‘Art of listening’ in synodal church requires ‘formation’ to avoid ‘empty discussions,’ says cardinal

By Barb Arland-Fye | OSV News

DAVENPORT, Iowa (OSV News) — Synodality, “the centerpiece of” Pope Francis’ service to the church,” is “an invitation to discover anew the gift that has been given to us, the Holy Spirit, so that we will know how to walk together,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin told an Iowa audience.

“If we want a synodal church, we need to ask ourselves if we believe that the Spirit manifests freely through all persons and their life stories, even in points of view completely different and diverse from our own positions,” said the cardinal, who heads the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. “The latter is also a mediation of the Spirit that we often forget because it can be uncomfortable to listen, talk and discern in common.”

He added, “The art of listening requires formation and experience, as well as to provide the necessary means at our disposal, in order to avoid empty discussions based on opinions or cultural wars.”

Cardinal Tobin infrequently accepts invitations to speak outside his archdiocese but made an exception for “Francis at 10: A Papacy of Possibilities” at St. Ambrose University in Davenport March 16-18.

Pope Francis offered his prayers and invoked the “abundant blessings of Almighty God” on the conferees in a letter addressed to Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the letter to the 350 people attending in person and online.

Besides Cardinal Tobin, conference speakers were Kerry Alys Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable; Phyllis Zagano, who served on the pope’s original committee to study the diaconate of women; Austin Ivereigh, the pope’s biographer; Anthony Annett, author of “Cathonomics”; theologian Massimo Faggioli; National Catholic Reporter News Editor Joshua McElwee; and Thomas Higgins, a St. Ambrose University alumnus and the conference’s primary funder.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, center, concelebrates Mass March 18, 2023, at St. Ambrose University’s Christ the King Chapel in Davenport, Iowa. Others at the altar are, from left, Deacon Dan Freeman, Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., and Deacon Ryan Burchett. (OSV News photo/Barb Arland-Fye, The Catholic Messenger)

“The work of Pope Francis invites all of us to reflect on his call to mercy, justice, fraternity and synodality,” St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak said in welcoming remarks. Since its founding in 1882, the university “has embraced an ethos committed to serving the marginalized, an ethos rooted in a commitment to encounter.”

“On a deeply personal level, these 10 years with Francis as our pope, has felt like a sign of God’s providence, affirmation and encouragement for so much of our labor,” said Robinson, who is executive partner with Leadership Roundtable, which promotes best practices and accountability in the Catholic Church in the U.S.

Robinson firmly believes that “laity, and in particular women, hold the key to positive managerial reform, the restoration of trust in the church and in church leadership.”

She acknowledged that Pope Francis is not perfect but takes ownership of his mistakes and makes amends.

“When it comes to leadership, Francis emulates what he advocates.” She describes him as a “pope of the people. A pope of surprises. A pope of tenderness. … He prioritizes dialogue and deep listening and seeks out diverse viewpoints.”

“The synod will be as effective as our own responsibility for it,” Robinson said. “Let’s be the church we yearn to see. A more relevant church to young adults, a more joyful church, a church of integrity, ethics, trust, justice and openness,” she said. “A safe environment for the most vulnerable. A church that values and invites the immense competencies of women. A church worthy of profound generosity. A church at the forefront of justice, peace and charity.”

Zagano assessed the papacy of Pope Francis in light of the role of women and laity in the church. She reviewed the pope’s encyclicals as they related to Catholic Social Teaching and to his actions and interactions regarding women.

She described Pope Francis as “genuinely a good man. But Francis at 10 sometimes displays the same problems as Francis did at first. He too often insults women, surely unknowingly, with the same sort of old boy jokes and expressions men of his age have heard and used throughout their lives.”

Zagano expressed skepticism about the hierarchy’s respect for the voice of the laity, although she gives credit to Pope Francis for his inclusivity of voices. Depending on the parish, diocese or continent, synodal discernment has been limited, she believes. She thinks many voices have been cut out of the conversation, particularly women’s voices.

“Women are interested in being taken seriously and women are interested in being ministered to by other women,” she said.

Bishop Zinkula addressed the tensions the listening sessions have surfaced regarding the role of women in the church, LGBTQ issues, divorced and remarried Catholics, among other issues.

“People have been talking about a tension between truth and love,” he said in his homily during Mass March 17.

“Tension doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is a temptation to avoid it by embracing an either/or mindset,” Bishop Zinkula noted. “But the church has always been both/and. Catholics are called to strive for synthesis, to hold seemingly contradictory truths in tension. … How is the Spirit inviting us to balance the tension of love/inclusivity and truth/doctrine?”

Annett explored how Catholic tradition can create a more just economy. He said Pope Francis’ approach to the market economy is in line with his predecessors dating back to Pope Leo XIII.

Annett identified 10 directing principles, based on papal encyclicals of the past 130 years that should guide the market. Among them: the state has an important role to play in regulating the economy; solidarity, fraternity, reciprocity and gratuitousness must guide the economy; the role of business is not just to maximize profits; the dignity of work and workers’ rights must be emphasized; the goods of the earth are destined for all people.

At the conference’s closing Mass, Archbishop Pierre, who presided, focused his homily on the Gospel story of Jesus healing of the man born blind and the call to the faithful.

“Discipleship carries both a challenge and a promise. We do not face the challenges by our own power. The one who is the light of the world will illuminate our hearts with the splendor of his grace so that we may ponder what is pleasing to God and love him in all sincerity.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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