Diocese of Jackson
Synod on Synodality Synthesis Summary
“Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it. We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.”
These words of the Adsumus Sancte Spiritus (We are present, Holy Spirit) truly formed and informed the work of the Diocese of Jackson as we faced challenges in gathering the people of God to pray, reflect and discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us.
We were overwhelmed that nearly 100 percent of our parishes and missions participated as did all four of our Catholic high schools, two college campus ministries, two womens’ religious communities, several parish high school religious education cohorts, our seminarians, both cohorts in our diaconate program, our chancery department leadership, staff and leadership from Catholic Charities and men from one of the prisons in Mississippi. The graces that poured forth from our process were confirmed and affirmed across all demographics. The heart and mind of the people of God regardless of age, ethnicity or background found alignment in a desire for healing and unity.
THE WISDOM OF THE YOUNG CHURCH
Our love for the young church compelled us to seek their wisdom as we saw them with the most to gain or lose if this moment of synodality was not properly explored. Ninth through twelfth graders were all asked the same questions: (1) In your own words what is Jesus asking you to do? and (2) What can our church do to change or respond to your needs as a Catholic Christian?
When asked “what Jesus is asking you to do?” the teens responded:
• Serve/help others
• Keep an open heart and mind; Be merciful
• Be inclusive of others
• See Christ in everyone
Through the process of thoughtful prayer and discernment, our teens clearly see their call to be the hands, feet and heart of Christ in the world. They articulated a need for authenticity in how we serve, include and welcome others.
On the question of “what can our church do or change to respond to your needs as a Catholic Christian?” – a sample of responses include:
“Be less intimidating.”
“I am a science person. I need proof. Help me understand the why.”
“I am gay. Help my parents accept me.”
“The good Samaritan ignored the social differences between himself and the victim in the name of mercy. This is the mindset we should have today.”
“Let us not be so quick to judge.”
Just over 40 percent of the high school students enrolled in our four Catholic high schools are Catholic. We serve a large non-Catholic student community. Responses from the non-Catholic students reflected two major sentiments:
“Please stop making out like the Catholic religion is superior to other religions.”
“I am not Catholic, but I would change the hypocrisy.”
The young church articulated a desire for leaders who are humble and live their faith. They also asked for more opportunities for meaningful service; to take care of the poor. Like the Good Samaritan, the young church is asking us to pour wine and oil into the wounds of those in most need of hope and healing. They called for leaders to be more authentic in words and actions; to stop being hypocritical. They asked for better preaching; to be more relevant and address issues that matter. They asked that the church stop using religion to support political views. They called us to be better examples of faith in action. And they asked the church to be more welcoming of others regardless of faith tradition, culture, and/or sexual orientation (LGBTQ). They further asked we meet people where they are.
The young church is calling us to authentic listening, intentional accompaniment, and a re-envisioning of how we catechize. Witnessing faith in action was a theme that we heard over and over from the young church.
There were some content voices who expressed an affirmation that everything is fine just the way it is. But by and large, the young church asked to be taken seriously. They want to be seen, valued, and heard.
THE NEED FOR GREATER FRATERNITY
Our local listening underscored a clarion call for unity and healing. The call for unity came through on several levels.
First, there was a call for unity in our diversity. There were some members of our traditionally African American parishes who called for integration of parishes. Those voices advocating for the integration of parishes cited that the model of segregated parishes no longer reflects societal norms.
Our Hispanic community looks vastly different than it did 15-to-20 years ago. Gone are the days that Hispanic ministry solely served the needs of migrant communities as they came and left to work in our agricultural sector. Many communities throughout the diocese have well established Hispanic congregations. Many of our Hispanic high school youth were born and raised in Mississippi and have as much of a Southern accent as any of our Anglo teens. For the young church they have been raised side by side with their African American and Anglo contemporaries. For older Hispanics, depending on their immigration status and how long they have lived in the US, the needs of the communities vary widely.
