NEW YORK – The U.S. bishops’ conference point person for the preparatory period of the Synod on Synodality has welcomed the Vatican’s extension of the diocesan phase after what in many places was a rushed start to the opening on Oct. 17.

“We’re extremely grateful and very happy,” Richard Coll, the executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, told Crux. “This really supports the broad outreach that the Vatican certainly wants to encourage and which we want to support through all of our resources and plans.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops extended the deadline for bishops’ conferences to submit summaries of their diocesan consultations to Aug. 15, 2022, in an Oct. 29 statement. The summaries were originally due by April 2022, six months after Pope Francis opened the first synod phase on Oct. 10.

In the statement, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, which is overseeing the two-year synodal process, said it’s heard repeatedly the request for an extension to “provide a greater opportunity for the people of God to have an authentic experience of listening and dialogue,” adding that the first phase is “essential for this synodal path.”

Coll acknowledged to Crux ahead of the opening of the diocesan phase last month that the USCCB had heard from dioceses nationwide that the timing of the synod presented challenges, and said they would be “grateful” for additional time. Now that that’s a reality, Coll said it allows them to ensure the original plans are completed thoroughly, but also incorporate more organizations in the process.

“In addition to reaching out to all of the dioceses, we’re now reaching out to literally hundreds of organizations that we’ve partnered with, urging them to reach out to other organizations that they might work with that could have a voice in this,” Coll said. “This will make it more practically possible for those groups to really take to heart that process and to really undertake with it all of the diligence and care that they would want to invest in this.”

The extension is especially welcome in the Diocese of Brooklyn, as it prepares to welcome Bishop Robert Brennan of Columbus as its new bishop at the end of the month. Father Joseph Gibino, the diocesan vicar for evangelization and catechesis who’s running the process, said Brennan will immediately begin meeting with the diocese, and the extension gives him more time “to get to those groups he hadn’t met with.”

Gibino noted that the extension also helps them reach immigrant communities. The Diocese of Brooklyn is known as the diocese of immigrants, and has over 25 international apostolates.

“Because we have so many international apostolates arranging those meetings just takes time. We need translators. We need facilitators,” Gibino said. “So, the extension is going to be really helpful and then it will give the committee a chance to go through all of the data thoroughly and come up with our 10-page report for the USCCB.”

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, Monsignor Patrick Pollard, the director of archdiocesan Catholic cemeteries who’s leading the effort, told Crux that since the Vatican announced the extension they’ve extended their personal deadline from February 1 to April 1. He described the extension as a “wonderful” move that gives “everybody more breathing room.”

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed of Boston said the extension “allows for a more thorough process of listening and conversation.”

“Recognizing the opportunity for a broad and impactful exploration through dialogue, the Church is demonstrating its desire to listen intently to the people of God during this important process,” Reed told Crux in a statement. “This bodes well that there is already a high level of engagement and commitment in dioceses throughout the world to this first phase of the synodal process.”

Mark Haas, the director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Denver, similarly touted the extension as “more valuable time to process, analyze and pray with the results gathered from the listening sessions” in a statement to Crux.

The way different dioceses plan to approach the synod varies slightly. In general, there will be listening sessions held at the parish level, along with the utilization of diocesan ministries and organizations, and social media to compile feedback from Catholic parishioners, and others, in the community. The data will then be combined to get an idea of the feedback for the diocese as a whole before it’s sent to the USCCB.

Coll noted another important part of the first synod phase will be when the nation’s bishops come together in Maryland in two weeks for their annual fall assembly. There, he said, there will be 45 minutes dedicated to the synod – 20-25 minutes of presentation to review where they are in the process, and at least another 20 for dialogue among the bishops.

“That conversation itself will be a synodal experience among the bishops and I think that will trigger ideas, insights, both on the part of those who have engaged in synodal experiences already and in those who haven’t it will open eyes and establish a path forward at a very fruitful moment, particularly with more time, so that all of the bishops can feel encouraged to take on this journey and continue to devout the resources that would be called for to have this be effective,” Coll said.

He added that another message of that 45 minutes will be one of encouragement, letting bishops know that “it’s the perfect time [to get started], particularly with the gift of a little bit more time.”

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