Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops recite morning prayer during their retreat outside of Rome in this screen grab from Oct 3, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via YouTube)

As we experience the next step of the synod, ‘be not afraid’

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We have been discussing the plans and process for the Synod on Synodality for so long that some might assume it has come and gone. In fact, though, a new phase of the synod is continuing this month. Bishops and lay and religious delegates to this experience of synod will gather in Rome this month and then continue with another session in October 2024.

Though I have not encountered much anxiety about the synod in western Kentucky, there has been resistance found in some international and national media reports. Some voices have sought to spread an alarm about the purpose of the synod and the intention of Pope Francis in calling this body together.

In the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” This is a refrain that St. John Paul II adopted and became a hallmark of his long papacy. Pope Francis frequently offers this reassurance to the Church as well. “Do not be afraid” – because Jesus is watching over his Church and the Holy Spirit is ever present in the Church.

We initiated our diocesan participation in the synod in early 2022 with 66 of our 78 parishes hosting listening sessions. In the weeks that followed, our conversations moved to seven regional sessions, all of which I attended. My role was to listen. More than 1,000 people participated in our diocese, and summary reports were synthesized.

Our diocesan synthesis and regional syntheses were all resources for a synthesis representing the Catholic Church of the United States. This, in turn, was joined with syntheses from countries around the world to set the stage for the synodal meeting in Rome this month.

What most impressed me about this voluminous process is the similarity of the voices coming from around the world. Across cultures and nations, the longings of the human family are remarkably similar. People long to be heard, to be listened to. I am at a loss to grasp why this is so threatening to some. While I might read of a concern with which I may disagree, I am not threatened that a question is raised. I am willing to listen and strive to understand those who think differently than me. This dynamic has been a part of the Church since the time of the Apostles.

Over and over around the world, the faithful posed concerns about Church leadership models, ministry to people from the margins of society, the recognition of the contributions of women, the quality of faith formation, the woundedness of the Church after the clergy sexual abuse crises, the decline in church and sacramental participation in so many places, the strains on family life.

You may well read in the coming weeks that someone in the synod will trigger discussions about married priests, about women’s ordination to priesthood or the diaconate, about restoring the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (often known as the Latin Mass), and about pastoral accompaniment of LGBTQ persons.

These discussions will not mean that some change in policy or teaching is about to emerge. What it will mean is that these issues are important to some people. We need not be afraid of people having open and honest conversations. If there is merit in “reading the signs of the times” and calling upon the Church to look at some questions in a new light, then we can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide these discussions. If subjects are explored that might threaten the deposit of faith and revelation, then we pray that the discussions will be persuasive in correcting those on a wrong path.

This synod, and any past or future synods, is about journeying together to seek to realize the Kingdom of God entrusted to us. Do not be afraid.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
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