A Story of Sacred Listening & Renewed Hope 

Maggie Smith reflects on how listening to youth share their hopes and concerns for the Catholic Church through the global Synod on Synodality renews her sense of hope and purpose in working for transformative change.

February 22, 2024

Back in the fall of 2021, I was invited to participate in my parish’s synodal listening session for youth and young adults as part of Pope Francis global Synod on Synodality. If I’m being honest, I went in a little closed off and judgmental of the experience. I wondered: how will this gowill it actually be fruitfulwill my voice truly be welcomed and heard? I was so focused on myself. As the sharing began that evening with the high school youth offering their thoughts and experiences, I felt myself soften and open up a bit. I realized how new and different this experience is for all of us, and what an opportunity it is! I was so inspired by what the youth had to say and their courage to say it. I left the session feeling strongly that I wanted to hear from more youth and more young adults, and I knew we could do it through our work here at Goodfaith (then it was CFJ). 

That experience felt like a gentle nudge from the Spirit, “listening is sacred, Maggie.” And I felt strongly that it was in the spirit of sacred listening that we need to approach the young people and adults we worked with through NeXt Level. Just like I heard the youth from my parish, and saw what giving way for them could do, I wanted us to hear from our youth and to share their insights and reflections with the church at large through this global synod process. 

After that a series of events unfolded – that I call Holy Spirit moments – which allowed us to have listening sessions with our NeXt Level participants in the winter of 2022. What an experience it was to witness the Synod in action with 40 of our high school youth and 20 of the adults who accompany them (pastors, parish staff, volunteers).

As I sat at a table with six high school youth, ranging from 14 – 17 years old, I listened to them reflect on the questions, “What do you find valuable in the Catholic Church?”,  “What do you find discouraging in the Catholic Church?”, “What do you need or want from the church?”, and “What would you say to Pope Francis?” I was struck by two particular themes in their responses. One – they were honest and unafraid to name the injustices they see in the church. And two, which was even more striking to me, they were hopeful that things won’t stay this way. 

Wow, what an eye-opening moment for me!

I assumed that like me, they’d probably be discouraged and jaded, feeling like the change they want to see is far from possible in this institution. But no, they weren’t stuck there. Instead, there was a resounding sense that things won’t stay this way, that things can and will get better. There was a subtle, yet resounding sense of hope. I wonder if this comes from their faith? I wonder if it stems from a belief that they and their generation will be part of this change? I wonder if it comes from a leader like Pope Francis? They see a leader who is humble, who isn’t afraid to name the dignity of LGBTQ people, who calls us to respond to climate change and move away from a transactional, consumeristic mindset and structures, and who writes and speaks about (what I call), “the hard stuff” with a lens of empathy, love, and joy.

In this synodal process, I often get bogged down by ideas that this won’t go anywherewho’s really listeningthings won’t really change… but then the Holy Spirit nudges me through six high school students on a Monday afternoon – don’t lose hope. 

And that hope is what carries us into our present and future at Goodfaith. Hope as we continue to share the goodness of the gospel.  Hope as we accompany young people and adults in transformative experiences of faith in action.  Hope as we encounter Jesus in our neighbors. Hope as we work to bring the kingdom of God, here and now. 



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