Column | We are all in this together: Next steps for the Synod on Synodality

Bishop Bonnar


Bishop of Youngstown

Note: In this week’s column, Bishop Bonnar reflects on the Synod on Synodality and the summary report from the Diocese of Youngstown’s local phase. Find the Diocese of Youngstown summary report here. This feedback contributed to the Synod Region VI Synthesis and the US National Synthesis for the Diocesan Phase of the 2021-2023 Synod.

One of the oldest motifs in literature is the journey. Life is a series of journeys that intersect on many levels. We are all on the way going somewhere. A few months ago, when I was on retreat with the Ohio and Michigan bishops, I introduced myself to the retreat master who was a retired bishop from Europe. I told him my story and he simply said, “We are all pilgrims.”

With the establishment of the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis has reminded us that we are on a journey together. More importantly, the Holy Father has invited us to reflect on this journey, together asking us on every level to converse with one another. For the past year, we have been in a process of dialogue across the world reflecting on a series of questions involving the life and journey of the Church which we live out largely in our individual parishes.

In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis speaks about parish life and our journey together, stating, “We must admit though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.” (#28) The Synod on Synodality is a way for us as a Church to grow in communion, participation and mission which serve as the chief themes of this three-year process.

In The Catholic Exponent, we shared with you the Summary Report from our local Church on this shared reflection. As I continue to review the Summary Report, I am grateful to Monsignor John Zuraw for leading us through this process. I am also extremely grateful to the many voices of our clergy, religious, and lay faithful that are contained in this report. The report has been sent to Rome and we look forward in the next few years to receiving a more universal report reflective of the entire Church. Only the Holy Spirit knows what the outcome will be from this extensive and collaborative consultation.

In the meantime, I think that there is much we can glean from our summary report. On the one hand, the report affirms many of the good things we do as a faith community every day. The parish is the primary way we journey together as companions led by the Holy Spirit. Listening is integral to our journey, but it is also important that we speak out in witness and compassion. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of our journey.

Together we have a shared responsibility to embrace the mission and be part of meaningful dialogue in the Church and beyond. We share in the work of evangelization and ecumenism. All of our collective efforts need to result in conversion and continual formation as we move along the Synodal path.

On the other hand, there is more work to be done in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard. For example, we need to engage more people in the participation of the life of the Church and trust more in the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In our listening the report reveals that we need to be more authentic in hearing not only about the positive but also the negative. There is a perception that Church leaders need to do more in the way of listening and responding. Moreover, there is a need to make members feel more welcome and at home. Liturgies need to be more celebratory and inspiring. Polarization and extremism are a growing concern. The Report notes that there is more the Church can learn from the world. More work needs to be done in evangelization and ecumenism. There is disagreement at times with Church authority and governance. People desire a more consultative approach. The Church appears to face more dissent on various teachings. There is an obvious call for more inclusiveness within the Church and the continual need for discernment rooted in love. Finally, there is a need for the Church to be more service-oriented and to respect the dignity of every human person.

As a diocese, the next step for us in our reflection will be to take this report back to our parishes and determine what we can learn as we seek to live out our mission. Msgr. Zuraw will be following up with the next steps which will center on three questions:

  • What does the parish plan to do with this summary report in reviewing it (staff, pastoral council, small Groups, bulletin notices)?
  • What insights has the parish gained from reflecting on the report?
  • What additional insights or initiatives that did not appear in the document itself would you like to communicate to the diocese for further consideration?

The journey continues! We are all in this together! Stay tuned!

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