The Synod listening sessions to take place during Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, March 2, were initially planned for five regional sites across the archdiocese. Then the deans of the archdiocese stepped forward and agreed to host the sessions in each of the 12 deaneries of the archdiocese.
That idea “delighted” Cardinal Dolan, who was uplifted by the deans’ enthusiasm and considered the expansion of the listening sessions an “example of synodality” in action, said Msgr. Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia, in an interview last week.
A working definition of synodality, given by Msgr. LaMorte, is “cooperation, listening and sharing.”
“The cardinal was grateful for the initiative of the deans at the Presbyteral Council meeting,” Msgr. LaMorte said.
Some of the deaneries have made good progress in their planning for the sessions, Msgr. LaMorte reported. He cited the Ulster Deanery, headed by Msgr. Desmond O’Connor, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Kingston, who this month wrote to the pastors of the 14 parishes in his deanery, requesting that they appoint a parishioner to attend an online class to become a facilitator of the listening sessions, especially leading the small-group discussions.
The Ulster Deanery has already set its listening session for Saturday, March 26, and hopes to have about 100 parishioners participating, if the recommended six from each parish can attend. Msgr. O’Connor told CNY he stressed that the pastors go beyond the “regulars” in extending invitations.
Hopefully, you have heard about the Synod of Bishops to take place in Rome in October 2023. In the fall, Catholic New York reported on opening Masses conducted by Pope Francis at the Vatican and by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral which began a process of “prayer and preparation” for the Synod of Bishops.
The synod’s theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”
For the past six months, much planning has taken place. An archdiocesan core team, coordinated by Elizabeth Guevara de Gonzalez, director of Adult Faith Formation, has been meeting monthly. It evolved from an existing evangelization committee led by Ela Milewska, executive director of Youth Faith Formation, and the 20-member team now includes participants from the archdiocese’s pastoral departments, the development office and Catholic Charities. Serving as advisers are Auxiliary Bishop Gerardo Colacicco and Msgr. LaMorte.
The Synod, as Mrs. de Gonzalez explained, offers an opportunity to see “how we can continue to live out our mission better, and bring others to know the truth within our Church.”
“We’re learning together how to be a better Church, how to grow to be filled more with the Holy Spirit.”
At the listening sessions, which will run for three-and-a-half hours, the first half hour will be prayer led by the dean. Prayer is always paramount to any initiative of the archdiocese, Msgr. LaMorte said. In a coalescence with an initiative for Eucharistic revival now being promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the prayer at the listening sessions will stress Eucharistic devotion. Bishop Colacicco is personally working on the prayer component, he said.
Cardinal Dolan has asked at least one of the auxiliary bishops, including Bishop-elect John Bonnici and Bishop-elect Joseph Espaillat, to be present at each of the listening sessions, and the cardinal plans to attend one or two, said Msgr. LaMorte, who added that he hopes to attend all 12.
“Maybe we can give a pep talk, to encourage the deans and the people,” he said.
Meetings at the deanery level were commonplace, until the Covid-19 pandemic altered scheduling for the past two years, Msgr. LaMorte said. “My hope is that we can get parish leaders together across a deanery and interact with each other in a spirit of synodality.”
In a Feb. 1 memo to archdiocesan officials and religious sisters in the archdiocese, Msgr. LaMorte gave an overview of the process for the listening sessions. “These sessions are very much in line with our interest in serving our people, in hearing from Catholics, and in engaging with those from society who are sometimes left out of important conversations,” he wrote, later adding that “a special effort would be made to reach out to those on the margins” through working with LAMP Ministries, Catholic Charities and Charismatic Renewal groups.
The memo said that “information on the prayers and questions would be posted online and will be included in the Guide for Listening Sessions.” Mrs. de Gonzalez said the booklet was being prepared and anticipated it would be ready by the end of this week.
She added that the small-group facilitators would work with eight to 12 people in the listening sessions, which will feature discussion and reflection. The goal is to have all parishes in the archdiocese participating, and she looks forward to many parishes sending a cohort group. She said parishioners unable to attend their deanery listening session would be able to participate in a “catchall” Zoom listening session.
Feedback from the sessions will be submitted in a report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and then sent to the Vatican. Mrs. de Gonzalez said the far-reaching goal of the Synod process is “for all Christians, all Catholics, to become missionary disciples.”