis, which is due to go to the Vatican's general secretariat for the synod of bishops by Aug. 15. The U.S. will then work with Canada for the continental phase of the synod. That content will be part of the global report presented to the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. A Vatican convening of bishops will discuss the fruits of the process in October 2023.

Lucas Swanepoel, CHA director of government relations, says that taking part in the Synod on Synodality is one way Catholic health systems and facilities can have a dialogue with their church contacts in the communities they serve. He encourages providers to get in touch with their dioceses or archdioceses to determine how they are undertaking the listening phase and how the Catholic health care facilities can provide input. Brian Smith, CHA vice president of sponsorship and mission services, notes that CHA is exploring how it might also contribute to the synod on a national basis.

Diocesan- and archdiocesan-driven
Richard Coll, executive director of the USCCB's Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development in Washington, and consultant Julia McStravog are helping to coordinate the USCCB's synod work. The duo are providing guidance to all U.S. dioceses, archdioceses and other organizations to invite their participation in the synod, under the guidance of Fr. Michael Fuller, USCCB general secretary.

Coll and McStravog say that there is great variation in how dioceses and archdioceses are carrying out the listening portion of the synod, and that is by design. The synod is intended to be a very organic engagement, eliciting countless perspectives.

McStravog notes that the Catholic Church has undertaken numerous synods over time, but this one is different from the others in its universal scope. "This is for all the people of God, it is an inclusive invitation" for all those touched by the church, including people who are not Catholic. She says the listening in and of itself is a goal. "A hoped-for outcome is that the listening will be an encounter that is inspiring and meaningful."

Coll notes that "part of the emphasis is on reaching the peripheries — those whose voices are not usually heard."

Coll and McStravog say the outcome will be based on where the Holy Spirit leads the discussions over the next year and a half.

'Grassroots level'
Patrick McCruden is chief mission integration officer of St. Louis-based SSM Health, and an ordained permanent deacon in the Catholic Church.

He says that SSM Health believes it is being led to take part in the synod because the synod is important to the church as a whole.

SSM Health operates 23 hospitals and a network of other health care facilities in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. McCruden says while SSM Health is encouraging each of its hospitals to get involved in the synod, the system is not being prescriptive when it comes to how its local sites do so. The SSM Health sites are getting in touch with their local diocesan and archdiocesan contacts to learn how they are undertaking the listening sessions and how they can plug into the process.

McCruden notes each diocese and archdiocese is unique in its approach. For instance, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is conducting its gathering of perspectives through a renewal process it already had underway called "All Things New: Steadfast in Faith, Forward in Hope."

McCruden anticipates that the synod will point toward a new vision for the church and new ways to share Jesus. "The church is listening at the grassroots level and seeing where people think the church is moving.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to be in dialogue, not just within Catholic health care, but with the Catholic Church generally."

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