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Duluth Diocese wants your feedback to help shape Catholic Church

Under the pope's direction, the local diocese launched an initiative to help shape the church's future.

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Facilitator Bryn Baertlein, left, listens as Andrew Jarocki, of Duluth, speaks during a listening session that is a part of the Diocese of Duluth's "Let's Listen" initiative at St. James Catholic Church on March 31 in Duluth. This initiative comes down from the pope, all in an effort to better connect with people.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Emma Johnson joined other students on the College of St. Scholastica campus to listen to each other’s experiences with the Catholic Church.

Johnson, 18, said growing up with the traditions and practices brought meaning to her life, and communities of Catholics and Christians working together for social justice have raised up the common good.

Emma Johnson headshot.jpg
Emma Johnson
Contributed / Emma Johnson

“In terms of the more negative side, things that could use healing, the clergy sex abuse scandal has been a very big issue over the past couple of decades,” Johnson said. “I personally haven't been affected by that, but I know a lot of people have.

“It’s an area that needs a lot of healing and a building back of trust.”

The Diocese of Duluth launched the “Let’s Listen” initiative as a way to discern the next step in the church’s mission with input from the people of Northeastern Minnesota. Listening sessions have been held in Brainerd, Hibbing, Hinckley and more. Catholics and non-Catholics are welcome to share at an in-person session, or by filling out a mail-in or online form at dioceseduluth.org/letslisten .

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Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Daniel Felton, bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, delivers a video message during a listening session that is a part of the diocese's "Let's Listen" initiative at St. James Catholic Church.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s the first time in the history of the Catholic Church they’re asking laypeople what they think in a formal process of the synod that typically only bishops participate in,” said Johnson, a freshman at CSS. “It shows the church is trying to adapt to the modern world and listen to the spiritual needs of the faithful in the 21st century.”

The efforts are in conjunction with Pope Francis’ " Synod 2021-2023: For a Synodal Church ."

After sessions wrap this month in 71 parishes, from Cloquet, to Grand Portage, the Diocese of Duluth will streamline the collected data, which, along with input across the globe, will be presented in Rome in 2023.

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Facilitator Bryn Baertlein, left, listens as Father Richard Kunst speaks during a listening session at St. James Catholic Church.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Holy Father wanted this process to start at the most local level and input would feed up all the way when leaders of the church, said Andrew Jarocki, Diocese of Duluth contact person for the synodal process. "Whether in Bangladesh or Duluth, every diocese of Catholic church is undertaking this process,” Jarocki added.

A lifelong Catholic, Jarocki stepped into this volunteer role in the fall; Bishop Daniel Felton felt this process calls for grassroots participation of the lay people, not clergy of the Catholic Church, to help shape the process, Jarocki said.

So, the diocese, which is made up of five deaneries — similar to counties in a secular state — chose one layperson per deanery to head the charge along with a steering committee.

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Evening sunlight illuminates stained-glass windows at St. James Catholic Church.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The idea is for the whole church to be present to hear each other, and share what is hurting or healing, but not to engage in debate or responses to each other. Trained facilitators and note-takers are assigned to each in-person session to follow a format and document.

“The church sometimes needs to adopt a more humble attitude,” Jarocki said. "This is very much overdue at a local level, and there’s a grassroots desire to take stock."

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The past couple years have been very eventful for the Diocese of Duluth: The bankruptcy crisis spurred by a list of credibly accused priests , and the cultural and financial ramifications that followed.

The abuse crisis is very scarring, said Jarocki, and the church is trying to take accountability.

He has been present for several sessions. People are very vulnerable, and what’s shared is sometimes very raw. It has granted Jarocki a wider perspective. “I feel I’m benefiting to getting exposed to folks’ hurts and hopes about the church,” he said.

Mark Hakes leans against a tree to pose for a photo.
Mark Hakes
Contributed / Mark Hakes

For Mark Hakes, of Duluth, this initiative is a game changer.

“I’m a developing, practicing Catholic and also a queer person, and sometimes I have to demand space in my own church. It’s a powerful experience to hear the Holy Father say that he wants to hear specifically from people who felt excluded from the church,” Hakes said.

Hakes entered the Catholic faith in 2012. They appreciate the liturgy and ritual of Catholicism, which also spoke to them at a practical level. “It was a way of staying connected to the Christian experience of the divine without the traumatic experiences I had as a queer person growing up in evangelical family,” Hakes said.

Rather than at an in-person session, Hakes shared feedback directly with Bishop Felton about their experience within the church.

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Daniel Felton, bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, delivers a video message as a part of the "Let's Listen" initiative.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“The hurt I have when queer folks are talked about, not just by the wider hierarchy, even by some of our pastors within the Duluth Diocese,” Hakes relayed. “My queer identity was God-given.”

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Hakes now works as assistant director of campus ministry at St. Scholastica, and feels enlivened by working with students, who are seeking a sense of the divine. For Hakes, their sense lies in Catholic teachings.

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Facilitator Bryn Baertlein, of Duluth, stands next to a statue of St. Patrick while watching a video of Bishop Daniel Felton.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I find great hope in the work I do; it’s important I keep showing up.”

Emma Johnson is also looking forward to what will come from these efforts at putting the people front and center.

“I hope some of the changes include increased participation and roles for people who have traditionally been left out or not heard in the church,” Johnson said. “It’s cool to be living through this time and to be able to be a part of it.”

To learn more

Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
A worksheet for notes for the "Let's Listen" initiative.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Duluth Diocese conducts “Let’s Listen” sessions to gather feedback and data from parishes
Facilitator Bryn Baertlein, of Duluth, speaks during a listening session in Duluth. Baertlein is the St. James youth minister and director of religious education.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
MORE FAITH STORIES
For Carolyn Kerns, a witch is a healer who works with nature, plants and cycles of the universe. Kerns has been identifying as a witch for 11 years, and she offers tarot readings and potions through her business, Northwoods Witch.

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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