By Austine Duru
The University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL, provides an ideal venue for a dialogue on chaplaincy in a church that draws wisdom from a synodal process.
The NACC gathered in this place of formation for future Catholic priests and lay ecclesial ministers on June 1-3, 2023, for its national retreat. One session was “How to Navigate the Future of the Chaplaincy in a Synodal Church,” facilitated by Deacon Jack Conrad and Austine Duru.
This interactive session explored how the NACC community has engaged in the synod process so far, the next steps of the synod, and a large group discussion about how the future of chaplaincy fits in.
The facilitators provided a brief overview of the synod as a process of “journeying together, listening to the Holy Spirit and to each other, discerning the path we are called to walk together.” This time of prayer, listening, dialogue, and recommendation includes the invitation of Pope Francis to “dream about the church we are called to co-create.”
The themes that anchor the multi-year (2021-2024) process are communion, participation, and mission. The local stage, which began in October 2021, involved dialogue and listening among local churches and communities of believers. The continental stage, which was just completed in March 2023, involves listening and dialogue among national or continental bishop conferences. The final universal stage, which has just started and will last till October 2024, repeats the process at the global level. The “restitution process” of implementing the fruits of the synod is incorporated into the second and third stages and continues in 2025 and beyond.
During the first stage of the synodal process, NACC invited our members to respond to a 17-item online survey, and in the spring of 2022, about 182 members participated in four facilitated online listening sessions. A small committee of NACC members and leaders met to review the results and prepared a draft report. The NACC Board of Directors reviewed the draft and offered feedback. The NACC synod report captured the joys of the synod process, which include hopes of NACC for the synod itself, the call to chaplaincy, broad spectrum of synod participants, Catholic life, and solidarity with the Church.
NACC identified five primary challenges facing Catholic chaplains in a variety of care settings:
- Limited availability of sacraments where priest chaplains are not immediately available.
- Ecclesial support for lay chaplains is often lacking in some dioceses.
- Well educated/trained women in ministry are often excluded from opportunities to use their gifts.
- Support for priest chaplains was lacking, in part due to the focus on clergy abuse scandal that overshadows the many priests who faithfully discharge their duties.
- Ongoing challenge to justify the value of spiritual care in the workplace as administrators are slow to recognize its value.
In our final report to the USCCB, the NACC offered the following recommendations:
- Urge our bishops to consider new models of ministry and management that will ensure availability of the sacraments, and ecclesial support for diaconal and lay chaplains.
- Recognize, support, and invest in the ministry of religious, deacons, and lay ministers in chaplaincy.
- Engage in serious dialogue with women in the Church towards greater understanding, respect, and inclusion.
- Encourage meaningful dialogue between healthcare chaplains and parish clergy and work to incorporate healthcare chaplains into the diocesan structures.
- Require each seminarian to participate in one unit of CPE as part of their seminary experience.
Participants at the session validated these recommendations as meaningful ways for the Church to fully draw on the gifts of chaplains and NACC members.
A source of hope was the recent action of Pope Francis on April 26 to increase the number of lay men and women who will participate in the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome. These participants were granted full voting membership at the synod, which was unprecedented. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “the new changes allow for the participation of 70 non-bishop members at the upcoming October gathering — 10 from each of the seven global regional bishops’ conferences — with the request that young people be included and that 50% of those named be women.”
We continue to pray that the Holy Spirit guide the bishops and all those who will be participating in the final stages of the synod in the coming months.
Austine Duru, BCC, is chief mission integration officer for Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, CA, and chair-elect of the NACC Board of Directors.