Anne-Marie Welsh

Jillian Zaczyk, director of faith formation for young adult
and youth ministry, invited participants to reflect on the
words of Pope Francis prior to responding to a series of
questions at the final synod listening session in the
Diocese of Erie on April 1.   Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

NORTHWEST PA — Approximately 3,100 people in northwest Pennsylvania have taken part in 113 listening sessions in preparation for the worldwide “Synod on Synodality,” the meeting of bishops representing every country in the world taking place in Rome in 2023. Another approximately 100 people in the Diocese of Erie also participated through an online survey, an option that has now been extended until 11 pm on Friday, April 8.

          From the earliest stages of planning, Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of the diocesan Faith Formation Office, and his team have worked hard to make sure everyone who wanted to participate had a voice in the process.

          “We encouraged the facilitators conducting the listening sessions at the parish level to think about their specific parish,” he said. In addition to those who signed up, we asked: “Who’s not at the table? Can you reach out to those you know are on the margins?” Following the guidelines established by the Vatican, the sessions have been open to all: practicing and non-practicing Catholics, old and young, even those of other faiths.

          Among the voices the faith formation team wanted parishes to consider were those of parishioners’ adult children who are no longer involved with their faith, those with disabilities and the homebound. Special sessions were arranged for women religious, and a number of parishes reached out to youth of varying ages.

          The final listening session was held for students from several colleges based in northwest Pennsylvania who gathered at St. Mark Catholic Center, Erie, on Friday, April 1.

          “We originally scheduled a 'Dinner and Discussion' event with Bishop Persico, but it was postponed due to COVID,” said Jillian Zaczyk, director of faith formation for young adult and youth ministry, just as the group was gathering for dinner. “Since we were able to reschedule it during this timeframe, we decided to approach it as a synod listening session. It will be great to hear them, to listen to how the church has journeyed with them and to hear how they feel God is calling the church to do that better or differently.”

           Details about the synod and the sessions that have been held around the world can be found at Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico has enthusiastically supported the synod and the process, noting that the diocese became familiar with synodality through pastoral planning.

          “We came together, we listened to each other and we refined plans based on the lived experience of parishioners,” he said. “It’s not that every comment or suggestion can set the direction. Those making decisions have to factor in realities. But when the bishops who are chosen to represent their countries gather in 2023, they’ll be familiar with what the universal church is saying.”

          Parish facilitators are completing summaries of the meetings they held so Chancery

Bishop Lawrence Persico, center, was among the leaders who gathered with college
students from across the
diocese to listen and dialogue as part of the final synodal
listening session in northwest Pennsylvania. The
evening, which began with prayer,
also included dinner and fellowship.  Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

staff members can create the 10-page report that will be sent from the Diocese of Erie to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The United States will, in turn, create a national document highlighting the major trends and topics noted across the country. The national report then will be combined with that of the Canadian bishops before being sent to the Vatican.

          According to Deacon Washek, several people had such a positive experience they’ve expressed the desire to continue meeting within their parishes.

          “The meetings were designed to be a deepening,” he said. “People received information, listened to each other, reflected, and in some cases, came to second and third meetings to hear more. It gave them the chance to mature in the process and in what the Spirit is working on in their desire for the church. People have already experienced how being more synodal is moving us toward goodness and growth.”

          Jessie Hubert, director of parish support in the Office of Faith Formation and a member of the team overseeing the process in the Diocese of Erie, said Pope Francis “has given us a structured and formal process to get us started, which has awakened us to our collective desire to journey together more intentionally as a church.” She acknowledged the effort to integrate synodal listening as a way of life in parishes and as a church will mean both “joy and hard work.”

          But parishioners, parishes and the church are not alone.

          “If the Holy Spirit is not part of this process, then we’ve failed,”
said Bishop Persico, reflecting on the initiative. “We have to be willing and humble enough to allow the Holy Spirit to come in and lead us.”

Although the parish sessions have come to a close, those interested in participating in the synod through an online survey may do so through Friday, April 8 at 11 pm. Find the survey at An overview of the synod, as well as a link to the Vatican's site, is available at