Journeying together: Synod planning, training underway in Archdiocese

December 28, 2021

Ricardo Medina, director of the Office of Family Life Ministry, leads a training session for Spanish-speaking listening session facilitators at St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land on Dec. 11. (Photo by Sean O’Driscoll/Herald)

HOUSTON — Pope Francis has invited every diocese in the world to participate in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October of 2023.

The pope is encouraging dialogue among the faithful and with those in the peripheries to learn about their faith experiences, joys and concerns.

The two-year process of listening and dialogue, being conducted by every diocese around the world, started this fall.

“The goal is not solving a problem. That’s not what synods do. And that’s what Pope Francis has told us,” Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said at the Oct. 20 Opening Mass of the Synod for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “(Pope Francis) wants us to talk together … we’re not going to know it if we just talk alone. We have to speak together because the Spirit is the relationship, the string that holds us together.”

In a letter to the faithful, Cardinal DiNardo said the diocesan phase of this synod process is integral to the 2023 Synod, particularly the listening sessions that will be hosted in locations around Galveston-Houston in the coming months. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) is assisting Cardinal in leading the diocesan phase, and recently, facilitator trainings were organized in local parishes to help those tasked with leading these listening sessions. More trainings are scheduled in the new year (see link below for more information).

While the request to collate information gathered during the listening sessions can seem daunting for both facilitators and participants alike, APC member Daphine Sands said the process dates back to the early Church.

“Acts tells us that when people had questions and issues about what they should do in faith, those issues were sent to the Apostles who, through prayer and discernment, provided an answer. Almost 2,000 years later, that process still survives,” Sands said. “We all have to trust in Jesus on the outcome. For me personally, a synod is a way to get the people of God, which includes those who are actively participating in their faith, to interface with the disenfranchised and marginalized because we need to hear what they have to say.”

Lee Schmoe, another APC member, said he was initially confused and skeptical about the process until he attended a training. “How could the voices of millions of Catholics be heard by Pope Francis through such a huge, complex process? Now I believe it’s not only possible but also critically important for the local and global Church at this time in history.”

In addition to facilitator trainings at parishes, the Archdiocese also hosted a synod orientation for chancery employees serving in the Pastoral and Education Ministries Secretariat. Mark Ciesielski, Office of Aging director, and Julie Blevins, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis director, were among those in attendance.

Thanks to the orientation, “I attained a better understanding of the purpose of the synod, which includes the sense that we as a people-centered Church are journeying together, clergy and laity, towards fostering our union with Christ as disciples,” Ciesielski said. “The sharing process enabled me to appreciate how much of our religious experiences we share in common, both the joys and hurts.”

Blevins said the synodal process gives the faithful “time to add our voices to the discussion,” including those who may not normally be engaged in such dialogues involving the Church. “We need to hear all voices in the Church,” she said. “We need to openly listen to views that may be different from ours with respect, not expecting to respond to them but to record what was said. It will take effort to invite those in our parishes who may not be the ‘mainstream,’ but their presence is necessary for a good synod process because all of us are journeying together.”

Ciesielski said he wants to listen to people’s faith journey experiences to better understand “their joys and trials as Catholic Christians. This includes their moments of grace (consolation, inclusion) and desolation (feeling marginalized, excluded, or not engaged). My hope would be that the synod experience helps us all to be more intentional disciples, more actively engaged with our brothers and sisters in Christ in building God’s Kingdom.”

Respecting and discovering these various viewpoints is a key facet to the process of the synod discussions, Ciesielski said: “This is a Church for all — especially those on the periphery.”

“If we can foster a respectful listening process and dialogue, then we have the opportunity to address and correct our faults and discover ways to be more inclusive and welcoming to all,” he said.

“The key to evangelization is sometimes to listen with empathy,” Sands said. “That’s what we have been called to do: Listen and report what we find; without judgment and with love’s compassion. Once we do that, then the love of God can work.”

Schmoe is encouraging all faithful to participate in the local synod process.

“Too many Catholics have lost or are losing their sense of belonging to their parish and to the Church,” he said. “Restoring this love starts with parishes and the Church listening to us. Obviously, we can’t be listened to if we are not speaking.”

To participate actively in the synod as a session facilitator, register for a no-cost training session at The next training is on Saturday, Jan. 8, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Prince of Peace Church.

For more information and updates about the local synod process, visit

Synod on Synodality for Young Adults

All young adults are invited to attend an upcoming Synod on Synodality discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, at St. Dominic Chancery (2403 Holcombe Blvd.) from 7 to 9 pm. Come share with others on how the Church has journeyed with you. No cost to attend. Registration is required. Register online by February 13 at

For more information contact the Office of Young Adult & Campus Ministry at 713-741-8778 or or