Angela Westhoff Johnson, music director at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, beckons worshippers to sing during an Oct. 24 Mass that marked both the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Portland and the start of a process of synodality — Catholics walking together and listening to more voices in the church. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Angela Westhoff Johnson, music director at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, beckons worshippers to sing during an Oct. 24 Mass that marked both the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Portland and the start of a process of synodality — Catholics walking together and listening to more voices in the church. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
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The shepherds of the church must listen to the people of God whom we are called to serve. The people must also listen to the shepherds who seek to lead us in this time.


" Archbishop Alexander Sample
In a major address Oct. 24, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample announced that western Oregon Catholics are beginning a process of listening to one another better. The end goal? Hearing the Holy Spirit and discerning the best way to bring the Gospel to the modern world.

“All members of the body of Christ must listen to the aspirations and hopes of each other, but also the doubts and fears and anxieties of our age,” Archbishop Sample said during a homily at Portland’s St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “The people of today need to hear the message of the Gospel in a way that speaks to them in their real-life situations.”

The listening is one part of a global initiative set into motion this year by Pope Francis. Dioceses all over the world are to begin a process of synodality — or moving together — through genuine speaking and hearing.

“I’ve never been more enthused, excited, and filled with hope and energy for helping lead us all together,” the archbishop told hundreds of worshippers in person and on Facebook Live. “I am not at all pessimistic. I believe God is doing great things, and I’ll say it, great things right here in western Oregon. I believe God is sparking something here that will be seen and be a witness to others.”

The archbishop said Pope Francis has offered a “wonderful opportunity” to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading the church today. The pope has used these words to describe the synodal process: communion, participation, mission, encounter, listen, discern. Archbishop Sample’s remarks addressed each idea.

Communion — Archbishop Sample made an emotional plea for unity. “We journey together. That is the heart of the synodal process,” he said. “It’s walking together. We have to reject, absolutely reject, the ways of the world that seek to pit one group against another. We can’t have this in the body of Christ.”

Participation — “We can’t be pew sitters,” the archbishop added. “We must be missionary disciples.” A church that stands back and let’s matters flow as usual will suffer in modern times, he added.

“This is not something that will happen at a high level, and where we are just going to sit back and watch,” he said of the synodal process. “We are going to actively participate.”

Mission — The archbishop said there is no new program since Jesus already gave the program through his life, teachings, death, Resurrection and the great commission to spread the Gospel. During the synodal process, the archbishop intends to focus attention on the work of evangelization. He hopes Catholics together will discern how best to evangelize western Oregon today.

Encounter — “We must encounter our Lord Jesus Christ in a new and profound way,” the archbishop said, noting that Pope Francis emphasized adoration of Jesus. The archbishop said that encounter means meeting others as members of Christ’s body.

“I want to spend the next 15 years working with all of you, collaborating with all of you, leading you into a life-giving and transformative encounter with the person of Jesus,” he said, “so that you have an encounter with Christ that will change your life so that you see not just some things differently but you will see everything differently and therefore be able to be those missionary disciples to others.”

Listen — Members of the church, no matter their role, should listen to one another, said the archbishop. “The shepherds of the church must listen to the people of God whom we are called to serve,” he explained. “The people must also listen to the shepherds who seek to lead us in this time.”

Discern — “We must discern where the Holy Spirit is leading and how he is speaking to the church today,” the archbishop said.

When they first hear of a synod, Americans might automatically think of a parliament or Congress in which there are debates and votes. “That’s not what synodality is about and the Holy Father warns us against having an attitude as if this were a political process,” the archbishop said. “This is a deeply spiritual process of listening to the Holy Spirit.”

The archbishop cautioned against seeing the synod as a way to debate and change church doctrine and moral teachings.

“It’s about finding new ways to express the living faith in a way people can hear it,” he said. “We need to use new methods to reach people today. The old methods don’t work so well.”

The archbishop started his own listening right away.

Cynthia Folcarelli, a visitor from Washington, D.C., told him after Mass that she wants to see the church thrive and that the first step must be a national period of reflection and clear policy change over the past sexual abuse of young people. “That is the thing that is driving people away from the church,” Folcarelli said after her discussion with the archbishop. “The laity is still demoralized, and good priests are struggling because people don’t want to donate anymore.”

Another visitor, Katy Schoos of Seattle, appreciated the explanation of synodality and the invitation to the laity to join the conversation.