Dioceses across the U.S. are asked to hold additional listening sessions in the next few months, following a request from the Vatican's Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops which is preparing for the second session of the global Synod on Synodality in October.
In a Jan. 2 letter (a copy of which OSV News has obtained), Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas -- who chairs the U.S. bishops' committee on doctrine and coordinates the U.S. bishops' synod process -- said his team is requesting "each diocese hold 2-3 listening sessions regarding the guiding questions" posed by the synod secretariat.
Those two guiding questions were phrased by Bishop Flores and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Synod Team as follows: "Where have I seen or experienced successes -- and distresses -- within the Church's structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage or hinder the mission?" and "How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of love and mercy in Christ?"
Bishop Flores asked that each diocese summarize responses to those questions in a 3-5 page document and send it to the USCCB by April 8. The diocesan summaries will inform the USCCB's summary, which is due to the synod secretariat in May.
Bishop Flores noted that in addition to the listening sessions, "we are encouraged to continue ongoing engagement with the People of God in the dynamism of a synodal style."
To that end, dioceses may also include with their submissions "a two-page testimony of best practices for synodality" they have developed, the bishop explained.
Bishop Flores also wrote that in addition to the diocesan consultations taking place, "the USCCB will be holding additional listening sessions at the national level with a focus on participation, social justice, and vocations."
Diocesan-level synod leaders "will be invited to participate in a national working group with the permission of the bishop," he said in his letter.
Bishop Flores said that "we all know time is short, but even modest efforts at the local level can bear much fruit.
"Let us do what we can, as well as we can and trust the Lord to accomplish beyond what we can foresee," he wrote.
Launched by Pope Francis in October 2021, the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, organized on the theme "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission," took place Oct. 4-29, 2023, in Rome.
The first session of the synod, also known as the "Synod on Synodality," was summarized in a 41-page report intended to allow the global church to digest, reflect on and give feedback on its contents ahead of the synod's final session in Rome next October.
Part of that task is figuring out how decisions are made in the church in a way that is faithful to its nature -- including discerning how episcopal collegiality is exercised in a synodal church -- because the church's members have "differentiated co-responsibility for the common mission of evangelization."
The synod's report also covers topics such as evangelization as a mandate of baptism, formation in "authentic discipleship" rooted in the Eucharist and Scripture, clerical and lay formation, ministries of pastoral accompaniment, the role of the Eastern Catholic churches in the life of the universal church, ecumenism, ordaining married men to the priesthood, the role of women in the church and the ongoing impact of clerical sex abuse scandals among others.
The synod's next session in Rome will have the task of making decisions about what concrete proposals to present before the pope.