NEW YORK – One valuable aspect of next month’s synod gathering of parish priests, says American participant Father Joseph Friend, is that parish priests, as the ones who are on the ground with the lay faithful, will get to bring their voices to the highest level of the synod process.

“We have boots on the ground and we’re really seeing people on the day to day and responding to their needs the best that we can, and so being on that local level and being a voice to them I think is going to be really awesome and is really needed,” Friend told Crux.

This week, Crux spoke with Friend and three of the other American priests who were selected to participate in the gathering. After parish priests were excluded from the first session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality last October, like Friend, they all highlighted the importance that they have a voice in the process, as well as the value of spending time with priests from around the world.

300 parish priests from around the world will participate in “Parish Priests for the Synod. An International meeting,” in Rome from Sunday, April 28 through Thursday May 2. According to a February 3 announcement from the Vatican, the retreat is a “worldwide meeting of listening, prayer, and discernment.” The priests will be received by Pope Francis on the last day.

“This encounter will have the aim of listening to and valuing the experience parish priests live in their respective local Churches, and to offer them an opportunity to experience the dynamism of synodal work at a universal level,” the Vatican announcement states.

The Vatican also acknowledged that the initiative responds to feedback from participants of the first synod gathering in October that they needed to develop more ways to involve parish priests.

Father Bill Switchtenberg, an American priest selected for the upcoming gathering, noted that the voice of parish priests isn’t just important to hear their perspectives, but also to help pastors understand the importance of becoming a listening Church.

“I think [the perspective of parish priests] was a significant piece that was missing in October,” American participant Father Bill Switchtenberg told Crux. “It’s an important piece because that’s the ground level and you really have to begin to help pastors understand this reality that we need to be a listening Church, we need to look to other baptized believers and really trust that the Holy Spirit is working in them.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the five American priests who were chosen to attend the gathering on March 20, stating that they were selected “based on the parameters set forth by the Synod Secretariat, including levels of engagement with the Synod.

The American priest’s ordination years range from 1983-2020, and they all come from different parts of the country. Four of them are Latin Rite priests, and one is an Eastern Catholic priest. The five American priests chosen to participate are:

  • Father Artur Bubnevych, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, part of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey
  • Friend, pastoral administrator of Holy Cross Church, Holy Spirit Church, and Our Lady of the Lake Church in the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Father Luis Navarro, pastor of St. George Church in the Diocese of Stockton, California
  • Father Donald J. Planty, Jr., pastor of St. Charles Catholic Church in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia
  • Switchtenberg, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin

Each of the priests Crux spoke to say they were surprised, humbled, and grateful to be selected. They also said they don’t know many of the details of the retreat other than what’s already been publicized. And more than anything, they’re excited about the universality of the gathering.

I think it’s going to be fascinating. I think it’s going to be instructive,” Planty told Crux. “I think it’s going to be inspiring because in some ways we have our own challenges here, but we know from missionary areas of the Church, places where the Church is really persecuted, the experiences are very different so it’s going to be very inspiring and humbling to see the challenges but also the great work and the zeal that our brothers have in other parts of the world.”

Bubnevych, the Eastern Catholic priest of the group, noted that the gathering presents an opportunity for him in particular to bring his Church to the rest of the world.

“I think we have a lot to offer the world and the universal Church. We are kind of a bridge between the east and the west,” Bubnevych told Crux. “We are a sign of the unity of the Church.”

Each of the priests Crux spoke with mentioned that the synod feedback they received in their parishes largely mirrored what was expressed in the diocesan, national, and global synthesis reports. In general, they weren’t quick to say what of those topics they would bring up at the gathering if they were given the opportunity, though Switchtenberg said he will “certainly support the affirmation of women.”

Friend, in particular, said he will send questions to the other priests in the Diocese of Little Rock, and then have a listening session with them to prepare for the retreat – hoping to make his perspective less personal and more universal for the diocese. He said he’s not interested “in going up there and firing off my subjective experience from the hip.”

“My prayer is that I say what God wants me to say and I hear what God wants me to hear,” Friend said.

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