Anne-Marie Welsh

Facilitators from across the Diocese of Erie, including St. Joseph Parish, Lucinda,
have begun training to oversee sessions that will be held throughout northwest
Pennsylvania in preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome. 
Photo/Melinda Isachsen

ERIE — The church is ready to listen. Are you ready to speak?

          Training sessions have begun for the facilitators from 37 parishes in the Diocese of Erie as well as at three communities of women religious and at Gannon University. Before the end of the month, many facilitators will issue invitations to all Catholics in the diocese who wish to participate in a series of sessions that will occur in preparation for the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome in 2023. Pope Francis has asked people in every diocese around the globe to participate.

          Many are hopeful that this dramatic shift to a worldwide, Spirit-led dialogue might set the tone for a significant deepening of faith and growth in the Catholic Church going forward.   

          (For those unfamiliar with what the synod is all about, a wealth of information is available from the Diocese of Erie at The site includes a link to the Vatican website dedicated to the same topic.)

          “Very simply,” Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico writes in his welcome letter on the diocesan site, “Pope Francis is asking the church to create spaces in which every voice can be heard. He wants us to truly listen to each other. Through an all-inclusive dialogue, the Holy Spirit will bring forth themes and insights to help the church nurture and evangelize not only Catholics, but all those who need the grace and strength of Christ’s healing love.”

          True to form, Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Erie, and his team, appointed by the bishop to oversee the initiative locally, got creative when it came to training the trainers. Rather than just offering a how-to workshop, team members facilitated an actual session for them, giving facilitators the opportunity to experience what their participants will go through.

          Facilitator/participants were introduced to how the sessions will unfold before pausing for prayer and Scripture. They were then broken into smaller groups where they were invited to reflect on and answer two different questions.

          The Vatican has offered ten different questions from which facilitators can select. They explore everything from how participants have experienced “journeying together as a local church,” and what enables or hinders them from speaking up courageously, candidly and responsibly, to how teamwork and co-responsibility are put into practice in their parishes.

          The team offered a host of helpful insights to those who will be leading the discussions. They provided ideas about how to ensure everyone present has an opportunity to weigh in, establishing ground rules, and capturing the essence of what is shared in notes while respecting confidentiality. They also encouraged facilitators to consider scheduling up to three sessions for each group, allowing for an opportunity to deepen the conversation.

          In a post-training interview with the Diocese of EriE-news, Deacon Steve  elaborated on his hope for the sessions. 

          “We pray it will be a prayerful and empowering experience for participants,” he said. “I think this is really a Holy Spirit moment. Our world, our country and even our church is experiencing division right now. The challenge will be: ‘Can I prayerfully hear what others are saying and reflect on it rather than focusing on getting my own response ready?’” Deacon Steve said participants will learn how to listen through the lens of the Holy Spirit moving within.

          Later this spring, he and his team will work closely with administrators as the Chancery Office creates the report summarizing what could ultimately be close to 100 sessions held in February and March 2022. That report will be integrated into the nationwide report prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will then be melded with the report of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops before it goes to Rome.

Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of Faith
Formation for the
Diocese of Erie, at the podium,
and his team have created and
curated significant
resources to ensure the success of the diocesan

effort.   Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

          “We are looking for broad themes,” Deacon Steve says. “What joys and what concerns are being expressed throughout? What comments are eliciting nods and recognition in the group? These are the moments we will capture and send forward.”

          Participants in the Diocese of Erie will benefit greatly from the enormous amount of work that has been done to ensure the success of the sessions. Deacon Steve hopes the effort will reverberate well into the future.

          “This is a six-month process in preparation for the synod,” he notes. “But our hope is we are laying the groundwork for how the church will continue journeying together into the future.”

 It’s up to you — no need to wait for an invitation! Parishioners are encouraged to check their parish websites, social media and bulletins to find out if their parishes will be hosting sessions. The plan is for a full list of all the sessions to be made available at by the end of January. All are welcome to take part in a session at their convenience, whether or not they belong to the parish hosting the session. The net is being cast as widely as possible. Non-Catholics, inactive Catholics, those who have not felt at home in the Catholic Church — as well as those who are deeply committed and active in their faith — all are encouraged to participate.