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 | Brittany DeHaan

“We’re All in This Together:” Synod Listening Session Provides Dialogue, Collaboration, and Unity

The Holy Spirit was the driving force behind fruitful discussions and unity among participants on March 7, 2024, as 73 parish leaders gathered for a Synod Listening Session, in Lutz as part of the Interim Stage of the global Synod on Synodality.

Living as a synodal Church means the people of God talk and listen to each other, forming a communion that exists for a common purpose with mission flowing naturally from the experience.

“We’re all in this together– it doesn’t matter if it’s a small church or large church,” shared Michelle Duby, Office Manager at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Citrus Springs who attended the listening session.

The Listening Session was planned by Dr. Armando Chavarria, Executive Director of Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. He also served as a facilitator for the day. The other facilitator was Dale Brown, Director of the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute. 

The structure of the event emphasizes a unity among parishes as everyone aims to fulfill the Church’s mission to make disciples who love and serve Jesus Christ.

“As long as people listen, everybody wants problems resolved. Listening to other churches and hearing what they do or don’t do, and finding they are having the same struggles helps to put things in perspective,” said Duby.

The Session began with invoking the Holy Spirit to guide the meeting and reflecting on Scripture. The discussions were intended to be Conversations in the Spirit, or a process of ongoing prayer, reflection, and discernment as discussions took place.

Participants spent time in small groups made up of a diverse people from various parishes and ministries. They discussed what they felt were successes and distresses in multiple areas within the diocese and Church and how structures of the Church can help the baptized to proclaim and live the Gospel. Participants also discussed proposals for a new diocesan Pastoral Plan that will help Catholics to advance the mission of the Church by addressing critical needs.

“These sessions will help us collaborate as a diocese and Church,” said Chris McBride, parish manager of St. Jerome Catholic Church in Largo. 

“I feel these sessions can help the diocese in ensuring that we are striving to help make disciples and do the greatest good for people.”

Thirty-six parishes were represented at the event held at St. Timothy Catholic Church. All parishes were invited to send representatives.

More than 6,400 people participated in the Diocese of St. Petersburg Synod process in 2021-2022. Now, Bishop Gregory Parkes approved four listening sessions with groups that were not separately included during the original Diocesan Phase of the Synod, as these leaders were often conducting the previous 155 diocesan listening sessions.

The Holy Father asked the bishops of the world to conduct 2-3 listening sessions during Lent of those who did not provide previous input. These sessions will aid in the discussion of universal synod session in Rome in October 2024.

Some common topics of discussion included Catholic school education, discipleship, inclusion of marginalized groups, service and outreach to the poor and homeless, and transparency among many different Church organizations.

After each discussion period, a representative of each group shared the common threads of their conversations with all in attendance.

Many attendees found the listening session to be fruitful and a way in which they could have their voices heard. 

“I one hundred percent felt heard today. Everybody’s listening to everybody. The way it was organized made it fruitful. We had prayer and focused on the Holy Spirit. Having the emphasis on the Holy Spirit driving the meeting made it a big deal,” said Duby.