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Listening sessions lead to reflection within communities

by Joe Gamm | February 13, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Debbie Kolb facilitates a small group discernment discussion Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jefferson City during the Diocese Listening Session. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

A series of listening sessions offered by the Catholic Church has allowed people to share their experiences.

As important, perhaps, is that the sessions have given others a chance to listen to their neighbors with open hearts, said Helen Osman, Diocese of Jefferson City director of communications.

Pope Francis has asked for an Earth-encompassing synod on synodality. Synod is an ancient Christian practice of listening, discussing and discerning beliefs, Osman said.

Everybody living within the geography of each diocese was invited to join the conversations.

The church isn't trying to come to a consensus, Osman said. Nor are people trying to convince one another of anything.

What the church is trying to do is set up a way to allow everyone who comes to one of the sessions to have the ability to speak, so it might capture that information. The intent is to create a forum where people can hear each other.

She sat in on two sessions Saturday, including one at Immaculate Conception Church, 106 E. McCarty St., Jefferson City. Two more are scheduled today, one each in Mexico and Moberly. For details, visit

An online session is scheduled for Tuesday evening. Details are on the website.

Surprising numbers of people have been showing for the sessions, Osman said.

The diocese limits speakers to three minutes and asks everyone to focus on two questions.

The first: Please share a story about your experience with the church that has shaped you.

The second: What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?

At one location, even though no one had registered online, more than 30 people showed up.

"In that particular community, we had both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking people showed up," she said.

Osman said she facilitated the group that was English-speaking. Within her group were a few young ladies whose parents were part of the Spanish-speaking group. When asked what the Holy spirit asks of us, one responded she would like for Anglos and Hispanics to come together and possibly hold bi-lingual Mass.

"I think that was something that everyone needed to hear," Osman said. "When we hear that, our immediate response is we want to take care of it. We want to fix it. 'Oh, we're doing this already, and we're better than we were.'

"What I think we're really being called to do is to listen to that and to say, 'OK, what does this challenge me to change?'"

She found another listening session in a small community with a stable parish had profound discussions.

Two people within that session said they hadn't felt welcomed.

"I thought that was very courageous for them to be able to say that," Osman said. "And for those who are long-time community members to simply listen to it -- and not take it as criticism -- but simply acknowledge that this is the experience of people."

One of the things people wonder about is what needs to happen in the parish, outside of Sunday liturgies, Osman said.

"How are we serving? How are we reaching out?" Osman said. "How are we welcoming? And how are we staying connected?"

The diocese is to create a report from the sessions that is to be sent to the U.S. Conference of Bishops. It will also be shared with the local community.

Each diocese is to deliver a report the conference. The bishops will distill the information down. Afterward, representatives of the USCB will travel to all the Americas and give feedback from the Vatican to the people.

The effort is to conclude with the conference of all bishops worldwide, when they meet as a synod in October 2023.

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