The Church is Listening

What is a synod? We often hear the word, but what exactly does it accomplish? The Most Rev. Bernard Hebda, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, joined Morning Air® to explain why his Archdiocese is holding a synod and what he hopes to learn from his flock.

“A diocesan synod is a tool that’s given to a bishop to be able to get assistance in governing the diocese. The Code of Canon Law, which is kind of our rulebook for the Church, speaks about it as an assembly of selected priests and other members of the faithful. And they get together, and trusting that indeed the Holy Spirit works and that Christ is present whenever two or more are gathered in his name, to be able to begin that process of discerning how the Church should be moving forward,” explained Archbishop Hebda.

These synods work in the same way, but on a different scale, as a universal synod of bishops presided over by the Pope in Rome. For synods, listening is the key to success. The Archdiocese is holding listening sessions to get feedback from the faithful around the diocese. This helps Archbishop Hebda to not make arbitrary decisions about the direction of the Archdiocese, but to really understand and discern the needs of the flock.

“What I’m hoping to hear is people sharing with us the things that are most important to them. Trusting … that they’re going to be able to share with us the needs that they see that they have and that their brothers and sisters have. Their hopes for the Church; that they’ll be able to give us an assessment of what’s going well, what’s not going so well. What is it that they’d like to see the Church doing in the next ten years, and how it is that they think we might be able to accomplish that,” said Archbishop Hebda.

A synod helps a diocese—or the Universal Church—discern the pastoral approach needed to minister to the Church, and what direction the Church should take for the future. It’s not a means of changing Church teaching and doctrine. “We’re going to be assessing how it is that we can be faithful to our call as Church. We as Catholics obviously have a real confidence in the teachings of the Church, the Holy Father, and the bishops throughout the centuries. We recognize that that’s a great treasure for us, so our job is to figure out how we can be more faithful to that teaching. … We will be looking at those things that are within our power to affect. So how it is that we can encourage pastoral programs here in the Archdiocese—always in line with the teachings of the Church.”

Pope Francis, during his visit to Ukraine earlier this month, told the Ukrainian bishops to keep the Holy Spirit central to their synod. It’s not about politics or inquiry, he warned. “If there is no Holy Spirit, there is no Synod. If the Holy Spirit is not present, there is no synodality. Or rather, if there is no Church, the identity of the Church. And what is the identity of the Church? Saint Paul VI said it clearly: it is the vocation of the Church to evangelize, indeed: her identity is to evangelize. Enter this Synod of yours in this spirit, with the Holy Spirit,” said the Holy Father.

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