Diocese taking part in Pope Francis’ call to collect input from the world
Synod part of Holy See’s desire to create plan for the universal church
Synodal groups and apostolates gatherings
• Homeschool families: Saturday, May 7, from 9-11:30 a.m., Blessed Sacrament
• Married couples: Tuesday, May 31, from 5:30-8 p.m., Good Shepherd Hall, Cathedral
• Retired adults: Thursday, June 2 from 9-11 a.m., Good Shepherd Hall, Cathedral
Synodal regional gatherings
• St. Joseph, Wichita: Tuesday, May 10, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
• Trinity HS/Hutchinson area: Wednesday, May 11, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
• St. Bridget, Scammon, SEK: Wednesday, May 25, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
• St. Anne Wichita: Tuesday, May 31, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
• St. Catherine, Wichita: Wednesday, June 1, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
• St. Joseph, Conway Springs: Saturday, June 4, from 9:30-noon (light breakfast)
• Cathedral, Wichita: Friday, June 10, from 6-8:30 p.m. (light supper)
When Fr. John Jirak talks about the synod, he shares that his initial hesitancy changed to one of excitement.
“For most of us there’s a lack of familiarity with the notion of a synod,” he said. “There’s a little bit of cringing because it feels like just another thing to do.” Moreover, he added, Catholics are all somewhat worn down from two years of epidemic living and the priest abuse crisis.
Fr. Jirak, the pastor of the Church of the Magdalen in Wichita and diocesan Vicar for Evangelization, Discipleship, and Stewardship, is spearheading the Diocese of Wichita’s fourth synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
It’s a two-year process that Pope Francis opened on Oct. 10, 2021. The three previous synods are the 1898 diocesan synod convoked by Bishop John J. Hennessy, the 1958 diocesan synod convoked by Bishop Mark K. Carroll, and the 2001 diocesan synod convoked by Bishop Thomas Olmsted.
Four synods in diocese
The four synods of the Diocese of Wichita have been more of a surprise and response – and a challenge, Fr. Jirak said, adding that the unique challenge and opportunity of the fourth diocesan synod is that the normal preparation for a diocesan synod, which is around two years, was superseded by the pope’s announcement of the World Wide Synod in May of 2020.
The actual handbook for executing the synod was not issued until September of 2021. Bishop Kemme launched the diocesan phase of the World Wide Synod as The Synod for the Diocese of Wichita: Better Together for Mission in October of 2021.
Fr. Jirak said the organizational plan for the worldwide synod is for every bishop in the world to collect input through listening sessions called “synodal consultations,” which include consultations from parishes, lay movements, religious institutions, schools, universities, those who have left the Catholic Church, along with other groups.
Bishop Kemme will then synthesize the input into a 10-page report for submission to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. The Diocese of Wichita’s report is due to the USCCB on June 30. The USCCB will then collate and synthesize the reports from the various U.S. dioceses for submission to the Apostolic See.
Pope gathering data
The pope will use the synthesis as a working document for continental synods that will form through March of 2023. The hoped-for result is a robust discernment process to create a pastoral plan for the universal church. The Diocese of Wichita will use the synthesis to update the Diocesan Pastoral Plan and, for the foreseeable future, to mobilize around a top priority of making missionary disciples.
The listening phase for the Diocese of Wichita is occurring through two sources. The first is through quantitative data received through the Disciple Maker Index Survey that ended on May 1. The survey will provide useful feedback on an individual’s life of discipleship and how well a parish and the diocese support growth in missionary discipleship.
The second source of listening is qualitative. The diocese is offering regional listening sessions (synodal consultations) throughout the diocese during May and the first part of June. Several parishes have also been selected to host listening sessions proper for their parishes. The diocese is offering listening sessions to selected groups: young adults, religious, married couples, homeschool communities, Catholics who have left the church, and retired adults, with others to be announced.
Bishop: Church to be a better listener
Bishop Carl A. Kemme said in March that the pope is asking the church to be a better listener so the faithful can journey together. “A church that listens is what Pope Francis is really desiring for the church moving forward,” he said in a video message. “To be synodal in nature is that we journey together, we’re walking together, we’re listening together, we’re dialoguing, we’re trying to figure out – with the Holy Spirit’s help – where we’re heading.”
Fr. Jirak said the pope’s vision is really to live the faith in a much more relational way as true brothers and sisters in Christ. The focus is on church as relationship and journeying together, he said. “For Pope Francis, this really gets to the heart of his vision, his vision for the church, as a true people of God, united not just ecclesiastically as far as, of course, our sacraments and our law, but he’s really after a journey of hearts together.”
Synodal church not a synod
The pope doesn’t want a synod, as such, but a synodal church, Fr. Jirak said.
“Our way of being church is we think about our connection to the sacraments or registering in a parish and being part of a parish community. Those are all true,” he said. “What Pope Francis has defined as synodal is a church that journeys together. We’re in this together. We’re struggling together. We’re supporting one another to live complete for Christ. In other words, to be fully alive as missionary disciples.”
We find the Lord in those journeys together, Fr. Jirak said, when relationships become more deeply connected with each other and the Lord. He added that the pope continually emphasizes fostering relationships in faith between the young and old.
Five synodal consultations have recently taken place in the diocese, Fr. Jirak said, with most attendees sharing that it was a better experience than they thought it would be.
“It’s difficult for some people to talk about their experience of the faith because we haven’t been formed that way It’s really been neat to go a little deeper as we rediscover our roots as a synodal church.”
That is what Pope Francis desires, he said, not a one-and-done event. “He wants this to be a mode of operating, the way we live our faith. We can talk about it and have vulnerable conversations and good, healthy conflict. He believes we’re providing space to listen to the Holy Spirit.”
The consultations allow the Holy Spirit to work, Fr. Jirak added. “There’s a question, some conversation, and then prayer and reflections about what was said. Then we come back together and ask what stayed with you? What connected with you?”
What results could be the direction the Lord might be wanting us to take, he said, adding that it also takes trust and a desire to continue dynamic conversations connected to the diocesan vision of becoming “fully alive.”