Lead through listening

In Journeying Together, Fr. Fernandes draws on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in inviting us to understand Beacons of Light as a process of synodality, in which we listen to one another in order to strengthen our Families of Parishes as evangelizing communities. Most of us have had the experience of being at a meeting or speaking with a friend and realizing that the people involved are not really listening to what is being said. Synodality involves truly listening, not only for what is being said on the surface of things, but what is being expressed from the heart. Such listening “involves listening not only to each other, but also to the Spirit to know what ‘He says to the churches.’ (AAS, 107) Listening affirms each person’s dignity and expresses respect for the voices, legitimate desires, problems and sufferings of the People of God.” (Journeying Together, p. 8)

How does synodality work in the process of pastoral planning? In a comprehensive pastoral planning process, parish leaders listen to the people in their communities and discern their future together. Such discernment is a prayerful process of decision-making in which we recognize where we are, assess current life in the parish realistically, interpret the experiences of parishioners, both positive and negative, design change processes and practices that will lead to increased vitality, choose actions to take and implement the things we have discerned together, and evaluate progress along the way. (see Journeying Together, p. 11-12) Not only do we listen to the experience of the people now, but we hear their hopes and dreams, their concerns and grief, and we do so in light of the vision of what the Family may become – a faith community filled with life and holiness, which leads people to live their faith at home, in the workplace, their cities and towns, and the wider world.

All who lead in our parishes – priests and deacons, parish staff, parishioner leaders – can begin this listening now. It doesn’t need to be a formal process of meetings, but rather, we can listen as we are interacting with people before and after Mass, when we answer the phone or talk with someone at a parish or school function. We can listen, not only for what the person is saying, but what they mean, what they are trying to communicate from the heart. We’ll take all of what we hear into the process of discerning the future for our Families of Parishes in the second half of this year and as the years that follow unfold.

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