The strained political discourse in this country has taken a toll on the faithful. Many requested that politics be taken out of the church. While in reality politics can never be totally removed from the church, it is entirely possible to lessen the divisive rhetoric. We know the Catholic vote in 2020 was evenly split between the two major parties. The overflow of divisive, often tribal thinking that is evident in American political life has spilled into our sanctuaries. We read in Mark 3:25, “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” As part of the call to unity, we understand that we must find ways that clergy and lay leaders promote the values and teachings of the church without regard to conservative or liberal agendas.
We heard a call for the church to be a safe place where different points of view and different spiritual expressions find a home. The biggest barrier to unity is our ability to disarm ourselves of our weapons of choice – be they words or actions. If we are to provide a big umbrella that covers the spectrum of spirituality and theological perspectives, then everyone needs to make room for the other.
The work of healing requires prayerful consideration. The hurt experienced by the church varies from person to person. The areas of healing range from providing a more reasonable process for annulments, to creating space for the LGBTQ community, to overcoming racial and ethnic divisions, and to handling the continued fallout from the sexual abuse scandal. Allowing people to name their hurts is extremely powerful. We discerned that while we may be operating in a more transparent way, we still need to provide opportunities for those hurt by the church to be heard. An often-mentioned request was for the church to take ownership of its mistakes. The church can easily be circumscribed by ongoing litigation, but as soon as possible we should make the effort to own our mistakes, apologize to those impacted by our actions and make every effort to provide reconciliation and restorative justice.
CASTING OUR DREAMS
Let Us Dream by Pope Francis was the inspiration for the process we developed for the ten regional listening sessions that our Bishop held throughout the diocese. We visited each of the six deaneries with listening sessions in English and held an additional four sessions in Spanish at key locations with high Hispanic presence.
In the regional sessions, we asked for concrete ideas; we asked the faithful to further define the vision. We all want unity; we all want to retain the young church; we all want racial reconciliation. The question we asked is what does that look like? Sometimes the most important part of a conversation is in asking the questions. Perhaps the real work will begin when we intentionally gather again and again in different forums and locations to hammer away at the things that divide, deflate and defeat us.
To be certain, there is a chasm between the more traditional Catholics including some young adults and the more progressive community. We heard both a call for preserving the Latin Mass and lifting the rules of celibacy so that married men can become priests and priests can marry. Expanding the role of women as deacons and priests was also raised. Deeply rooted in the passionate views of both communities and everyone in between is a genuine desire for a better church. We also heard a call for a better understanding of Scripture, for better adult formation, and for an expansion of formal formation of the laity for ministry roles within the church.
We clearly witnessed the many streams that were feeding into the overflow moments brought forth by the synod process. They are still forming, flowing, and directing the mission of the diocese; the work of Synodality never ends.
There were three major themes that came from our discernment. We heard an overwhelming call for:
1. Healing and Unity,
2. Adult Formation for Evangelization, and
3. Education of Children and Youth.
We also heard a call for greater lay leadership in the church and education/formation of lay leaders; adult faith formation centered on Scripture, the Eucharist, and basic church teaching; evangelization of adults and youth to learn to share faith; active youth programs to reach and retain the young church; and to continue to rebuild trust and increase transparency.
We stated many times over that the good news of the Synod on Synodality is that we do not have to wait for a document from Rome or for that matter a pastoral letter from our Bishop to begin the work of Synodality. This process of deep listening has reminded us to be more intentional.
One of the first steps toward becoming a synodal church is a real effort to rebuild a sense of community. Central to this mission is continuing to gather for dialogue. One of the more interesting groups that shared the synod process together was the leadership from the chancery. Our conversation was robust as we sought ways to animate faith in the Body of Christ in our diocese. What we all saw was our need to go out – to be present in our schools and parishes and gather to talk, brainstorm, and yes, dream.
