Pope Francis wants to hear from people.
All people, regardless of their faith.
The pope has laid out a framework for bishops from all Roman Catholic dioceses to reach out to communities and listen to them -- worldwide.
He's asked for an Earth-encompassing synod on synodality. Synod is an ancient Christian practice of listening, discussing and discerning beliefs.
"I am not aware of any effort at the scope of this," said Helen Osman, Diocese of Jefferson City director of communications. "The pope has asked every diocese in the world to do this."
What they are doing is listening.
Not just to Catholics. Everybody living within the geography of each diocese is invited to join the conversations.
To register for an online listening session, visit diojeffcity.org/synod. There will be four online sessions. Check the diocese websites for times and dates, and to register in advance.
"While not required, your advance registration will enable us to have adequate materials and resources available," according to the diocese website.
The diocese is able to provide online sessions in English or Spanish.
In-person sessions begin 10-11:30 a.m. Jan. 29 at St. Pius X Church, 210 s. Williams St., in Moberly. Subsequent in-person sessions will take place in Hannibal, Sedalia, Columbia, Macon, Rolla, Marshall, Hermann and Mexico.
A Jefferson City in-person listening session will occur 1-2:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Immaculate Conception Church, 1206 E. McCarty St.
Some dioceses have already started holding sessions.
The local diocese has had listening sessions before. The Most Rev. W. Shawn McKnight, bishop of the Diocese of Jefferson City, has hosted listening sessions most recently to develop a formal report for the pope on the diocese. McKnight led those sessions.
These will be different. McKnight might participate -- not as a leader but as a community member.
"What we're trying to do is set up a way where everyone who comes to one of the sessions has the ability to speak. We're trying to capture that information," Osman said. "The intent of these sessions is for people to hear one another."
The church isn't going to try to come to a consensus. Nor are people going to try to convince one another of anything.
The diocese will limit speakers to three minutes and ask everyone to focus on two questions, she said.
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?
"People see this as an opportunity for people to say, 'Thank you for asking me,'" Osman said. "The questions are intentionally very open-ended. They are intended to be inclusive."
People in pain will come to the sessions.
They may have quit going to church because of pain in their lives.
They may have quit because of a divorce, something a priest said or something a priest did.
Osman said colleagues whose dioceses have started the sessions report that some have come back to the church and asked, "Do you miss me?"
The emphasis is for the church to start listening to people at a grassroots level.
The diocese distilled the questions down from preparatory materials the Vatican sent around the world, she said.
"What we're asking people to tell us is, 'Where should the church be going?' I don't know of any other institution that has attempted something like this," Osman said. "It's going to be interesting to see how this unfolds. We need inspiration.
"I hope we have people willing to participate -- let the Spirit speak through them."
Each local diocese will deliver a report to the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
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 will conclude with a conference of all bishops worldwide meeting as a synod in October 2023.