Synod Preparatory Commission members answer call to serve Diocese of Dallas during historic time
By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
On Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Bishop Edward J. Burns celebrated a Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell that will officially mark the beginning of the preparatory phase of the Diocese of Dallas synod. While the Mass and accompanying festival in Coppell that day was one of the first public events of the multi-year synodal process, work on the diocesan synod got underway months ago with the formation of the synod preparatory commission — a group tasked with guiding the diocese’s planning efforts leading up to the actual synod meeting in 2024.
“It is a group of people who have a passion for seeing the Dallas diocese becoming the best version of what it can be,” said Lacy de la Garza, who has been chosen by the bishop to serve as the chair for the preparatory commission.
The synod preparatory commission is comprised of 26 members from throughout the diocese. In addition to Bishop Burns, Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly and de la Garza, the commission’s members include Susie Aleman, St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Oak Cliff; Deacon Kevin Bartholomew, St. Bernard of Clairvaux; Father John Bayer, O. Cist., Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey; Father Paul Bechter, Diocesan Director of Vocations; Anand Bheemarasetti, St. William in Greenville; Julie Billmeier, St. Rita; Fernando Blanco, Prince of Peace in Plano; Gregory Caridi, chancellor of the Diocese of Dallas; Deacon Joseph M. Coleman, Prince of Peace in Plano; Peter J. Ductrám, diocesan senior director of ministries; Omar Enrique García Rojas, Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe; Father Charles Githinji, St. Patrick in Dallas; Pia Septién, University of Dallas; Christopher A. Johnson, Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe; James W. Keyes, All Saints; Father Radoslaw Michal Markiewicz, Redemptoris Mater Seminary; Joseph Rodriguez, St. Augustine; Lynn Rossol, Bishop’s Delegate for Ecumenism and Legislative Advocacy; Sefanit Stefanos, St. Joseph in Richardson; Andre Valdivia, St. Joseph in Richardson; Clare Venegas, University of Dallas; and Sister Mary Anne Zuberbueler, OP, principal of Mary Immaculate Catholic School in Farmers Branch.
Many of those who responded to the call to serve on the commission are no strangers to service to the Church, having dedicated their lives in one way or another to their Catholic faith.
For instance, Valdivia began serving the Church as a middle school student through altar serving.
“Going to Catholic schools from kindergarten through university, there were always simple opportunities and encouragement to serve your community and the needy,” said Valdivia, who called it an honor to be able to participate in the synod. “I approach this with the knowledge that this will likely be one of the most significant contributions that I make to the Church in my lifetime. This is an invitation to use the gifts God has given me in service to the community that raised me.”
The list of volunteer activities that Deacon Joe Coleman has done in service of the church over the years is numerous, ranging from RCIA sponsorship to Eucharistic Minister and from youth sports coach to Honduras missionary. Deacon Coleman is quick to point out how amazed and blessed he is by the people Christ has put in his life to help him along his own faith journey. Those experiences are what inspired him to say “yes” to the bishop’s request to serve on the synod preparatory commission.
“After some prayerful discernment, I just felt it’s not about me, it’s about serving as called,” he said, adding that he sees the synod as a chance to build upon the diocese’s strong foundation of faith.
“I hope it will continue and improve the Church’s broad, loving outreach to all people to experience and deepen their relationship with Jesus.”
Service to the Church is also nothing new to Billmeier, who has worked in ministry for 13 years, including several coordinating young adult ministry for the Diocese of Dallas. When she read
Bishop Burns’ pastoral letter and plan for a synod, Billmeier said she was immediately filled with a sense of excitement and hope for all that could offer for the diocese.
“The idea of listening to the people of the parishes and learning about all their hopes and struggles is something that I think will open new doors of possibilities for the future of the diocese,” said Billmeier, adding that she said “yes” to a request to be a part of the preparatory commission because she felt her gifts and talents were a good match to its mission. “I’m excited to offer those gifts in service in this way.”
Billmeier said she hopes the synod helps the faithful better understand the wide range of ways that people can live out their Catholic faith as well as better understand and appreciate how the Holy Spirit is alive and moving in all of those ways of living their faith.
“I hope it gives us a guide to come together with a common mission and purpose that will help us better serve all the People of God in our diocese — to enable them to be stronger in their faith and to feel confident in living that faith in the world,” she explained.
Blanco, a parishioner at Prince of Peace and a knight of the Order of Malta, initially answered a call to serve the Church through his work at Christus Health.
“We follow — as well as we can — the example of the saints,” said Blanco, adding that his hope is the synod will help “revive faith, hope and love in the diocese and improve the relationship with Christ in the Church.”
Likewise, Stefanos, who has been in some form of ministry since the age of 16 and has volunteered and worked in various different capacities in multiple dioceses over the years, said she would like to see the commission hear and understand the voices of all the faithful during this synod process.
“My hope is that as a group we are able to be receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and follow where God leads with regards to the future of His Church in our diocese,” Stefanos said.
Rodriguez credits his students at Cristo Rey Dallas, where he teaches Theology of the Body, for inspiring him to serve on the commission.
“I see the needs, questions and difficulties that they have and see that we need to do our best at leading them to faith, and a relationship with Christ, which will give them the answers they seek,” he said.
Through this process, Rodriguez hopes the diocese can imitate the humility of St. Joseph in recognizing what the Holy Spirit has inspired for the Church of today.
“This, I think, can be seen in what Vatican II and its subsequent documents have called for and is what will make the synod and what comes from it fruitful in making us zealous for the proclamation of the Gospel,” he explained.
Venegas sees the calling of a diocesan synod as an “exciting time to be Catholic and in Dallas,” noting the amount of growth and dynamism of the North Texas region.
“You can see it in the vibrancy of life at the parish level,” Venegas said. “I hope that the synod can bring diverse facets of the Church together to prayerfully discern how best to serve parishes and the laity so that they may grow in a personal relationship with Jesus.”
Ultimately, the preparatory commission’s mission is to assist Bishop Burns in setting the direction for the multi-year synodal process. To do that, Father Bayer said he believes it is important to draw on the voices of the faithful, making the process one that leads more people to discover their baptismal call and engage in the life of the Church, offering their gifts and discovering their vocations.
“I hope that this synodal process — whatever concrete solutions emerge — is an occasion to deepen our participation in the Church and our sense for God’s action in all our lives,” he said.