“Listening is meant to touch our hearts”

BRIDGEPORT— “Listening is meant to touch our hearts,” said Fr. Frank Hoffmann as he led the Daytime Prayer for the diocesan conclusion of the synod listening process at St. Augustine Cathedral.

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening, and only true listening can bring about a moment of grace,” said Fr. Hoffmann to the gathering of diocesan Synod delegates from across the diocese.

“Synod listening is not simply a consultation, but a discernment,” he said, noting that listening is more important than ever as our lives are filled with noise and disagreements.

Fr. Hoffmann, who served as presider and homilist at the prayer service, filled in for Bishop Caggiano who was called away to celebrate a funeral Mass.

He began by thanking the delegates “who by their listening have helped us all to experience the reality of God’s presence in our individual lives and the community.”

The Daytime Prayer included the chanting of Psalm 119, ”Lord give a loving welcome to your servant, “ and Psalm 34, “When your heart is torn with grief, the Lord is near you… I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise always on my lips.”

“This is a time when truly need to listen to each other,” said Fr. Hoffmann, who is Vicar for Clergy of the Diocese. He told the delegates that the Church has an opportunity to change itself and the world by modeling the synod process of graced listening.

The diocesan participation in the Global Synod on Synodality launched by Pope Francis in October 2021, was not simply an administrative exercise, but one that is meant to touch hearts and to ensure that graced listening is part of the Church’s future, he said.

“Together we are looking to discover what is of God and what is not, and to discover the will of God in our lives and do the hard work of putting it into practice by listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that touches us most deeply in our hearts.”

“What is grace but a sharing of God’s life, which is what happens when we partake of the sacraments,” he added.

After the final prayer, Deacon Stephen Hodson, who was appointed Synod Representative for the Diocese of Bridgeport by Bishop Caggiano, thanked delegates for listening to others, which he believes has been an important step toward healing.

Deacon Hodson said one common refrain from those who offered comments is that our parishes needs to become more welcoming.

He acknowledged that it was not always easy for delegates to listen to criticism of the Church or comments they did not agree with, but there is value in listening without responding, challenging, or giving our side of the story.

”There is true value in hearing where others are coming from. It doesn’t mean you agree, but you find that we are all wounded in life ,and listening is a means of healing. Forgiveness is the key to bringing people back,” he said.

Deacon Hodson then introduced two synod delegates to share their experiences in the listening sessions.

JoAnn Esposito, a parishioner of St, Matthew Parish in Norwalk, said that many people discussed the role of women and urged efforts at greater inclusion for those who are divorced and who may feel unwanted or unwelcomed by the Church.

In addition to holding direct listening sessions at St. Matthew’s, the parish also conducted an online survey, which was very beneficial as parishioners and even some who have left the Church shared their feelings, she said.

“Synodality has always been part of the church,” she added, “And Pope Francis has taught us that Spirit will guide us and give us the grace to grow together.”

Esposito said many speakers grappled with the effects of the sexual abuse crisis. Others expressed a need for more commitment to social justice. They also said it is important that clergy walk with them and understand the reality of their lives.

“The consensus was that the Church is very relevant in people’s lives but should focus more on the sacred, and focus less on politics or being judgmental.”

Michael Carlon, a delegate from St. Leo Parish in Stamford, agreed that hearing criticism of the Church was uncomfortable at times, but said it was also an opportunity to grow in faith and better understand those who have been alienated.

“For many, the topic of faith is not seen as positive. The culture is not kind to people of faith,” said Carlon, who works in marketing research and analysis. Like JoAnn Esposito, he heard many people say they want a more welcoming and inclusive church that reaches out to those who may feel unwanted.

He recalled what he felt on Ash Wednesday, 2021, when people around the diocese were able to return to Mass in person after the Covid shutdown. He broke down in tears with joy. It made him want to share the beauty of the Mass with people who have left the church or are no longer in the pews.

As a professional, he cautioned others who served as synod delegates not to try to analyze what they were hearing, but to listen deeply and absorb the message. He also learned that many of his own concerns are shared by others throughout the diocese.

Noting that he is in training for a half marathon he said that it’s important to push your body through fatigue and discomfort in order to build endurance. “Maybe we need to be uncomfortable more often,” he said, adding that many of the delegates were inspired and experienced a feeling of lightness at the end of the listening sessions, because they were an opportunity “to dream about Church the Holy Spirit wants us to become.”

Deacon Hodson concluded the prayer service by saying that no matter what views or concerns were expressed in the Synod listening sessions, “the majority of people spoke about the joy of being Catholic, participating in the Mass, and the sense of community they have with their parishes.”

Following the prayer service, delegates met for coffee and bagel reception held in the Kolbe-Cathedral auditorium on the Cathedral Parish campus.

The summary report on the 2021-2023 Global Synod on Synodality listening sessions held in parishes was submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in July as part of the diocesan response to the Global Synod called for by Pope Francis. The report reflects comments of over 1,300 men and women who participated in listening sessions in 42% of parishes in the diocese, Deacon Hodson said. Recommendations and a summary of the report will be made available this Fall.