Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Johnathon Kelso
Genevieve Wilson jots down notes during a 2024 Synod Regional Listening Session held at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur March 7.


Atlanta Catholics find ‘the Holy Spirit is in our midst’ at Synod sessions

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 22, 2024

DECATUR—Ann Garrido thinks a lot about how people confront problems, drawing on spiritual values as tools to communicate through conflict.  

The theologian at the Aquinas Institute of Theology sat at a round table among a handful of others in the school lunchroom at St. Thomas More Church, quietly in prayer to consider pressing issues facing the church.  

The prayer and the listening “remind us the Holy Spirit is in our midst,” she said. “It sets a totally different tone.” 

This Decatur listening session, held March 7, was one of the latest conversations taking place among Catholics and others as part of the Synod on Synodality, the initiative started by Pope Francis to get church members talking and listening to one another. 

The discussions around the table are key parts of the synod’s approach to promote inclusive dialogue. The sessions are structured as Catholics pray together and are invited to share their thoughts and experiences. 

The latest meetings come nearly two years after the first listening sessions, which drew 11,000 participants around the Archdiocese of Atlanta to talk. 

At the request of the Vatican, church officials again organized listening sessions leading to this fall’s second synod meeting. In the archdiocese, there have been five sessions in February and March drawing more than 150 people. The last meeting was scheduled to take place online attracting close to an additional 100 people. 

Bishop John Nhàn Trần listens to the participants during a 2024 Synod Regional Listening Session held at St. Thomas More Church. It was one of several regional listening sessions held in February and March. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

From the 2022 meetings, two themes about serving a diversity of cultures of believers and an interest in a renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the final Archdiocese of Atlanta synod report. The insights from the archdiocese were consolidated with other diocesan reports as part of a national report followed by a continental report to guide the Rome meetings.  

In April, the archdiocesan synod team will send a report to be added to a national overview of these listening sessions to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This feedback ultimately will guide the 450-person assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2024.  

“At the sessions so far, participants continue to look joyful and fulfilled at the end of each listening session. There is tangible hope for the future of the church and a desire to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading us,” wrote Jenny Miles in an email. Miles, manager of planning and research for the archdiocese, is one of the organizers of the local synod project.  

Engaging young people 

In Decatur, the evening session was promoted to engage young people. Sitting at the tables, each person got three minutes in the first round to speak, two minutes in the second round and the final round was time for conversation.  

Teresa Enriquez Texis, who has grown up and now works at Flowery Branch’s Prince of Peace Church, is on a journey of faith. She attended her parish’s 2022 synod meeting where hearing others’ perspectives “planted a seed in my life,” leading her to explore the faith more, she said. People talked about things that mattered to me, so I didn’t feel alone, she said.  

This time, the invitation for the St. Thomas More event also felt welcoming, inviting believers of all kinds, from young adults to LGBT Catholics, which Texis found uplifting. She said her faith is at a place where she has “a deep call to hear others’ point of view.”     

For her, the synod experience has been a sacred space, with the Holy Spirit, encouraging people to speak from their heart. Texis said she was hopeful for the future of the church inspired by the conversations about the need to reach out to others and faith-sharing, but she is also cautious because she feels religion has become a wedge to divide people.  

Despite arriving alone at the Decatur parish, the night ended with unexpected camaraderie for Texis, as new acquaintances extended dinner invitations and a shared messaging app. 

Jude Holmes received his first Communion and confirmation at St. Thomas More Church where he continues to worship. He didn’t participate in the first Synod round, as he didn’t realize its importance initially. Now, Holmes, a real estate agent, feels the opportunity to hear from everyone was worth the effort.  

“It seems like everybody who came by was interested in helping the church get closer to God,” he said. 

The structured conversation was helpful for him. People could talk freely without fear of interruption, he said. 

“I’ve got a chronic problem of speaking too much and talking over people,” Holmes joked. “It’s very good when you have dedicated time to listen to somebody.” 

A participant takes notes during a 2024 Synod Regional Listening Session held at St. Thomas More Church on March 7. Photo by Johnathon Kelso

However, with just one night to come together as a group, the limited time to talk and listen did not allow people to get comfortable discussing deeper-rooted issues, he said.  

Miles said the format and times were suggested by the training module provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and kept the sessions to two hours.  

For his part, Holmes said he spoke about fostering a sense community in parishes, encouraging the church to lead by example by sharing the faith with good works, and ensuring there is accountability among its members, especially with child sexual abuse. 

“Outreach is not necessarily going out and spreading the word of God by preaching from the Bible. It’s more just going out and doing good work,” he said. 

No longer a ‘battle of ideas’ 

Garrido has expertise on the topic of holding hard conversations as a professor of theology with several books published on the issue. The recent Thursday meeting was, however, her first time participating in the Synod in person. In 2022, she opted to offer her thoughts online, like thousands of others. This time, she opted for the in-person experience in the cafeteria to add her voice to the group. Her husband sits on the archdiocesan Synod organizing committee. 

Typically, people conduct conversations surrounding the church in an “advocacy mode” with the goal of persuasion, but Garrido said the synod focuses people on listening and making room for the Holy Spirit to energize the believers.  

The shift allows a “new role for the Holy Spirit in the conversations we are having with each other as church.” Garrido said it’s no longer a “battle of ideas” but a process of “valuing the wisdom that sometimes comes from a person’s life experiences.”   

The evening, which included a conversation with the attending Bishop John N. Tran, provided people with a “taste” of a potential synodal church, she said, but it will require more conversations before people are comfortable with this style of church engagement  

“It left me hopeful the archdiocese will continue to embrace this into the future,” she said.  

Editor’s Note: Find the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s synod report at