It is time to listen with our hearts and not just our ears

Pope Francis has invited all Catholics to engage in discussion around ‘synodality’. But what does this mean and how is the Irish Church responding? Bishop Donal McKeown shares how the Derry Diocese is participating in the process
Bishop Donal McKeown.Bishop Donal McKeown.
Bishop Donal McKeown.

Pope Francis famously said that this is not a time of change so much as a change of time, writes Bishop Donal McKeown.

At every level in society, we face a range of changes and challenges – economic problems, the environment, a world of instantaneous communications and widespread political instability.

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The Church has always to be asking itself a basic question and that question is not, ‘how do we keep our system going?’ There is a more fundamental issue: how effective are we in bringing God’s mercy and healing to the people and situations of our day?

And the answer is quite clearly: ‘could do an awful lot better’!

Pope Francis has invited Catholic communities all over the world to begin a prayerful conversation to see how we can understand what the way forward is.

And the Pope is clear that this is not a parliamentary process, where parties vie to get their policies and views to win victories. The early Christian Church believed that, if they prayed together and listened, they would discern where God was leading the Church.

It is about facing the future together.

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That is the process that Pope Francis has asked Derry Diocese – and every other diocese in the world – to start.

It is based on the belief that leaders have to lead – but that we all have to listen to hear where God is leading.

In preparation for a major month-long Synod of Bishops on the theme ‘Communion, Participation and Mission’ in October 2023, we are beginning a diocesan process which will lead to an Irish national listening process, feeding into the Vatican, which will, then, come back with a further document for local discussion.

And the Synod in 2023 will just be one more stage on a journey of listening to God and to one another – a different way of being Church.

In this Diocese, we are proposing the following timetable:

Advent Sundays (Nov 28, Dec 5, 12, 19)

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○ Sunday homilies on synodality as a journey in hope and expectation.

○ Selection of parish synodality team.

Early January 2022

○ Training sessions for those who will lead local conversations.

Sunday, Jan 16-Sunday, Feb 13, 2022

○ Period for local conversations which might include: in person meetings with groups (eg active parishioners); Zoom meetings; meetings with young people (eg. in schools, with Pope John Paul II Award teenagers, with sports club members etc; Facebook, Instagram etc., presence for feedback; opportunity for anonymous email responses to a dedicated email address.

February 25, 2022

○ Parish responses to be sent to Diocesan Office (before start of Lent).

February/March 2022

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○ Local meetings with people from each parish to discuss key themes for Derry Diocesan report.

March/April 2022

○ Diocesan report to be finalised and published.

June 2022

○ Irish national report to the Vatican to be finalised and published.

This is an initiative that wants to hear from people of all ages and both outsiders and insiders in church. People can get in contact either at meetings or via email.

I have no idea where this journey will lead us. But I take the first steps in trust. It is a process of listening to whatever comes up.

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In the conversations, we will hear many things – some inspiring and some uncomfortable. But only the truth will set us free.

My hope is that we will be able to be silent and listen with our hearts and not just with our ears. In history, God has spoken in many unexpected little people!

There is much need for grace, forgiveness and healing in our society. Jesus found ways of reaching the people of his day. We are beginning a way of being Church that will. Resources will be uploaded to and can be viewed there. There is also a dedicated email address [email protected]

This is a new way of facing the future with trust rather than in fear.

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I have every confidence that future generations will look back on this time and be grateful for people of courage, honesty and hope who were not afraid to ask awkward questions and help us set out on a new missionary path.

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