When Pope Francis launched his newly invigorated process for the Synod of Bishops in 2021, he challenged Catholics worldwide to "become experts in the art of encounter," saying it was "time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers."
For decades, members of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of local faith and community-based organizations, have in many ways been experts in such an art, most often to empower marginalized communities.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, is a longtime supporter of his area's West/Southwest IAF affiliate, El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO)/Border Interfaith.
'They've developed a process of attentive listening over the years, talking to people about their lives and identifying the needs of a particular group," said Seitz. "When we were trying to create a process for the synod, it occurred to me it was exactly the approach they'd long taken."
This fall in Rome, days before the pope extended the global synod by a year, he met with a delegation of 20 West/Southwest IAF organizers and leaders for 90 minutes, offering encouragement for their continued work in the synodal process as well as for their longtime organizing efforts within their broader communities.
"For the pope to spend that type of time with organizers from the United States, it's rededicated us to organizing and staying in the fray," said Joe Rubio, national IAF co-director for the West/Southwest. "We are in a time of extreme polarization, and this process of listening and discerning, of really being able to enter each other's lives and feel obligated to one another — I think it can create a difference in a moment like this."
[Photo Credit: Tim McManus]
For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community Organizers, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]