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Diocese of Brownsville1910 University Boulevard P.O. Box 2279Brownsville, Texas 78520Tel. (956) 542-2501 Fax (956) 542-6751Office of the BishopSeptember 2, 2022To the People of God in the Diocese of Brownsville,Together with Catholic Dioceses throughout the world, the Diocese of Brownsvillerecently concluded its synodal consultative sessions in the parishes and missions, schools, andother centers of pastoral activity within the Diocese. I am grateful for the generous work andmissionary zeal of the pastors, delegates, and many volunteers that organized and participatedin the listening sessions. Your voices and input have helped illuminate our discernment andhave contributed to how we, as a diocesan church, can better hear the voice of the Holy Spirit inthe prayerful voices of our people. Our parishes, missions, schools, religious communities, andapostolic movements reported consulting over 8,600 people since we began this journey inOctober 2021.After the local parish and mission consultations, teams of delegates prepared synthesesof parish and mission church consultations, and these in turn were the basis for a diocesansynthesis of the consultative voices who participated. It is with great joy, therefore, that I sharethis diocesan synthesis report of the diocesan consultations with the whole diocese. Thesynthesis has been prepared in both English and Spanish. The diocesan synthesis is a tangiblesign and fruit of our synodal journey of prayer, listening, and dialoguing together. Thisdocument, together with the syntheses generated in local parishes, can aid in our localdiscernment moving forward.The many occasions for listening within the diocese during the consultative phase haveserved as moments of encounter with the Lord and with one another in a spirit of respect andattentiveness. This, in turn, has initiated important conversations on many levels of the localChurch. What comes through most clearly is the great desire of our people to work together toheal what wounds have afflicted us, and to become more effective signs of the presence of Christin our communities. There is also a great desire to work together, despite our differences, andwith the help of the Holy Spirit, for a renewed vigor in the evangelizing and teaching missionthat Christ Himself has entrusted to us.This synodal journey is not concluded, rather it now enters a new phase. An ongoingchallenge for us is to continue efforts to reach out to those who were not reached during ourfirst synodal consultations. There are still many who feel distant or exiled from the Church; wemust continue to invite their participation. The stronger we are in our communion with one

another and our communion with the Lord Jesus, the stronger we are in the grace God gives usto fulfill the mission he gives us.The next phase of the synodal work will involve a discernment about the priorities thathave emerged from the local synod, and then how best to practically address them. Some hopesand needs expressed in the local consultations can be addressed by individuals and families,while others can be most effectively addressed at the parish, deanery, or diocesan level of theChurch. Deciding about these matters will require prayer and continued consultation. Ourresponse to these needs and hopes will rely on the Lord and his generosity and on our commonefforts to work together in parishes, deaneries, and on the diocesan level to address thechallenges our times present to us.With the publication of this diocesan report, I invite parishes and missions, schools andcenters of pastoral activity, clergy, laity and religious to continue to pray and dialogue abouthow to address our local challenges, and to reflect, and discern about the future we charttogether as the Church of the Rio Grande Valley. I urge that our reflections together always beaccompanied by frequent meditation on the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, so that ourhearts may be animated with the desires that animate the heart of Christ. And I ask everyone topray that our way forward as a People of God in the Rio Grande Valley will be always markedby a deep love and fidelity to the Lord Jesus Himself.In the coming months, clergy and diocesan leaders, and consultative groups will gatherto discern the priorities from the synthesis of consultations. On October 15, 2022, synoddelegates will gather with myself and others to consider the response to and implementation ofthe diocesan synodal action. Parishes and missions are invited to engage in a similardiscernment about how they will respond to their local findings and implement a pastoral wayforward.Let us continue to journey together towards deeper communion, fuller participation, andgreater zeal in fulfilling our mission in our part of the world.In Christ the Lord,Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, S.T.D.Bishop of Brownsville1910 University Boulevard Brownsville, Texas 78520; P. O. Box 2279, 78522-2279Tel. (956) 542-2501 Fax (956) 542-6751

Diocese of BrownsvilleSynthesis of Diocesan Phase ConsultationsJune 30, 20221

ContentsImportant Note Regarding this Report3Introduction3About the Diocese of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley3Methodology34FindingsSynodal Process, Walking and Listening Together4Eucharist, Liturgy, and Prayer5Community, Hospitality, and Communion within the Church6Ministry Leadership among Clergy, Religious, and Laity7Formation of Families and Young People10Evangelization and Mission to the Peripheries1113ConclusionFruits of the Diocesan Phase of the Synod13Hopes and next steps in synodal process in Diocese1314AppendicesAppendix 1 – Official Catholic Directory Stats14Appendix 2 – Map of Deaneries in the Diocese of Brownsville15Appendix 3 - CNS Article about Diocese of Matamoros and Diocese of Brownsville16Appendix 4 - Questions for Small Group Sharing192

