"In October 2021, Pope Francis issued an invitation to the whole Church to gather and listen to the Holy Spirit in prayer, sharing, and discernment in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023," said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark. "Many people of our local Church responded enthusiastically to the invitation to participate, and many expressed appreciation to Pope Francis for the opportunity to dialogue, discern, and be heard."
According to the Archdiocese's 39-page Synod on Synodality Synthesis Report, more than 700 in-person and online listening sessions were held throughout the Archdiocese's four counties, including Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union. Catholics representing a wide range of cultures, ethnic backgrounds, age groups, and languages contributed. Participants included parishioners, families, parents, students, catechists, and many others.
Outreach to those described as marginalized or on the peripheries of the Church and society were contacted through Catholic Charities, various social centers (e.g., Mercy House), and LGBTQ groups. Listening sessions at parishes included parents of children in religious education, persons with disabilities, the elderly, the homebound and, wherever permitted, those in nursing homes or senior living facilities. Interviews also were held with representatives of those who are incarcerated and with undocumented people.
"As I reviewed the summary report, I found that many concerns had already been expressed by the members of this Archdiocese," said Cardinal Tobin. "These listening sessions, however, have opened a way to think concretely about how to address issues on the local level. So, whatever happens in Rome next year, we already have some valuable insights into our mission here. Moreover, the synodal process produced new experiences in online communications, social media, videotaping, and other digital platforms that have opened new missionary techniques for the Archdiocese."
In the 4,500 pages of reports in English and Spanish compiled from the Synod listening sessions, several key themes were identified by participants. These include evangelization, youth and young adults, Faith Formation, participation of the laity, especially women, in Church leadership, church/parish governance, and communications.
• The report reveals that most participants expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the Synod and a desire to continue the synodal process through ongoing opportunities to gather, pray together, listen to the Holy Spirit, share ideas, and be heard by Church leaders. The majority of participants also expressed love for their parish community and appreciation for priests and staff who care for and minister to all.
• Participants also voiced their strong interest in reaching out and welcoming all to the Church, regardless of age, cultural background, state in life, sexual identity, or economic or legal status. Those who participated in this process conveyed that the Church should do a better job of including those who may feel unwelcomed such as the LGBTQ community, undocumented immigrants, and persons with disabilities, among others.
• They also communicated that more should be done to bring those disillusioned with religion into the Church, especially young people, who may not attend a parish if they do not see a place for themselves, and those who are dissatisfied with the Church. Many young people who participated in the sessions — including students from Catholic middle and high schools and all four Catholic universities in the Archdiocese — feel the Church does not accept them or listen to their concerns about social issues and mental health.
• Concerns were raised regarding a disruption in the pre-pandemic "rhythm" of parish life and communities and the return to regular Mass schedules or parish functions following the decline of the pandemic since its peak. Participants believe parish life has been diminished in recent years.
• Participants from more than 90 percent of the Archdiocese's parishes believe women should have a greater role in the leadership of the Church.
• Most participants feel it is time for lay ministry to be formally accepted ceremonially. Likewise, many expressed that the laity should have a greater voice in parish decision-making, and the Archdiocese needs to develop lay leadership formation and training.
"The Synod opened a whole new way of thinking for people and for parish leadership," said Sister Donna Ciangio, OP, chancellor of the Archdiocese, who helped lead the archdiocesan Synod efforts. "The whole idea is that we need to listen to and talk with people. By listening to their ideas, we're helping them understand that this is everyone's parish. Through this synod process, the Archdiocese has learned how we can better serve people. We heard what they need, which will influence how we collaborate on programs and resources moving forward."
The Synod on Synodality Synthesis Report includes recommendations for continuing the synodal journey in the Archdiocese to foster collaboration among all in the faith community as a regular part of Church life. Archdiocesan leaders will utilize the feedback to forge the synodal path ahead to fortify parishes, ministries, and the local Church.
"People are ready for more; they don't want to lose momentum," said Sister Donna. "We're working to give them tools so they can take what they learned and heard from their parishioners and make positive changes."
To read the full report, available in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, and Korean, go to our Synod on Synodality webpages.