Holy spirit

Holy Spirit guides church at synod, Vatican official tells LGBTQ group

The “main protagonist” of the Catholic Church’s ongoing two-year synodal process “is the Holy Spirit, who is ready to guide us on this journey,” Xaviere’s missionary sister Nathalie Becquart told an American audience on April 3.

April 05, 2022

Xaviere’s missionary sister Nathalie Becquart, under-secretary of the Synod of Bishops, is pictured in the chapel of her office in the Vatican on January 5, 2022. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

By Julie Asher
The “main protagonist” of the Catholic Church’s ongoing two-year synodal process “is the Holy Spirit, who is ready to guide us on this journey,” Xaviere’s missionary sister Nathalie Becquart told an American audience on April 3.

“The purpose of a synod is to foster communion and build consensus,” Sister Becquart told an audience of mostly LGBTQ Catholics via Zoom from Rome. “If we really listen to one another…if we listen deeply, we will discern how the Holy Spirit is calling the church forward.”

About 1,000 people from 37 countries participated in the online event sponsored by New Ways Ministry. The organization’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, called it historic for a Vatican official to speak to an LGBTQ audience. He welcomed the Under-Secretary and the participants and moderated the session which lasted just over an hour.

Based outside of Washington in Mount Rainier, Maryland, News Ways Ministry is a pastoral mission for LGBTQ people and their families. The organization tracks theological development in the areas of sexuality and gender and aims to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and institutions within the Catholic Church, DeBernardo said.

In introducing Sister Becquart, Robert Shine, Associate Director of New Ways Ministry, said she is “leading what some have described as the greatest consultation in human history.”

“Part of the synodal process is to rediscover the Church as a community in which we must all be protagonists. LGBTQ families seek to do just that,” Shine said, telling the speaker, “Your presence here is a sign that our church leaders are increasingly ready to walk with us.

Sister Becquart opened her presentation by listening. “A church that listens is a church that starts by listening,” she said.

She asked participants to take a minute of silence to “think” and “reflect” on a word or image that best described “what synodality is for you in the church.”

She then invited participants to share this in the Zoom chat area. Their words poured in: “discernment”, “hopeful dialogue”, “openness”, “empowerment”, “unity”, “authentic listening”, “grassroots control”, “excitement”, “humility”, “committed”, “connection”, “community”, “diversity”, “welcoming”, “understanding”, “acceptance”, “affirmation”, “listening with our hearts” and “respect for the laity”.

She drew the participants’ attention to the first sentence of the preparatory document for the synod: “The Church of God is called together in synod”. These words underscore the need to listen to everyone, “especially those who feel like they have no voice, those on the margins,” she said.

A synodal church is about “communion, participation and mission,” as the synod document and theme state, Sister Becquart said. These are “three inseparable keys at the heart of a synodal Church,” but participation in the Church’s “missionary synodality at the service of the world” must be “shared by all,” she added.

In Zoom chat, some attendees expressed “concern” about synod process; others said they were “suspicious”. A few said they were unconvinced even if the church listens to LGTBQ Catholics, it will make a big difference to those who have felt marginalized by the church and the pain it has caused them.

“This gay Catholic has fought for his dignity in community and ministry all his life. Most did not listen. How to believe that suddenly the hierarchy is ready to do it? Another participant said, “Even without a change in the teachings of the church (on homosexuality), it would be helpful to see the church stop creating additional hardship” for the LGBTQ community.

In her remarks, Sister Becquart said that she understands well the need to recognize the difficulties and the pain of those who feel separated from the Church but that she believes “that with the Holy Spirit we can find ways of reconciliation…if we truly believe this is the church of Christ, we are the body of Christ. …I can’t tell you more. It is a matter of faith. »

She urged all participants to seek opportunities in their dioceses and at the parish level to participate in synodal listening sessions.

Pope Francis officially opened the synodal process at the Vatican on October 9-10, 2021. It was launched on October 16-17 in dioceses around the world. The pontiff called on the Church to practice synodality, that is, to listen to each other – and to get along – in all facets of the life of the Church.

This two-year journey will culminate with the synod of bishops in October 2023. The synod is expected to adopt an outcome document that will guide the continued development of a synodal church in the future.

During a question-and-answer period following Sister Becquart’s remarks, DeBernardo as moderator presented some questions from attendees, distilled from what he said were hundreds of questions. It brought together those dealing with similar topics.

Several attendees asked what the U.S. Catholic bishops were doing to prepare for the synod, as they hadn’t seen much evidence that they were doing anything.

However, Sister Becquart pointed out that at least 80% of American dioceses are committed to the synodal process. She also pointed out that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a synodal team.

The team is responsible for three areas: communications – social media, website updates, Spanish translations and sharing stories about synod preparations via Catholic News Service; outreach — activating networks and supporting bishops; and support — training, training materials and educational opportunities.

Sister Becquart urged Zoom participants to visit www.synod.va and www.usccb.org/synod for various synod resources and materials. At the request of Vatican synod officials, New Ways Ministry provided resources for gay and lesbian Catholics at synod displays.

Zoom participants also asked for concrete examples of how the church is reaching out to Catholics for their contribution to the synod, especially those on the fringes.

“There are so many different initiatives. The Holy Spirit is working everywhere” and a lot “is happening at the grassroots,” Sister Becquart replied.

In Spain and Italy, for example, the local church is “doing a synodal process of listening in prisons, listening to prisoners,” she said. The Vatican is very responsive to migrants and refugees, she added. In Kenya, for example, nuns conduct listening sessions with refugees in one of Kenya’s largest refugee camps.

The French nun also highlighted an initiative launched by the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, called “58,000 cups of coffee” to fuel synod conversations. Something she had said in a past interview sparked the idea: “Synodality begins with coffee.

Sister Becquart’s speech was Father Robert Nugent’s memorial lecture. The late Father Nugent co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977 with Sister Loretto Jeannine Gramick, who opened the online event with a prayer.–CNS