Some things we heard we readily understood are examined at higher levels of the hierarchy. Other things the diocese can influence, while others are local issues that seek local solutions. We heard a call for better formation of adults. This is an area for partnership between the diocese and local communities. Another issue we heard from many participants was a call for better catechesis and understanding of the Eucharist. Our celebrations and activities throughout the year underscore our commitment to listening to what the people of God need from the church.
We are searching for ways to reimagine transmitting our Catholic faith in the Diocese of Jackson that honors our deep tradition and past but also seeks to provide for a more inclusive future as one. Our desire for unity will only be achieved if we work to be one. Breaking down the man-made barriers that divide us will not be easy. Forces within and from the outside of the church have worked tirelessly to divide people. Recognizing that the church is big enough to make room for everyone is the one thing that will save us from further fracture.
We are all one in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The truth of our faith is beautiful. We realize that before we can speak to others about that beauty, we must first see it in ourselves – our messy, diverse, complicated selves.
The above is a summary of the synthesis report submitted to the USCCB. To view the full 10-page report of the synod process in the Diocese of Jackson, visit www.jacksondiocese.org/synod.
By The Numbers
The Diocese of Jackson is the largest territorial diocese east of the Mississippi River. There are 72 parishes and 19 missions spread out over the 37,643 square miles. However, the large geographic footprint does not hinder our mission. We firmly believe in a ministry of presence and presence requires us to meet God’s people where they are.
Catholics represent about two percent of the population in the diocese. Our minority status clearly offers us many opportunities to have conversations with our non-Catholic family, friends and coworkers.
Thankfully, most people are open to conversation and feel at ease asking questions about what Catholics believe. Our young people often express a sense of responsibility in knowing their faith in order to answer their non-Catholic friends who may have questions. We heard in our local listening and affirmed again in the regional listening sessions with Bishop Joseph Kopacz a desire for better catechesis and a greater understanding of Scripture, specifically Bible studies.
70 Parishes and Missions
18 High School Religious Education Programs
4 Catholic High Schools
2 University Campus Ministries
2 Cohorts of Seminarians
2 Cohorts of the Diaconate Program
1 Cohort of Catholic Charities Employees
2 Orders of Religious Women
1 Prison Community
15 Local Sessions in Spanish
Input from Regional Synod Sessions
Below are excerpts from input received at regional synod listening sessions across the diocese.
MADISON – March 21, 2022
Unity – more diocese wide participation. Every church seems to act alone and keep it within the parish. As Catholics in central Mississippi our community is fairly small. I believe by reaching out to other churches and supporting their events or missions, we could build a stronger bond with our Catholic community formation.
As a married 32-year-old, my wife and I seek things to do based around our faith, marriage, retreats, diocese gatherings, festivals, worships, etc.
As an expecting father children’s education is important, our early learning programs are great, but it will be my job as a father to ensure the education sticks.
In order to evangelize first we need to have more adult education in order to feel capable of explaining our faith small group studies talking and reaching the Bible and learning together.
The youth in most parishes in Mississippi are spread out at different school districts and need more time to be together besides just a Wednesday night at faith formation.
The “Bible in a Year” by Father Schmidt on Ascension Press is an awesome program that should be encouraged for all.
Also, we need to remember God’s word does not change – what is wrong is wrong! People change, not God!
I am a young adult not native to the diocese. Being from outside the diocese I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous young adult communities throughout the southeast. Many things that made those groups vibrant, serving and alive are missing in this community.
– Availability of the sacraments
– Deep orthodoxy in educational opportunities that exceeds the surface level
– Leaders who embrace the quest for answers to difficult questions
– Challenge to engage in open faithful service to others
Many young adults I’ve encountered here and at other diocese feel wounded and abandoned by pastors and bishops who tease or question their reverence, sincerity, questions and works.
Just an addition:
Also, I can say with 100% certainty that in the young, joyful living church, women priest is such a fringe view. Literally only old people seem to support that. (I say this lovingly.)
