Why I became a listener for the synod

Kathy Janku retired in May as a theology instructor at St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville. She and her husband, Mike, are members of Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids and have three adult children and two grandchildren. Kathy was trained by the Diocese of St. Cloud as a listener for the local synod process in which people are sharing hopes, dreams and challenges regarding the future of the Church in the lead up to the next world Synod of Bishops in 2023. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

What did you think about this synod process when you first heard about it? Why did you decide to be a listener for the local synod process?

Kathy: Every spring I teach a theology unit on what the modern Church is doing. Just recently we looked at Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“On Fraternity and Social Friendship”), and that feeds right into what the synod is about. Previously there were synods on youth, on the family, on the Amazon. So there was anticipation about what might be coming next.

I was so excited when I heard about this synod process. Some people are kind of pessimistic about where the Church is and where it’s going. Some of that is perception. The Church —
the people of God — is doing a lot of good things, but I don’t know that it always reaches the people in the pews.

Then I heard about this synod process and the pope’s invite. It’s Holy Spirit-driven. Sometimes it’s really hard to think about what the Holy Spirit is up to. This is a chance in history where we get to see the Holy Spirit move. It just gives me such hope and joy that we get to see this. It makes me really passionate about what’s happening — that the Church could go in some new directions.

At some point, you heard that the diocese was participating in the process and training listeners. Is this something that you knew right away you wanted to do?

Kathy: Listening is one of my strengths. I am empathetic, I can listen and facilitate conversation. So, yes, right away when I heard about the opportunity through the magazine I said, “I can do this.” The process of learning to be a synod listener was a good one for me. As a listener, I didn’t have to reply to people’s answers. I just had to facilitate, be empathetic, and be a guide alongside the Holy Spirit to capture their voices.

Have you listened to individuals, groups or both?

Kathy Junku is pictured at a 2019 convocation at St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville. (foto de Paul Middlestaedt)

Kathy: Mostly individuals. But I have done about three group sessions. It’s been wonderful hearing different perspectives, trying to be really respectful of all voices, and trying to keep it as a dialogue rather than a diatribe — to teach people to speak on that level rather than getting an agenda across.

One group was a sixth-grade group at the Prep School. We were talking about wounds — wounds that need the attention of the people of God. So we talked about what a wound is.  They all had experienced wounds. So what do you do for wounds? You clean them. You put a Band-Aid on. Then, let’s start talking metaphorically. What are Band-Aids? Band-Aids serve a purpose, but do they get to the interior of the wound? Then we talk about what happens when you have a wound. The whole body hurts. The whole body of Christ hurts. Then one girl said, “And it’s the job of the body to heal the wound.”

What have been some of the recurring themes in your listening consultations? What issues do people talk about?

Kathy Junku was trained by the Diocese of St. Cloud as a listener for the local synod process. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Kathy: The words that I hear most are for the Church to be a welcoming place, an accepting place, inclusive of all. I try to tease that out. What are the ways that we can build community better? Other topics and themes are the role of women. LGBTQ as a topic is huge from old to young. They say that we need to do something to have everyone be included. These are wounds. Also, just the sadness of children falling away, from teens on up. To be proud of your faith is hugely important for people. But some people are choosing not to be part of it because they perceive it’s not safe or welcoming. So that needs to change.

In addition to the challenges, did you hear about good things, too?

Kathy: I thought that it was interesting that the sessions start with questions about hopes and dreams. That’s positive, but it is so intertwined with wounds. Many are starting from a place of woundedness and maybe getting to a place of hope. I heard good things about the centrality of the Eucharist, of community, but wanting more. Of good leaders with our priests and deacons, but wanting to know them more. The things that are celebrated are there, but people want more.

What have you learned throughout this process? What impact has it had on your own faith life?

More information: For more about the synod, visit stcdio.org/synod-2021-2023.

Kathy: It’s been a very sacred space to hear other people. It has been emotional. I feel honored to be listening and to know that this is important work for the Church — something I can do for Jesus. Jesus would be listening, too.

Since I’ve been listening, I have been more patient. I have been more empathetic. It’s so nice to know I don’t have to convince the other person of anything. I just need to listen because I want to understand. Just to be able to listen and try to understand and respect that person. Hopefully, they would show me that in return.

What are your hopes for the synod process as it moves forward on the local, national and international levels?

Kathy: There will be a document that comes out from the pope. What’s addressed in the document isn’t always wholeheartedly embraced by all. It’s still going to require work. But if we can start developing those listening skills, so that even when we encounter pushback, hopefully we will treat each other as human beings who have inherent dignity, and we can move forward in some way.

On the local level, I know things are busy and there’s a Eucharistic Revival and other things that need to happen. But I hope we can start building community to get back what we lost during COVID and start having more of these face-to-face encounters with each other. I don’t know what that looks like yet. I’m hoping that people are creative. It doesn’t take a document from the Vatican to figure this out. It just takes encouragement and a vision.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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