Editor’s note: These are conclusions drawn from the synod meetings across the Diocese of Superior in preparation for the Synod on Synodality. Following parish meetings, representatives gathered to report their findings at regional sessions. The full document will be available at catholicdos.org.
There was a wide range of feedback that our prayerful consultation elicited at the parish gatherings, regional gatherings and in our diocesan online portal. The following items that were heard appear in no particular order. They were items that came up frequently enough to call our attention to them.
Demographic Decline – Being a very rural diocese, there are fewer and fewer young people staying or choosing to move to our parish communities. This has been noted and reflected on especially by the older generations. Many wonder what we are doing wrong or what we can do to change this. It is recommended that we need better catechesis, yet it is also voiced that strong catechesis is not supported by the families of the young people. There are many faithful teachers and catechists within the diocese. They work tirelessly to teach the faith, not just the rules, but also the mission – to go therefore and make disciples. Sometimes the mission gets confused or carried out in the wrong order. Some tend to think the mission is to “change the world,” but the first step is to know Christ ourselves and then help others to know him.
Value of Community – All of our parishes believe in a community of faith. They all recognize the church as a place of hospitality, welcome and hope. But, somehow, there needs to be more community within the church. We need to provide service to and help people in all stages of their lives. Children and youth need to be led by strong mentors – whether peers, young adults or older adults. Many want to put all their effort into catechesis of children and youth, but at the same time recognize the parents are not leading and supporting their children in faith.
Many parishes recognize that their focus needs to be on the adults, which includes parents. Young adults need other young adults to mentor them through life’s struggles. Parents and families need to feel the parish is a community of support. Retirees, widows and widowers, those who have lost someone, and the elderly are hungry for formation and a community they can turn to.
Importance of Service – The active generations in our churches view faith as lived out in service. There are numerous community service opportunities that many within the parish participate in: clothing and food drives, community dinners, pregnancy help centers, hospice help, homebound ministry, homeless shelters and thrift stores. There are also many service and community opportunities within our parishes – breakfasts, prayer chains, stations of the cross, potlucks, and liturgical ministries. Unfortunately, many specifically Catholic service opportunities of the past, such as hospitals and schools, are now carried out by secular groups. Our churches not only have lost groups to conduct service, but they have also lost the sense of what it means to do service in and for Jesus Christ.
Need for Healing: The Reality of Brokenness and Division – There are many wounded people in our parishes. When these wounds are ignored or perceived rules are not attended to, people fall away or distrust the church. Divorced individuals sometimes feel unwelcome or even condemned. There needs to be a clearer path for healing and reconciliation for their full participation. Families are divided. They are dealing with divisions, trauma, children leaving the faith, responses to COVID, political divisions, etc. One big issue for some is the persisting scandal of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. To bring Jesus’s healing power, the church needs not just programs, but individuals trained to walk with these individuals and families on this difficult journey. Many still think that the priest is the only one that can do pastoral ministry, but as our priests get extended further and further, the need for vibrant, deeply Catholic lay apostolate becomes ever clearer. As one parish report stated, “People are lost, the world is lost. There is tremendous need for Jesus’ healing power in our small, rural communities.” To help us embrace Jesus’ healing power, another parish stated, “We need to return to the basics of our faith: what we do and why we do it.”
Ministry to Individuals Identifying as LGBTQ – This topic came up a fair amount and in very disparate ways. For some, one of the biggest wounds is the perception that the church judges and excludes individuals. The church is seen as ostracizing those who live sexual lifestyles outside the church’s teachings. Some feel that the church does not listen to the needs of those who identify as LGBTQ+ or their families. For many others, the wound spoken of in this area is a perception that the church is watering down its teachings and bowing to cultural pressures instead of teaching and living the truth in love.
Scandal of Division – Some view the leadership of the church throughout the country and the world as not being unified. Many of the laity struggle with the hierarchy because of these perceived divisions and inconsistent messages. Some noted that there does not appear to be enough transparency. Due to this disunity, the church is seen as dishonest and hypocritical.
Availability of Clergy – The vast majority of parishioners are very thankful for the priests and deacons serving in the diocese. The gift of international priests has been a blessing to allow our parishes to continue to offer the sacraments. However, within our diocese, the priests and deacons are not available. They have very limited opportunities to visit with and get to know the parishioners because of the need to depart for another parish to celebrate Mass. The laity want more opportunities to be with their leaders – to be in community with them. They want to see reconciliation and Mass times offered during convenient times for the working class.
Depth of Discipleship – Many want to be led deeper into the faith. They want more adult opportunities to pray and be formed in the faith. They would like to hear homilies that address today’s problems and guide them to live deeply as disciples of Christ in the world. The majority of participants specifically said that they want the truth to be spoken, not watered down.
Struggles with the Concept of Sin – There were also some who noted a struggle with the topic of sin, stating that they have a hard time reconciling judgment and sin with love and mercy.
Lay Leadership Opportunities – Some proposed that one solution to struggles with the Church hierarchy could be involving the laity more in the running of the churches. Giving the laity more prominent responsibilities and roles with the life of the Church appears to be a longing and desire of many. This desire also included, from a very small portion of the responses, seeing priests be able to be married and women become deacons.
Return to Traditional Practices and Heightened Reverence – Another common thread amongst some of the responses was a desire to see the church return to more traditional practices. The message of more relevant, powerful and reverent liturgies was a theme throughout the majority of the responses. It was stated by many that we need to re-emphasize the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some asked for greater access to the extraordinary form of the Mass.
Universal Call to Holiness and Mission – When asked “What steps do you hear the Holy Spirt asking us to take to deepen our commitment to the church’s mission?”, all the parishes took to heart the need to discern God’s will, attract families, reach out to those in need and welcome people back after COVID. The faithful of our diocese recognize the need to make the faith an important part of individual and family life. We may have different ideas and suggestions on how that can be done, but prayer and listening to God’s direction is driving the path forward.
The overwhelming majority of respondents were very positive about the future of our diocesan church. Especially at the regional gatherings, the sense from the parish delegates was that there was a hunger for leadership from the diocese. One delegate stood up and said, “We are ready to do whatever it takes. We just need some direction!” Another positive note was the excellent work being done to promote priestly vocations in our diocese. The faithful are deeply encouraged by our increased number of seminarians. Others noted the vibrancy of youth ministry programming through things like Extreme Faith Camp and Totus Tuus, which are thriving apostolates to children and teenagers that continue to grow each year.
The preparatory documents noted that the desired outcome of this process is not so much the creation of a document as the creation of a culture of listening. Many of the parishes’ listening sessions were very fruitful in this regard.
Furthermore, the only complaint at the regional listening sessions was that they were too short. To this end, Bishop Powers has frequently voiced his hope that this process teaches us to be more collegial in our approach, while always being faithful to who we are as Catholics in practice and teaching.