For better and full communication when conflicts arise. Look at how we can handle conflict resolution better going forward. Transparency from the start, more education on the purpose of the sacrament of reconciliation and making it more available to us – has healing power. All need to be willing to hear what they may not want to hear but be willing to grow. Unite our diocese in common prayer. Make therapy, vacation, healing retreats available for our clergy and ministers without stigma attached to it. Have our priests have a support system, ways to be nurtured and poured into. They are spread thin.
GREENWOOD – March 31, 2022
Commitment to meet across racial and language barriers, to listen to each other and act out of love, acknowledge our own shortcomings and ignorance.
To be willing to join in (at least) bilingual Masses, penance services and to be willing to be uncomfortable.
Youth engaging and dynamic programs be willing to face hard questions about the church’s past. Current concerns about sexuality, gender issues and race.
By coming together at Mass and celebrating opening our heart and mind to the presence of Christ. By prayer and realizing we are all created by God, we can accept each other with respect and understanding
Embracing our religion and learning what it entails, being a practicing Catholic, living our religion so that others will see Christ in us.
If the diocese did and probably should concentrate only on these, it would be Adult Formation – everything from life-changing, heart-affecting retreats like Cursillo to missions, to fantastic speakers, to Bible study. Well-formed adults will seek healing and unity, and will bring their children to Mass and religious ed. If we focus on everything, we’ll end up doing nothing. Let’s focus energy and diocesan money on adults formation.
Be more welcoming in the church by reaching out to those who have left the church.
Effectively teach children about their faith ensure that they are knowledgeable as they mature and go through their educational process.
MERIDIAN – April 4, 2022
Showing concern and patience for those who do not share our view, lifestyle and feelings. Try to assist those who have left the church are viable path of reconciliation.
Provide educational and recreation for the youth. Encourage them of the benefits of knowing Christ and church.
What can we accomplish in “one hour a week?” Not sure if “here’s your book-teach your class” is the best way to approach teaching the children who do not attend a catholic school. I realize volunteers may not want to spend or donate even more time to really know their subjects, but “we” need to make the very best of what little time we have with our children. “Educate the Educators.”
Form groups that fast and prayer for a given time for healing and unity specifically in our parishes, diocese, country.
Yearly sessions on Catholic social teaching to address all sections. As society changes, it can never be too often that all are discussed.
TUPELO – April 5, 2022
With the family being the domestic church, we need to build on the wonderful work that is already started. More attention to marriages to support the family. Many in our community and specifically in the church suffer from one partner having psychological issues. I feel our pastor avoids this. Even educating in group sessions what is healthy and unhealthy. How to build God centered relationships and avoid secular division.
Our church leaders need to continually apologize for how the sex scandals were covered up and since handled. This should come from the local level, but continually from the bishops, archbishops, cardinals and pope. Confidence needs to be restored that our church leaders know that abuse of children is a sin. It is not bad behavior. It is a sin! We need to know that all the pedophiles have been removed from our church.
There is scientific evidence (genetic) that homosexual predisposition is a gene carried and not a choice. The church must allow or at least research the literature to better meet the spiritual needs of this group of Catholic faithful.
BATESVILLE – April 6, 2022
Since there is very little we can do to change the annulment process – “we” can welcome those not permitted to marry in ways that are in keeping with tradition.
Improve religious ed by having fewer breaks (we cancel for the smallest, briefest school holidays – Columbus Day, Labor Day, etc.) Keeping it routine could help kids and families know that if its X:00 on Sunday, we have religious ed! Bonus: programming for adults at the same time.
Email from Bishop’s Office on the “Whys of the faith.” Short. One big question answered succinctly. If an email came from the Bishop and it could help train folks to answer questions that come from other denominations and the public.
In terms of unity and healing our church has many separate Masses which divide parishes. There has been a lack of youth orientated faith formation and a lack of leadership. Our differences seem to separate us instead of uniting us. We must invest in the youth.
NATCHEZ – April 19, 2022
Adult formation needs to be pushed hard from the pulpit. There are enough programs available on a myriad of topics that there is no excuse not to use them. However, the diocese might be able to help by offering facilitation training at various places in the diocese. Priest don’t have to do this; a trained facilitator can handle leading discussion.
