After nearly six months of parish- and diocesan-based Listening Sessions, the Diocese of Trenton’s Synod Committee is beginning the next portion of the diocesan phase of the 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops.

“We are now in an intense reading phase where our Synod Committee of eight people is reading 789 group reports, 86 single interviews and 216 individual surveys submitted,” said Synod co-chairperson Mary Liz Ivins. “In the next month, we hope to capture key ideas, trends in thought, unique perspectives and common themes to give to our Bishop so that he can begin his report for the USCCB.”

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. announced the official closing of Trenton’s diocesan phase of the Synod during the Chrism Mass April 12 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

“I’m grateful to Mary Liz Ivins and to Deacon Patrick Brannigan for their leadership as co-chairs of this endeavor, guided as they were by our chancellor, Terry Ginther,” he said.

The diocesan phase is the first of three phases of the global Synod, of which Pope Francis announced the convocation on Oct. 10, 2021. Bishop O’Connell decreed the opening of the Trenton Diocese phase Oct. 17, which coincidentally was the 140th anniversary of the Diocese itself – a fact the Bishop called “a beautiful coincidence.”

“Over 4,500 voices were heard in the course of these months,” Bishop O’Connell pointed out. “This has been a gift of God, to the praise and glory of God, and I thank all of you – especially the pastors – who have helped make this occasion possible.”

The feedback of those voices in Listening Sessions will be submitted by the Bishop to the Episcopal Conference – the second or “continental phase,” which in America is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Following the USCCB review, the national collection of feedback will move to Rome to the “universal phase,” which will conclude in October 2023.

“At the conclusion of each Synod of Bishops, the Pope usually issues a post-synod ‘apostolic exhortation,’ summarizing the major emphases and determinations of the Synod,” Bishop O’Connell wrote in his October pastoral letter to the Diocese, On the Church’s Synodal Path of Communion, Participation and Mission, published in the October 2021 edition of The Monitor. “Along with a review by the College of Bishops attending, these documents are considered to be part of the Pope’s ordinary magisterium or teaching authority, to be believed by all the faithful.”

“We have encouraged parishes to continue the spiritual listening as a form of communication within parish work and prayer groups,” Ivins continued. “We have had tremendously positive feedback on the use of this model for Synod listening. Some parishes have reviewed the information gathered in their listening sessions and are considering how to respond to needs identified.

“We know that there will be work to be done on a local level in response to what has been heard as the Bishops begin their national and global conversations.”