St. Anthony of Padua Parish hosts synodality sessions

FAIRFIELD—At the conclusion of the Global Synod on Synodality last October, Pope Francis and the delegates in Rome encouraged Catholics throughout the world to embark on a purposeful journey together. By praying, speaking, and listening in community, small parish groups were urged to address issues facing the Church today and consider ways to continue carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ. By doing so, they would have the chance to model “synodality.”

When Charlie Miller, a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fairfield, learned of this opportunity, he was interested in creating these Synod follow-up sessions on synodality. The call for participants went out, and he received responses from close to 50 parishioners. They understood, he said, that these conversations would benefit not only their own parish but the Church at large. Miller chose to host three sessions throughout Lent at St. Anthony of Padua with groups meeting both in person at the church’s hall and virtually on Zoom.

“When I came up with this idea last December, I wondered how we could be a Synod—a church on a mission—within our local parish,” he said. “We want to be for all people of God at all stages.”

During these sessions, Miller chose to model the “Conversation in the Spirit,” the same protocol for discussion followed by the Synod delegates. This pattern includes groups of four to seven participants, each speaking uninterrupted for a specified amount of time with 10 minutes of open discussion and moments of silence as well.

“This allows for reflection on what has been said. We put (the comments) into the hands of the Holy Spirit,” Miller said. “The fruits of our conversations will be sent to the delegates in Rome who will meet again in October 2024.” From there, they will draft proposals for the Pope’s consideration.

In preparation for each of the 60-to-90-minute long sessions at St. Anthony, parishioners read and reflect on specific questions and relevant excerpts from the Rome 2023 Synthesis Report. During the first session held in late February, discussions centered around how a person can more intentionally and faithfully be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ through his or her demeanor, words, and actions. Comments included the importance of the meaning of synodality as “walking together” as well as taking the time to continually do for others and sharing simple but important lessons which reflect the essence of the Holy Spirit.

Also shared was the type of accompaniment one might need to be a more committed disciple of Jesus.

In his summary notes, which he completes for each session, Miller commented, “There was consensus that being part of a spiritual community like St. Anthony’s was an important support for the challenges we all faced. But we also thought it would be useful to have even smaller, more intimate and similarly situated individuals in community.”

One topic that began in the first session and continued into the second included the importance of listening more to others and saying less. During a small group open discussion segment in session two, one woman reflected on how a parish might promote synodality.

“By listening,” she said. “Silence brings the Holy Spirit into our hearts and helps us surrender to Jesus. We need to open ourselves to him.”

Another participant added, “It takes courage to meet people where they are with a smile on your face. So many are looking for a place to connect. We need to be ‘one’ with ‘the other’.”

Additional topics included the possibility of women deacons, positively fostering spiritual growth, and a new model for lay involvement.

For many of those who originally registered, they did so to learn more about the synodal process. Parishioner Wendy Long said, “We should be looking for the best for our church. How can we be better, more inclusive?” she said. “To be a church that understands one another, we must start with our own community and our own parish.”

“I didn’t know what synodality was,” added Pat Kearns. “I wondered how St. Anthony was going to handle it. I really like the process of think, talk, listen.”

Miller said he has been pleased with the turnout and the very positive response, especially as St. Anthony of Padua is the only church in the diocese hosting these sessions.

In his summary on one recent meeting, Miller concluded his comments, writing, “It is very important to listen to others, including and especially, the younger generation who will be responsible for carrying on the faith and supporting the church.”

By Emily Clark