Pre-synod prayer, listening events to begin in earnest

| September 12, 2019 | 0 Comments
Jim Rice of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville makes a point during small group discussion

Jim Rice of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville makes a point during small group discussion at a final tuneup for upcoming Pre-Synod Prayer and Listening Events that begin this month and will be held across the archdiocese through March. Rice was at a run-through for the events Sept. 6 at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center in St. Paul. Archbishop Bernard Hebda gave a talk at the run-through and plans to attend all upcoming events. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Elaine Rilley was filled with questions when she arrived at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center in St. Paul Sept. 6.

She was invited to participate in a final tuneup for the upcoming Pre-Synod Prayer and Listening Events scheduled to begin later this month and run through March at locations throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Organizers wanted to conduct a trial run to test and hone the format.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Rilley said. “It was very interesting. As a parishioner, how much do you know about a synod? What is it all about, and why are we having it? And, what can we get from it?”

She spent three hours participating in the process, and getting her questions answered. About three dozen people were invited to participate, going through periods of prayer, small group discussion and a talk by Archbishop Bernard Hebda in which he explained the pre-synod process, what it is and how it works. The archbishop plans to attend every event and give similar introductory talks at each.

At the center of it all, he said, is the work of the Holy Spirit, hopefully leading and guiding the process all the way to the synod itself during Pentecost weekend 2021. As a way of focusing on the Holy Spirit, each Pre-Synod Prayer and Listening Event will feature more than one hour of prayer, to help participants prepare spiritually to express their thoughts in a small group discussion that seeks their input on two questions:

1. What are you grateful for and what is working well in our parishes and archdiocese?

2. Which pastoral challenges or opportunities is God calling us to address in our archdiocese?

Those who choose to come to the Prayer and Listening Events, which begin Sept. 24 at St. Victoria in Victoria and Sept. 28 at St. Michael in St. Michael, can expect a warm greeting when they arrive, and time for prayer after taking their seats.

“Pope Francis would say that the success of the effort has to be premised on prayer,” Archbishop Hebda told participants Sept. 6. “It is only in the intimacy of prayer, the silence of prayer, that we can learn the voice of God.”

People are invited to speak their mind on what they believe is working — and not working — in their local Church. But first, they’ll take time to be silent, meditating on Scripture verses recited aloud and writing answers to questions in the space provided in their programs.

Prayer is a necessary step, said Sheryl Moran of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, who serves on the synod executive committee and has been part of a synod prayer team that was formed about a year ago. The prayer meets once a month to pray for the pre-synod process, usually in eucharistic adoration. Those periods of prayer have cemented in her mind how important prayer is.

“This is a whole process that needs to be led by, filled by and run through the Holy Spirit,” Moran said. “And, if we’re going to listen to the Holy Spirit, we have to have that time of prayer and silence.”

Small group discussions will follow the prayer. All those gathered will be divided into groups of about eight people, and there will be an opportunity to share thoughts with the archbishop and attendees.

Speaking up in small groups is one of five ways participants can share their thoughts. Other direct ways include completing an individual feedback form at the event (either on paper or electronically) that will be read and considered; being one of the attendees from each table chosen to give verbal feedback to Archbishop Hebda at the event; speaking at the end of the event during a Q and A with the archbishop; and submitting additional comments later via email to

Executive committee members and others involved in planning recognize the need to use every means possible to elicit people’s thoughts and opinions. And, those organizers, along with Archbishop Hebda himself, want to make sure those who might be shy or reluctant can still be heard.

“The archbishop very much recognizes the value of what quiet people have to say,” said Father Joseph Bambenek, co-director of the synod executive committee, “and has made it clear to us that there has to be a written process so that their voices are heard as well.”

Archbishop Hebda also reminded participants during his introductory remarks that this kind of synod process is written into canon law to make it clear that Church leaders all the way up to the pope need to hear the voices of Church members.

“My training was in canon law, so my fall-back position is always to go to the Code of Canon Law,” Archbishop Hebda said. “One of the things that it specifies is that the Christian faithful — that’s you, that’s me, that’s all of us — are free to make known to the pastor of the church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. So, there’s a freedom, a liberty to make known to the pastor of the church — in this case, it’s me — your needs, especially your spiritual ones, and your desires. That’s a freedom that you have.”

And, it’s a freedom organizers hope local Catholics will take advantage of.

“We have an archbishop who’s putting himself out there for 30-plus events this coming year to listen to people,” Father Bambenek said. “I think it’s very clear that listening is something that he genuinely values and that he sees the value of every person.”

He added, “The archbishop, as he’s looking to the future, wants to hear what’s on the hearts of people in the archdiocese before he decides in what direction to lead us forward. So, this is a unique opportunity to help shape his thinking, to help shape the direction that our archdiocese will be taking in the future.”

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