ORLANDO  |  Flipping the pyramid of perceived power in the Church, Pope Francis has put himself at the bottom and the Catholic faithful at the top. Simply put, in the Synod of Synodality, the pope wants everyone to listen to the Holy Spirit and each other to build a better relationship with our Lord.

Nearly 200 people soaked in that message at St. James Cathedral Nov. 19. Father Dominic Buckley and Jesuit seminarian Orlando Portalatín explained how the process will work in the Diocese of Orlando and then fielded questions.

Father Buckley affirmed the goal of the synod — to encounter, listen, and discern with the desire for the Holy Spirit to provide healing for the great divisions within and outside the Church. “Pope Francis is inviting us to return to our roots and to remind ourselves of what it means to be Christians, what it means to follow Christ,” he said.

Portalatín, who currently teaches at Ignatius Loyola Catholic School in Puerto Rico, explained synod in Greek means “to walk together or to travel in the company of others.” He emphasized how Catholics are to approach this opportunity to grow in faith.

“The pope is asking the Church to reflect on what the Spirit of God is telling us in this time and how that Spirit calls us to walk with one another as Church,” Portalatín said. “He is a shepherd and wants to be close to his people.”

Bishop John Noonan, who also attended the presentation, offered some thoughts in a podcast (God Beside Me Episode: Synod of Synodality) earlier in the week. “It is not a program,” he said. “It is an experience like the road to Emmaus. The road to Emmaus is simply an encounter with Jesus, the accompaniment of Jesus in your life and a discernment. 

Who is invited to participate? “Everybody,” said the bishop. “It’s about listening to each other and learning about what are the needs, not just of ourselves, but of the people... Those who are of our faith and those who are not of our faith.” Quoting Matthew 25, he included the imprisoned, the naked, the poor. “Where are we in relationship with them? It is more about our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. We are called to know, love and serve the Lord. Then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, but I don’t know if we know who our neighbors are, or if we even listen to them.”

Father Buckley said Pope Francis’ desire is to exclude no one because “no one should be excluded from the Church.” This means, not only those of other religions, but the “nones” — those who don’t believe in institutionalized religion. “Pope Francis and the Holy Spirit are inviting us to renew our relationship with one another, not to cast stones, not to judge one another, but to truly listen by first encountering everyone wherever they are in their journey,” Father Buckley said. “It is not for us to decide whether the Holy Spirit can speak through them. If we do, we are denying God the possibility of saving that person’s soul.” 

Although many at St. James were excited and hopeful about the idea of growing in faith and getting closer to one another, others were skeptical and even concerned about the ideas that come forth. One gentleman asked, “What happens when someone comes forth not moved by the Holy Spirit?” Another worried the teachings of the Church might be compromised. Acknowledging some people will simply come forward to voice their own agendas, Father Buckley affirmed, this is why discernment is so important. 

He assured Pope Francis will be the one to decide how to proceed after he receives reports from the dioceses and bishops throughout the world. He reminded everyone, “We have to watch out about over analyzing the Church and reducing everything to our own calculations. In the end this is an act of faith and trust.” 

He further queried, “Do you believe the Holy Spirit can speak in this day and age? Do you believe the Holy Spirit can speak to you? Pope Francis does. The Church believes that. And he is inviting us to recognize our calling, our baptismal dignity, that all of us have been incorporated into the body of Christ; that we have made sharers in the mission of the church. It’s not just the popes, bishops and priests, but all of us together.”

Manuel Ocampo, a parishioner from St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs, looks forward to the listening sessions that will begin in the Diocese this coming Lent. 

“I believe this is a great door the pope is allowing us to traverse so that we may, as Church, continue walking as brothers, as faithful believers in the mission the Lord has commissioned us,” he said. “It is a door that allows us to leave behind all that is not of the Spirit of God.”

Les Castro, of St. James Parish, said he is still unclear of the process, but remains hopeful. “A couple of people have already expressed some concerns that it will become political. To break free from that, I think it’s going to be a challenge to the entire process.” He believes the pope “truly wants to know what’s going on at the ground level,” and this is an attempt to do that. 

His wife, Camille, is not concerned. “I think we need to remember that God is in charge of everything and there is nothing too big for Him.” She said the pope has shown himself to be a humble man and is trying to show “that we have a voice.” She has confidence in the leadership of Pope Francis, whom Christ ordained. “God is in charge. I am not worried.”

Emphasizing this is a “spiritual event,” Father Buckley concluded, “This is about evangelization. This is about prophecy. This is about raising up a generation of Catholics who love like Jesus and speak like Him to our day and age. Christ will lead us.”

For the Diocese of Orlando, the Synod will begin the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 28 and run through Easter. 

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