TRAN: Experiencing synodality through campus ministry

January 11, 2022

Photo by Alexis Brown/Unsplash

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

A college student approached me in a small quavering voice. I was elbows-deep in preparing for a campus ministry event that was taking place in under an hour, but I knew quickly from her downcast expression that I should drop everything.

I responded, “Of course! What’s up?” She pulled me aside while tears streamed from her eyes as she began to share about the rough and emotional night she experienced trying to console a friend with severe depression.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she said with her voice breaking. I wanted to help. With mindfulness and sensitivity, I asked her what mental health and spiritual resources she and her friend had access to and shared the various counseling and therapy resources that could be quickly available to them along with other great resources for long-term spiritual and mental health care. However, in sharing all of the information about resources, I realized from her response that the reason she came to me was not simply just for advice and resources.

What she truly wanted was someone to listen to her experience and to be present with her in her distress. And so, I listened and remained present. I affirmed her care and love for her friend and invited her to pray with me.

“Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to come into this situation too,” I said.

We sat and prayed together in mixed moments of extemporaneous prayer, silence and intercessory prayer and ended our time together praying the Hail Mary. We arranged to meet again soon for a follow-up and check-in. As she left our impromptu meeting, the expression on her face was more hopeful and peaceful.
Despite that I was scrambling quickly to begin the campus event, I had left our encounter with a sense of gratitude and edification from our time together.

Pope Francis is inviting the Church to participate in a Synod on Synodality. Synodality means “journeying together,” and this synodality is the heart and mission of campus ministry.

Campus ministers invest themselves in getting to know their students, swapping personal stories and jokes, sharing in their joys and challenges, their victories and struggles, building intentional relationships, forming them in the faith, and praying with and for them. As we walk with them in their journeys through the guide of the Holy Spirit, listening to them and meeting them wherever they are on their faith journey, the students also learn to do the same with their peers and other people in their lives.

I have seen that as students grow in witness of God’s presence and love for them in their lives through the accompaniment of the Church, they also recognize and take up their call to mission and evangelize with their lives so that others might also encounter the Lord.

Of course, synodality is not unique to campus ministry. It is the mission of the entire Church. During the current synod, as our Church reflects on the theme of synodality, let us pray to the Holy Spirit as we ask ourselves: How can we all work to be more synodal in our identity? How might I manifest synodality in my own life? How am I being called to “journey together” with others? What can I do to develop an environment of listening?

Let us also heed the Holy Father’s encouragement by allowing ourselves to become “experts in the art of encounter” and “to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries” of our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Mimi Tran is the Catholic campus minister at Rice University.