November 24, 2023

Bishop Rhoades experienced ‘deep sense of communion’ at October synod meeting at the Vatican

First of two parts

By Sean Gallagher

Bishop Kevin 
C. RhoadesBishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was the only person from Indiana to participate in the first session of the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on synodality, which took place on Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican.

He recently spoke with The Criterion about his experience of the synod meeting, the spiritual approach to its discussions, and its possible effects for the Church in Indiana.

Bishop Rhoades also reflected on the relationship of synodality to the three-year National Eucharistic Revival the Church in the U.S. is currently taking part in and the National Eucharistic Congress that will happen next July in Indianapolis.

The interview took place days before Bishop Rhoades participated in the fall general assembly meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in which the bishops discussed how the Church in the U.S. will contribute during the next 11 months in preparation for the final meeting on the synod on synodality. (See part two of this interview)

‘A sense of deep communion’

He came to the synod with other delegates from the U.S. that included bishops, religious and lay Catholics. At the synod, getting to know bishops and other delegates from around the world made an impression on Bishop Rhoades.

He called the experience “very positive,” but admitted that “the schedule was a bit grueling. I think we would have unanimity on the part of the delegates if we voted on that.”

He said the highlight of the experience for him “was the opportunity to meet and get to know so many bishops and other delegates from around the world. It is enlightening to learn about the life of the Church, the challenges and the positive aspects of the Church in other parts of the world from which we can learn.”

Getting to know Catholics from around the world in the midst of a weeks-long, Spirit-led discussion and discernment process intensified Bishop Rhoades’ ties to his fellow synod delegates.

“I felt a sense of deep communion with the other bishops and other people from the Church in other countries,” he said. “That was especially the case where the Church is suffering—places of war and conflict, extreme poverty, persecution, a lot of places where they do not have the religious liberty that we so often take for granted, although we have some erosion of that here, but nothing like what some of them experience.”

Bishop Rhoades’ fluency in Spanish and long experience in Hispanic ministry opened the door to him to get to know a wider variety of synod delegates.

“I was the only U.S. bishop who was in Spanish-speaking working groups,” he noted. “Three of the five working groups that I was a part of were Spanish-speaking. So, I especially developed some good relationships with bishops from Spain and Latin America. The two English-speaking working groups were extremely diverse with bishops and delegates from Africa, Asia and Europe. So, I pretty much covered the world in the bishops that I got to know.”

‘The context of spiritual discernment’

Bishop Rhoades has led the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for more than 13 years. As the current longest serving bishop in the state, he reflected on his experience of the Church in Indiana in light of recommendations that came out of the synod meeting.

“There’s a good communion among the bishops of Indiana,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We get together twice a year. In a sense, that’s a sense of synodality. We also meet with people from the Indiana Catholic Conference.

“One thing that came out of the synod was that we should strengthen the communion of the Church within a province.” An ecclesiastical province is a group of dioceses in one geographic region with one archdiocese in it. The five dioceses of Indiana make up the Province of Indianapolis.

“They said that we need to do more on that [provincial] level,” said Bishop Rhoades of the synod delegates. “Coming from Indiana and the positive experiences I’ve had with my brother bishops in Indiana in some of our joint ventures, that was not only affirmed, but there was a call for more of that.”

Bishop Rhoades also reflected on how his experience of the synod meeting might affect the leadership of his diocese going forward.

“Within my diocese, the methodology of the conversations in the Spirit is something that I would like to implement in particular situations and to share that with my priests,” he said. “We face a lot of polarization in our country. It’s even seeped into the Church. I thought this was a method where you might have people who disagree but who, together, [share] a real mutual respect in how this works.

“It’s always in the context of spiritual discernment. It’s a much more positive way to move forward in communion even when there are disagreements. We’re still Christians. We’re still brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s something that I would like to see [in my diocese].”

‘Done respectfully and prayerfully’

The methodology of the meeting was a model of the synodality Pope Francis is encouraging. Bishop Rhoades explained how the “conversations in the Spirit” methodology worked during the synod meeting.

The more than 300 delegates in the synod took part in a three-day retreat before the meeting began.

The meeting itself was broken up into four modules on the themes of synodality, communion, participation and mission.

About 25% of the delegates were priests, religious and lay Catholics. The rest were bishops. During the meeting, they gathered in working groups of 10 at round tables to speak about specific questions related to the themes and listened to what the others at the table had to say.

The process at each table was led by a facilitator who was not a delegate to the synod.

“Every one of the 10 people around the table spoke from their own experience and prayer,” Bishop Rhoades said. “You had a limit of around three or four minutes. We were to listen carefully to what everyone said. After about three people gave their reflections, there would be about five minutes of silence, just prayerfully considering what you just heard.”

After every person at the table spoke, there was another period of silent prayer.

“Then we went around again and shared what resonated with us,” Bishop Rhoades said. “It could have been something that really moved me, or it could have been something that maybe didn’t resonate with me, something I might have disagreed with.”

Bishop Rhoades emphasized that during the rounds of sharing experiences and responses by the delegates at the table, there wasn’t a discussion. When delegates spoke, they did not respond specifically to what others had to say.

That happened later, after more prayer.

“Then we had the dialogue,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We’ve listened to each other. So, what are the convergences here? Where is there consensus where we all kind of agree in answer to the question? Then where are there some divergences? Or maybe new questions or things we weren’t in agreement with? So, we discuss that.

“At that point, there’s more typical discussion, but always done respectfully and prayerfully again. Then we had to come up with and agree on a report to the whole body. So, the written report was to list the convergences, divergences and maybe proposals for further study.”

Bishop Rhoades said this process took about two hours. Once done, a representative from each table would give a report of what happened at that table to all the delegates, with about 32 reports in all given.

These reports were given at what were called general congregations.

“After that, the mic is open for anyone to make an intervention to the whole body,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Now, the pope was at most of the general congregations … when the reports were being given. He wasn’t there when we had the small working groups.

“You might have 50 of us who want to make an intervention and speak. Obviously, there wasn’t enough time. And you were limited to, I think, a couple of minutes at that point. So, if you didn’t get called on, then you would be able to submit your intervention—what you were going to say—in written form to the synod secretariat.”

‘Focus on the major things’

The preparation for the synod meeting took place during the course of about two years at local to continental levels. How the preparation for next year’s meeting, which will start in11 months, was something that Bishop Rhoades had questions about.

“It’s really left in the hands of the episcopal conferences,” Bishop Rhoades told The Criterion a few days before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) semi-annual meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 13-16. “So, I think at the U.S. bishops meeting, we will probably hammer out how the next level of consultation. Certainly, it would be local again. But it’s not going to be able to go through all those stages followed before. There’s just not enough time.”

The bishops in Baltimore did not determine any detailed guidance for dioceses on how to contribute to the preparation for next year’s meeting, in part, because they would like to have time to review “A Synodal Church in Mission: Synthesis Report,” the document that the synod issued at the end of the meeting.

“I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that all of the dioceses would submit to the episcopal conference the results of further consultation,” Bishop Rhoades said. “It may be left to individual bishops how they’re going to do that consultation in their own dioceses.

“One of the challenges is that we have a 41-page document to reflect on,” Bishop Rhoades said. “How are we going to do that? … I think we’re going to have to kind of focus on the major things for this consultation.”

(To read “A Synodal Church in Mission: Synthesis Report,” visit In the second part of this interview to be published in the December 1 issue of The Criterion, Bishop Rhoades will reflect on the spiritual aspects of synodality, the role of the teaching charism of bishops and the synod and the synod’s relationship to the National Eucharistic Revival and National Eucharistic Congress.)

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