Important Note Regarding this ReportThis synthesis report pulls together the various consultations with the People of God thatwere shared through parish and ministry listening sessions and activities throughout the Dioceseof Brownsville. It does not seek to provide a plan of action or response to what was contributed.Corresponding action plans and priorities based on this report will be developed in the latter partof 2022.IntroductionAbout the Diocese of Brownsville and the Rio Grande ValleyThe Rio Grande Valley is located at the southernmost point of Texas. At the meeting point ofMexico and the USA, the four-county region called “the Valley” is one of the fastest growing areasof the United States. All four counties consistently have among the highest poverty rates of anycounties in the United States with poverty rates over 30%. Together, the Rio Grande Valley hasmore than 1,000 colonias (residential subdivisions usually in unincorporated areas of a countylacking all or some of the basic services). Brownville is a mission diocese (i.e., under-resourcedand cannot sustain itself without outside funding) and also considered one of the largest Catholicareas in the United States based on population.A rich and deep tradition of the Catholic faith has endured in the Rio Grande Valley for morethan 500 years. The first seeds of the Catholic faith were planted in 1519 in the time of the SpanishConquistadores. These seeds were later nurtured by the missionary work of many religious orders,most notably the Oblates of Mary Immaculate beginning in the mid-1800s. The teachings, rituals,and customs of the Catholic Church have been handed down continuously from generation togeneration, fulfilling the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles and to us.The Catholic faith is deeply rooted in the Valley’s history and culture. While the area was partof the Vicariate Apostolic of Brownsville from 1874 to 1912, the Diocese of Brownsville wasestablished on July 10, 1965, by Pope Paul VI. The ninth diocese in Texas was formed by detachingfour counties – Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, and Starr – from the Diocese of Corpus Christi. Today,the Diocese of Brownsville includes more than a million Catholics, who worship in 72 parishesand 44 missions.MethodologyThe XVI Synod of Bishops has a focus on synodality and invites consultations of the Peopleof God from across the globe. The diocesan phase was animated by delegates and ministry leadersfrom parishes, missions, Catholic schools, religious communities, and apostolic movements. Over350 delegates attended an opening session to inaugurate the beginning of our synodal path onOctober 30, 2021. Six online and in-person training sessions were hosted through November andDecember 2021. Most parish listening sessions began in January and continued through April2022. Eight deanery meetings were held for delegates to share oral reports regarding their initialfindings and their experiences. Each parish/mission had five minutes to report an overview of theirlistening sessions and highlights about what they were hearing from the community. This inputproved invaluable as it provided a colorful context of the parish and its community.Final written reports based on the findings of listening sessions and activities were submittedto the Diocese in May 2022. Over the course of a few months, more than 70 reports were submittedand over 8,600 people were consulted and participated in synodal listening sessions. Responseswere collected primarily through parish listening sessions hosted by their delegates and ministry3