Bless the disenfranchised. Invite to parish family activities. Show love over and over. Touch people with hard hands. Physically reach out. Smile and give eye contact.
Opportunities for fellowship (example: parish retreats dinner, events, etc. where you see microcosm of our parish ) – For many, these opportunities were some of the only events they engage in socially. I believe that these programs/events can help foster a sense of healing and unity and possibly help eliminate some of the isolation.
Scripture, when preached well and consistently, in line with the long understanding the church provides, really cuts deep into the modern division in structures. It always has what we want – pure water, pure air, untainted food – why do we allow scriptural preaching and explanations to be corrupted by political philosophies and trends. It only politicizes the Word and either panders to or infuriates the faithful.
Acceptance of others for who they are or those who are different from you. God created everyone. His most important commitment is love. Everyone has something to bring to the table let’s give them the opportunity to share. Some people often feel unaccepted in the church – they must feel they the love we as Christians should change that.
Healing and unity: Welcome our LGBT members with open arms and allow active participation in our church and liturgies.
Welcome people of different races and ethnicities as members of our faith, worship communities.
Perhaps it is time to join majority white parishes and majority black parishes as one – especially in places where one is flourishing, and one is struggling.
Beyond a Synod Process to a Synodal Church
By Fran Lavelle
I have been calling for a lay revolution for years. Before anyone calls the Vatican to have me arrested for inciting an insurrection against the church let me be very clear about what I mean.
I am not asking for a lay revolution against the church; rather one within the church in collaboration with the ordained and consecrated. For generations upon generations religious sisters and brothers catechized our children, Father made sick calls to the hospital and nursing homes. Father gave instructions for those seeking to come into the church. He also prepared couples for marriage. Lay people had roles as cooks, housekeepers and janitors, but the heavy lifting of ministry was undertaken by clergy and religious.
In the past nearly 60 years since Vatican II we have seen a sharp decrease in the number of clergy and religious serving the church. Perhaps the laity has not been empowered or encouraged to do so, but it the Synod made it clear that everyone must take part in undertaking the work of the church. The ordained and religious can no longer shoulder that responsibility alone. The lay revolution I am speaking of is for us, the laity, to step up to the plate and take responsibility for our faith and the ministries of the church in a transformational way. We have looked to the leadership of the church to tell us what to do.
The listening sessions for our Synod demonstrated that we, the laity, know what is needed to move beyond a transactional faith. People around this diocese asked for better faith formation of both youth and adults, you asked for an end to partisan politics, you asked for greater unity, you asked for healing. You asked that we do a better job keeping the young church engaged and active.
All that we heard, all that the faithful are seeking is within our grasp. There are more programs, podcasts, video series, websites and resources than one could ever have imagined. We do not need better resources. We do not need a better textbook for education our children in the faith.
We need to call on the Holy Spirit to fill us with a passion to use the resources and tools that we have been given and become leaders within our parishes and communities. What we are in need of are doers of the Word. We need people to say in earnest, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”
How do you become a transformational leader in the church? If you see a need, talk to others in your community about what they see. Get input from people who do not look like your or think like you. If the need is validated, develop a plan. Take your plan to the parish council or your pastor/LEM.
Often parishioners come to the church office to bring up a need to the pastor but do not have constructive ideas on how to address the issue. I am not advocating that we all act like urban cowboys and bust up the pastor’s office hell bent on doing what we want. I am suggesting that when we see a need, develop solutions, seek input, listen to others and present a well-formed plan for addressing the issue. We have clutched our pearls for far too long. We have looked to the clergy or someone else to address the issues facing the church.
I have a plaque in my office that says. “Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.” If we want vibrant, dynamic, communities of faith we have to be dynamic and vibrant people of faith. Multiply the success of your parish community. Be a part of the solution. Step up. Show up. Share the journey.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)