How is the Holy Spirit Challenging the Church to Journey Together?

By Teresa Peterson

How is the Holy Spirit Challenging the Church to Journey Together?

Photo Caption: Representatives from various parishes gather with Bishop Gregory Parkes at the Bethany Center in Lutz for a photo to capture the theme of Journeying Together in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

More than 6,400 people participated in “Journeying Together,” the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s local response to our Holy Father’s call for a global Synod on Synodality.

The word synod comes from two Greek words that means “walking together.” Generally, it refers to a habit of mutual listening, dialogue, and collective discernment.

Over 150 Synod Listening Sessions in multiple languages were held within the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco and Citrus between November 2021 and March 2022. Diverse groups that were represented through this process includes migrants, non-Catholics, the homebound, and the homeless. Most questions focused on how the Holy Spirit is drawing people to Christ and where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Some questions also focused on personal experiences of being heard and having a spiritual support system.

“The remarkable response to the Synod speaks to the fact that people have a desire to come together, people have a desire to be heard,” said Father Ralph D’Elia, vice-chair of the Synod Planning Team. “The people that I spoke to were grateful for the opportunity to come together to discuss these things.” 

The point of the Synod was not to resolve issues but to focus on listening to other people’s experiences.

“We were seeking to initiate a dialogue, to bring people together, and to have people praying about and discerning how the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives and in the life of our local Church. In that sense, I can say that this was a great success for us,” said Father D’Elia.

One of the fundamental questions asked during the Synod Listening Sessions was, “What is the Holy Spirit calling the Church to do better?” Answers to this question were extensive and diverse.  Yet, the Synod Planning Team grouped the answers into five sets of themes for a final report that was reviewed by Bishop Gregory Parkes and submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in early June. The five themes in order of most mentioned to least were:

Prioritize Outreach and Evangelization. The demographic most noted to which the Church is called to reach is youth and young adults.

Improve Communication. Participants felt that parishes, ministries, Pastoral Center staff, and bishops have room to grow regarding communication.

Enhance Unity. Participants said there is a great need to build community, encourage dialogue, and reduce judgmentalism.

Focus on Scripture, Ecumenism, and Vocations. Participants expressed a need to show greater pastoral sensitivity toward women and toward Catholics who experience same-sex attraction.

Increase opportunities for reconciliation, small groups & Church teaching on morality. Participants hoped that the Church can foster a deeper appreciation for Catholic moral and social teaching and deepen communion with God and others.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg’s 10-page final report will be synthesized with other diocesan reports by the USCCB. Then, the Bishops’ Conferences of the USA and Canada will develop a combined report for the Synod of Bishops for the development of their world-wide report. Bishops and others will gather with the Holy Father in the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October of 2023 to discern how the Holy Spirit has been speaking to the Church during this process, and to communicate this to the universal Church.

“It is my hope and prayer that the information submitted by our Diocese will be useful as the Synod process progresses.  It will also be useful for us as we continually seek to fulfill our mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and Courageously Living the Gospel,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes. 

Also, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has identified three immediate areas the Holy Spirit is inviting us to address locally in order to grow in our “journeying together.”  These areas are an outgrowth of what was heard during our listening and discernment sessions, and follow the Synodal themes of Communion, Participation and Mission.

Communion:  The Diocese of St. Petersburg will fervently work to improve communication with our parishes and the faithful. We will take steps to open lines of communication and be more collaborative.

Participation:  The Diocese of St. Petersburg will increase collaboration among clergy and laity. Planning processes and training will be provided to parishes and schools on best practices for consultation and collaboration among lay disciple volunteers, lay ecclesial ministers, and clergy through pastoral councils, commissions, boards, and committees.

Mission: The Diocese of St. Petersburg will expand the Transformational Parish Growth Summit. Faith leaders will work throughout the next few years on concrete ways to invite people to Church and engage them more fully as disciples.

“We heard repeatedly during the Synod process people’s deep desire for others to develop a close relationship with Christ and His Church. They expressed concern and disappointment that many are not practicing their faith and hoped that they would come back.  Bishop Parkes shares these same concerns and is listening,” said Dr. Lois Locey, Diocesan Synod Coordinator and Chancellor for Administration, Diocese of St. Petersburg. “As a united Diocese, our Synod process sparked new opportunities for parishes to partner with other parishes and diocesan ministries to grow forward the Church in concrete ways.”

To read the full 10-page report of the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s Synod Listening Sessions and other related information, visit

How is the Holy Spirit Challenging the Church to Journey Together?

Photo Caption: Bishop Parkes listens to young adult leaders during a Synod Listening Session held on February 16, 2022 at Mary Help of Christians Parish in Tampa.