leaders. The diocesan synod coordinator also worked to conduct listening sessions with priests,religious men and women, Catholic school principals, the neighboring Diocese of Matamoros,ecumenical/interfaith groups, and professional business leaders. These focused conversationshelped make the synodal process inclusive of various voices that may not have been included inparish activities alone. The parish reporting is the largest volume of input throughout the synodalprocess.A concluding session and Mass to mark the closing of the diocesan phase was celebratedSaturday, June 25, 2022, with pastors and delegates from across the Rio Grande Valley. Somedelegates briefly shared a testimony of the fruits of the synod for themselves and their parish.FindingsSynodal Process, Walking and Listening TogetherPastors and parish delegates expressed that their synodal listening sessions were most effectivewhen marked by authentic listening and prioritizing the other’s voice. It was described many timesthat it was a challenge to withhold their own personal insights or corrections. But in doing so, itallowed participants to share more deeply. Many delegates reported people were surprised by eventhe idea of the Church asking their insights and experiences.It is noteworthy that many people spoke to the profound impact of the synodal processitself. There were a great number of responses that indicated the joy and timeliness of this synodalpath. They shared profound moments and experiences of God and the Church in listening to peoplein listening sessions. These encounters were marked by a prayerful atmosphere that genuinelysought their perspective and insights.Many pastors, delegates, and ministry leaders worked hard and with missionary zeal toinvolve as many people as possible. A parish delegate in the rural community of La Sara describedthe power of a personal invitation. He shared that making personal phone calls and invitations tolistening sessions was an effective way of engaging people in their faith community. He, like manyother parish delegates, described that the pastor's invitation and encouragement to assume thisimportant role was impactful.Throughout the planning, implementation, and sharing, the diversity in God’s People wasobvious. Local communities and contexts revealed the rich texture and gifts of God’s People inthe Rio Grande Valley. The oral reporting at deanery meetings affirmed many common strengthsand challenges while also bringing to light unique characteristics of small communities. Thesharing was done in both English and Spanish, many times with both languages being usedinterchangeably within the same gathering. Many people engaged in synodal gatherings in ablended English and Spanish - a fruit of living, studying, and working in a bilingual and biculturalregion. Careful attention was made to present converging points in this report while maintainingthe significant divergent points of view that were shared.Some challenges in conducting the synodal listening sessions included the greater lack ofparticipation of the faithful in the life of the parish, even in attending Mass. Many reported largepercentages of people are still fearful of the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty and possibilityof infection was and continues to be an obstacle to meeting with ministry leaders about theirresponses to the synodal reflection questions. Even parishes that conducted home visits foundpeople were sometimes unwilling to meet for fear of infection. Another obstacle was people’s lackof trust in the process. Many undocumented individuals were reluctant to share personal4

information as they were unsure of how it would be used. For others, they expressed a skepticismor cynicism that their voice would be listened to or contribute to the life of the Church. This manytimes stemmed from a frustration of participating in a similar exercise and it not yielding theirdesired change.Eucharist, Liturgy, and PrayerOne of the initial and most apparent findings from the synodal listening sessions was aclear joy in celebrating the Eucharist and participating in Mass. Many participants shared theirdesire for the Holy Mass and the Eucharist. They recounted the extent to which they went toparticipate in the Eucharist as soon as they could during the pandemic. Some found the opportunityto visit a Eucharistic Adoration chapel as a source of healing and consolation in a time of greattrial. They described their visits as profound encounters with the presence of Jesus.The synodal listening sessions also provided parishes with the opportunity to listen to theneeds and desires of their community. Some needs were daunting, while others much moreactionable. In one such conversation, a small rural mission in Fronton learned about a smallcommunity's desire for a Holy Hour to be hosted at their mission. After hearing of this heartfeltdesire in a listening session, the pastor arranged a Holy Hour at the small chapel. The person whoinitially shared this desire was one among eight people that participated in the Holy Hour. Shewas moved to tears of joy and gratitude throughout the entire time. Her love and desire for theEucharist inspired others and reminded ministry leaders of the need to reach out to the peripheries.Related to this joy in the celebration of the Eucharist is the concern of low Mass attendance.There has been a slow response of the community to return to Mass as COVID-19 protocols haveeased. The dispensation of the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligationwas lifted effective Sunday, March 20, 2022. Some reported feeling that the creative approachesparishes took to engage parishioners during the beginning of the pandemic, especially with livestreaming Masses, were now a hindrance and an excuse for parishioners to not return to Mass andactivities in-person. The live-streamed Masses were initially used this way to reach out to andengage those that were homebound during the stay-at-home orders from local authorities.There is a pastoral concern for how to form and catechize the faithful regarding the Mass.While this has been a longstanding concern, it has taken on an urgency in light of the new habitsmany formed over the pandemic. In a more general sense, delegates also shared concerns for theactive participation of the faithful in Mass. Some expressed concern for the lack of reverenceamong the clergy and laity in the liturgy and the need to address it with formation and catechesis.Some delegates expressed a concern for the language in which the Mass is celebratedrelative to the needs and desires of the community. There are challenges in certain communities inwhich Spanish Masses are difficult to access. Interestingly, some communities have had thepractice of celebrating Spanish Masses for their families but there is a growing desire and need forEnglish Masses, particularly for young people who prefer English. Some participants alsoexpressed their desire for more Masses to include American Sign Language (ASL) interpretationfor the deaf community. Some described having to travel far each week to participate in a Mass inASL. A few participants in the listening sessions shared their experience of having attended theExtraordinary Form of the Mass (“Traditional Latin Mass”) and finding it a nourishing experiencethat they wished others to share. Some particularly noted the reverence in the liturgy to be aninspiration for their faith.5

