In preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops, Catholics of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington are invited to participate in a Mass opening the local process, as well as to join listening sessions that will be held in the coming weeks and months.

The 7 p.m. Mass on Oct. 17 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, launches what will be two years of preparation for the October 2023 gathering at the Vatican. Dioceses around the world will likewise hold opening Masses the same day.

 In a letter to the Catholic community announcing the Archdiocesan Synod process, Cardinal Wilton Gregory explained that Pope Francis asked that “bishops, priests and deacons follow Christ’s example through this Synod process by engaging with our people, and those who have left our communities, through prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment.”

He added: “as people emerge from the global pandemic, the Synod offers us the opportunity to be with each other, to invite our family and friends back to the faith, to listen to each other’s joys and sorrows, and share our hopes and dreams for our parishes.”

Local participation in the Synod will start with listening sessions planned for every parish, beginning as soon as this month and continuing into late December or early January. The archdiocesan web pages for the Synod include a detailed parish toolkit, guides for facilitators, participants and note-takers, and other resources.

Each parish also will appoint two delegates to the archdiocesan listening sessions, which will take place in the first months of 2022. Other delegates will include representatives of archdiocesan clergy and women’s and men’s religious communities. Under the Synod timeline, by next April the cardinal and the archdiocesan Synod team will review the results of the listening sessions and prepare a synthesis report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. From there, material from across the country will be compiled for a U.S. report to the global Synod.

Jeannine Marino, archdiocesan Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, is one of two local contacts for the global Synod. She told the Catholic Standard that unlike gatherings with an objective of planning strategies or institutional changes, this Synod “is really about listening to each other, sharing our joys, hopes, sorrows and anxieties. It’s not about creating a strategic plan for a parish or for the Church overall. It’s about listening to each other and inviting our family, friends and neighbors to community life.”

The theme for the Synod is, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission."

Pope Francis formally opened the Synod process with weekend events in Rome Oct. 9 and 10, including a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica attended by a congregation of 3,000. That included 270 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people who were invited to an Oct. 9 day of reflection at the Vatican Synod Hall.

"Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, together" just like Jesus did – encountering, listening and discerning with all who one meets, the pope said in his homily at the Mass Oct. 10. "Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Alternatively, are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: 'It's useless' or 'We've always done it this way?'" he asked.

Father David Beaubien, pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Leonardtown, Maryland, the other archdiocesan delegate to the Synod, described the process as “really an investigation into the very nature of the Church herself.” He said, “Every member of the Church, in all her ministries and ranks, with lay people in all situations and roles, are united as the One Body of Christ.”

Father Beaubien said everyone in the Church has a role in listening to the Holy Spirit’s “promptings for the age in which we live. We have to listen as God listens, hearing the cry of the marginalized and the outsider, even non-believers and those who don’t share our vision. At the parish level, the listening sessions will attempt to assess how well we are a ‘listening’ Church and our communal call to collaborate on all levels to further the mission of the Gospel in our local communities.”

Marino said those who cannot attend their parish’s listening sessions may participate at another parish or participate online through a soon to be launched survey on the archdiocese’s Synod website. She also encouraged people to pray for the success of the Synod – the facilitator’s guide on the website includes a prayer for the Synod, which will also be distributed in print at the opening Mass. Offering assistance to help with your parish’s listening session would also be appreciated, she said.

Marino added that the goals of the Synod may also be supported by participating in parish life, particularly as activities ramp up after pandemic-related restrictions, or by “actively accompanying people” in their everyday lives and struggles, such as by volunteering with service organizations like Catholic Charities.

This Synod “is not about changing structure or dogma,” Marino said. “It really is about civility, dialogue, friendship and talking to one another. The goal is to talk, to engage in dialogue and listening across parishes, across dioceses and across the globe. It is about walking together on this journey of faith.”