By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
The faithful have spoken. And the Church in Dallas is listening.
From November to February, about 1,300 people attended a series of four catechetical sessions, which aimed to help the faithful learn more about the synodal process, its goals and ultimately how it will affect the Diocese of Dallas. The sessions, however, offered not only an opportunity to become more educated about the Diocese of Dallas Synod 2024, but also an avenue to present questions to Bishop Edward J. Burns and provide feedback about how the diocese impacts their faith lives.
“The data from those sessions will be interpreted and used to guide the direction of all the upcoming synod listening sessions,” said Lacy de la Garza, chair of the synod preparatory commission, a group of laypeople and clergy chosen to assist the bishop with the organization and preparation of the synod.
The listening sessions, which get underway March 26 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Richardson, each focus on a particular topic or group in the Church.
De la Garza said the topics for the listening sessions were drawn in part from the feedback received at the catechetical sessions.
“The catechetical sessions have shown us what people in the Diocese of Dallas care about,” de la Garza explained. “No remark or concern that was expressed in the catechetical sessions falls outside of the scope of what we plan to discuss in detail over the next two years. That is a huge positive for our diocese as a whole.”
Deacon Kevin Bartholomew, a member of the synod preparatory commission, agreed.
“The catechetical sessions laid the important foundation for the entire synodal process,” said Deacon Bartholmew, who serves as a deacon at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Dallas. “The information that was shared and the discussions that followed during the small group discussions were very energizing, especially as we begin our listening sessions.”
Fellow commission member Julie Billmeier added that she was particularly struck by how the topics raised tended toward the topics already discerned for the listening sessions.
“It truly indicated the movement of the Holy Spirit in our synod preparatory commission meetings and in our diocese,” she said. “And it underscored the need for us to dive deeper into these topics.”
A Time to Listen
Ultimately, the diocese is planning 10 public listening sessions between March 2022 and October 2023. Additional targeted listening sessions are planned for particular groups such as seminarians, clergy and religious.
To help prepare for those sessions, de la Garza said that the data from the catechetical session was grouped into feedback covering five broad categories of comments: Leadership and Government, Catechesis and Ministry, Communication, Social and Moral Issues, and Worship and Sacraments. Of those categories, Leadership and Governance and Catechesis and Ministry drew the most comments with a combined 59 percent of the total comments.
The responses alerted diocesan leaders to topics where they may wish to spend more time uncovering deeper areas of focus, de la Garza said. “Some comments around the Leadership and Governance category include the observation that ‘20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work in the parish,’” she explained. “Others observe the need for ‘multi-generational catechesis — the whole family’ and to ‘include parents and grandparents along with the children.’”
Many comments from the catechetical sessions spoke to the beauty of the televised Mass that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and how it deepened their connection to the diocese as a whole, exposing them to different churches and different priests they had not encountered before. Others asked for help in handling difficult social and moral issues faced in the world.
Billmeier said she believed the range of comments showed the commission the struggles on people’s hearts when it comes to their faith and their relationship with the Church.
“It brings me a lot of hope to know, though, that people are willing to take the time and effort to bring that forward in the hopes of a positive response to their concerns,” Billmeier said. “I know the Spirit will continue to lead people to bring forth both their success and their struggles, and we are also hopeful they will bring forth inspired recommendations to help us be able to write resolutions that will best respond to these needs in our diocese.”
De la Garza said that the diocese can use the takeaways from these sessions to reframe how it chooses to engage both the complimentary and critical sentiments expressed. For instance, concerns expressed about waning involvement of youth and young adults in their faith as well as the need for better catechesis helped fuel the decision to have the March 26 listening session topic to center on “Catechesis and Faith Formation of Children, Youth, and Adults.”
“This validates the need for a synod,” she explained. “And it provides us the perfect opportunity to begin to work together as a diocese to address some of these larger concerns through education, communication, and incremental change as we move towards longer-term solutions.”
The synod preparatory commission is also using the data collected from the catechetical sessions to develop questions for the listening sessions with a goal of digging deeper into the focus of each topic.
“We want to ensure the questions we are writing are primed to give us both tactical answers and deeper insight,” de la Garza said. “Our questions will need to help us understand the attitude or purpose of people’s views in order to address them appropriately.”
From there, de la Garza said the commission can better determine what resolutions may be proposed for discussion at the actual synod meeting in 2024 — preliminary resolutions that likely will evolve as the process continues over the next two years.
“Once we begin the listening sessions, commission members will use that information to begin drafting preliminary resolutions that will be continually modified over time based on responses that come from additional listening sessions along the way,” de la Garza said, adding that the resolutions will be presented to the synod members at the actual synod meeting in 2024 for discussion and ultimately voting.
“Concurrently, the commission will use this information to create a framework of potential implementation processes to assist the to-be-appointed implementation commission in their duties of executing the outcome of the Synod meeting in 2024.”
Ultimately, though, de la Garza said the involvement of the faithful is key to the fruitfulness of this process.
“We need the faithful to be involved,” she said. “We need to hear their feedback. We need to hear their ideas. We need to know their concerns. We need to hear from the people in the pews. We need to hear from those who might have fallen away. We need to hear from those who are not Catholic.
“This means the participation of the faithful is critical to the synod’s fruitfulness. The conversations at each session are meant to enrich not only the direction of the synod, but one another at the table,” de la Garza said. “I’ve already heard stories of volunteers who exchanged contact information with people they met at their table and look forward to keeping in touch.
“The connections we make will sustain our community through this process and beyond.”
To learn more about the Diocese of Dallas Synod 2024 or to register for an upcoming listening session, visit www.cathdal.org/synod.