Responses from nearly 15,000 participants in more than 175 parish sessions are laying the groundwork for February and March district gatherings, the next step toward the June 7-8 Archdiocesan Synod.

“What was gratifying was that when they did send feedback, a lot of them included a little note saying we really appreciated the process; this was really good faith sharing with our parishioners,” said Randy Nohl, director of the archdiocese’s John Paul II Center and chairperson of the the synod preparatory commission. “In that way it did give people an opportunity to give input, but it really was a parish building thing – a faith sharing opportunity.”

Using a process based on Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s pastoral letter, “Who Do You Say That I Am? and developed by the synod preparatory commission, parishes invited members to attend a three-hour session led by a facilitator trained by the archdiocese.

A key component of what Rich Harter, archdiocesan director of evangelization, termed a “plug and play” experience, were four videos the preparatory commission had prepared. (To view the videos, go to

Synod will address

7 challenges

     In collating the data from the sessions in which nearly 15,000 people at more than 175 parishes participated, Archdiocesan Synod planners were looking for things “that trended in each category” – Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship. These included the positive – “affirmations,” as the planners termed them (see related story) – and challenges.
     “No matter what the group, these are things that rose to the surface. It really was, no matter what the group was, in almost every district, all seven of these things came up. I wasn’t expecting it to be that clear cut,” said Randy Nohl, director of the John Paul II Center and chairperson of the synod preparatory commission.
     The following are the challenges and questions related to each, as compiled by the synod preparatory commission. For further information visit 
     Media and culture. How can the Catholic Church respond to the many anti-Gospel values, i.e., individualism, materialism, secularism, moral relativism, consumerism, social injustices, culture of death, etc., being promoted by today’s media and culture?
     Social media, technology and traditional media. How can the Catholic Church use social media and new technology, as well as traditional media, to creatively spread the Gospel and church teachings, especially to youth and young adults?
     Catholic Church’s image. How can the Catholic Church positively and proactively communicate (market) the relevance of the Gospel and church teachings to the modern world?
     Busyness of family life. How can the church respond to the “hyper-busyness” in modern Catholic family life, which often seems to interfere with the priorities and practices of the faith?
     Adult formation for intentional discipleship. How can the church inspire adult Catholics to grow spiritually and practice a lifestyle of deep and lifelong faith formation in the faith?
     Building a culture of invitation and involvement. How can the Catholic Church foster a parish-wide culture of personal invitation and involvement to those already coming to church as well as to those who are no longer involved on a regular basis?
     Development of parish leadership. How can the Catholic Church call forth and equip lay parish members for the many leadership roles in the parish?

— Brian T. Olszewski

“Essentially, sessions were designed to engage people in a conversation around the archbishop’s three priorities,” he said. 

“Catholic identity – drawing on key themes of his pastoral letter; evangelization – how have you been evangelized yourself and what is the call for the new evangelization going forward? and stewardship – what’s fruitful in the parishes and archdiocese? What’s working that we want to highlight and enhance? What else can we, should we, be doing, and how should we do it; what resources do we need to make those things happen? That’s how we engaged people.”

Harter said feedback from parishes indicated people responded positively to the videos. He noted that the sessions and use of the videos had additional effects.

“Some of the parishes said that they’re using the feedback as a way of looking at their own parish and seeing what their people are thinking and saying, and using that as sort of a lens through which to plan on their own parish level as well,” he said.

Doing well, need to do better

According to Nohl, one of the categories into which parish data was classified was “affirmations of the church’s mission.” The affirmations were further broken down into Word, worship and service.

What are we doing well? What are we doing right? What inspires you? Why do you love the church? What is helping us see how we’re touching people and how they’re being inspired?,” he said. “There is a lot of good going on. We’re doing a lot that is right.”

Under Word, among areas participants cited were Catholic schools, catechetics, adult faith formation, RCIA, parish missions, Theology on Tap, seminary, sacramental preparation, and use of social media.  

Within the scope of worship, they citedMass, sacraments, various styles of prayer, liturgical and music ministries, retreats, devotions, rosary and funerals. 

“Praying in public, especially at restaurants, kept coming up over and over,” Nohl said. 

In service, parishioners noted outreach to the sick, homebound, and bereaved; meal programs and food pantries; St. Vincent de Paul Society and human concerns; and the witness of priests, religious and lay ministers.

“One thing that was mentioned over and over,” Nohl said, “was following the example of Pope Francis. His actions have spoken so loud and so clearly that people resonate with that.” 

According to Harter, the parish sessions surfaced seven key calls to strengthen the church’s mission that will be part of the district discussions.

“They were pretty universal, talked about in every district and bubbled up,” he said. “These were the leading areas.” (See related article at right)

Taking it to the districts

While the district gatherings will be a “celebration of the affirmations,” according to Harter, they will also include “substantive dialogue about around how the church can strengthen its mission, how can we use new and ardor methods in the new evangelization.”

Participants will be expected to examine the seven challenges and to propose major initiatives to address them, he said.

“Instead of people sitting around and saying, ‘This is a big problem,’ we want ideas that will move us toward mission,” Harter said.

Another thing sought by the planners are “quick hits.“

“What can we do easily, affordably effectively right away to begin movement? A major initiative might turn into a 10-year plan, but if you don’t have something (quick hit) to do right away and move the mountain, you’re not really being effective,” he said. “We want people after the synod to say, ‘Whoa! Things are happening.’” 

They are also encouraging what Harter termed “innovative, game-changing ideas” to address the challenges. 

“On this level we’re asking them to get crazy, if you will – the proverbial thinking outside of the box. Come up with the most outlandish idea, but it has to be new, it has to be different, it has to be a game-changing idea,” Harter said. “Something where you’d say, ‘We’d never do that.’ Well, maybe that’s the very reason we should do it.”

He hopes that the ideas that result from these three categories, which will be brought to the synod, are not “the same old, same old.”

“The new evangelization implies newness. We want people to get creative and wrestle with that. We feel like we have an exciting task for them; we have a challenging task for them, and out of that we’re hoping amazing things will happen,” Harter said.