The findings of the parish listening sessions also indicate the power of prayer to encounterGod and to build community. Especially during the height of the pandemic and the strictest COVIDprotocols, many parishioners found solace in praying for one another and finding closeness inintercessory prayer. Some prayer groups found ways to gather in socially distant outdoor settings,while others stay connected via Zoom, WhatsApp, or Facebook. It was clear that they wereapproaching this challenge with persistence and creativity.Community, Hospitality, and Communion within the ChurchAn interesting finding from the oral reporting at the deaneries was that parishes weresurprised to learn many other parishes were experiencing the same challenges and opportunities.They expressed a joy for the communion within the Church as a mystical body of Christ and theChurch present in the Rio Grande Valley.The communion of the Church here in the southmost part of Texas shares a uniquerelationship and accompaniment with its neighboring border diocese in northern Mexico, theDiocese of Matamoros. In a special listening session, 20 delegates from each side of the border,and from different states of life, came together to celebrate the Eucharist and share a meal. Theyexpressed unique perspectives of living and working on both sides of the border. While the RioGrande River serves as a physical divide, it also serves a source of life and water for the region. Itbecomes a symbol for what unites us rather than what divides us. In a similar way, the sameCatholic Church present in two countries is a powerful witness of the unity in Christ and theChurch faithfully serving and walking with the people of the region particularly during times ofstruggle.While many people permanently live and work in the Rio Grande Valley, it is worthy tonote there are many other people with a more transient lifestyle. The experience of living in theRio Grande Valley can be a fluid experience. Many Catholic parishes have retirees from acrossthe country who travel and stay in the Valley for about six months out of the year. They areaffectionately called Winter Texans and serve in many important ways in their parish leadershipand the community. Other groups include daily border crossers that frequently travel back andforth from Mexico to the USA (e.g., students residing in Mexico attending school in the U.S.) andvice versa (e.g., engineers residing in the U.S. working in maquiladoras in Mexico). Othertransient groups include migrant workers (that move seasonally throughout different parts of thecountry in search of agricultural work), and immigrants and asylum seekers (typically seeking alonger stay and more permanent residence, but often moving further north outside the diocese).Some communities located alongside the river experience the border reality in a uniqueway. For Brownsville, which borders the city of Matamoros in Mexico, many people cross backand forth each day for employment, schooling, and personal reasons (e.g., visiting family). In manyways, it is akin to a large metro area that happens to span two countries. The pastor of Saint Michaelthe Archangel Catholic Church in Los Ebanos described how the town is close to el chalán (thehand-drawn ferry) and the international ports of entry. He underscored a physical and relationalcloseness to their Mexican neighbors. Similarly, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hidalgodescribes itself as a door to the United States and a parish for the Latin/Mexican community.During the listening sessions held with interfaith and ecumenical religious leaders,participants described an admiration for the work of the Catholic Church in the region, especiallywith regard to its social ministry to those in need. They shared an appreciation for the ongoing6

conversations among different religious traditions, like the Bishop’s participation with the localrabbi and imam in multiple public events.Christian pastors during an ecumenical listening session described their collaborative workwith Emily’s Meals (a social ministry operated by a local Catholic McAllen family focused onfeeding the homeless). The also spoke with pride about their work with Proyecto DesarrolloHumano (a community center in western Hidalgo County operated by the Missionary Sisters ofthe Immaculate Heart of Mary), and La Posada Providencia (an emergency shelter in San Benitofor people seeking legal refuge operated by the Sisters of Divine Providence). A local Lutheranpastor expressed his appreciation for the joint celebration of the Roman Catholic Church and theLutheran World Federation during the 2017 Joint Commemoration of the Reformation. A specialecumenical prayer service was hosted that year at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in SanJuan bringing Lutherans and Catholics together.Many participants spoke about their local Catholic parishes and their embodiment ofhospitality and welcome. In many ways, their identity is concentrated in the value of love andhelping everyone feel like they belong. One pastor in San Benito said many people attribute theparish being friendly to his pastoral leadership, but he quickly redirected the credit to as gift of thecommunity (don de la comunidad), and one that he is seeking to cultivate. Many respondents toone parish mission described the how the pastor includes, affirms, and welcomes children into theSunday liturgy, and how he invites the parishioners to reconsider crying not as a nuisance but as ahopeful sign of life in the parish. Many participants affirmed that parish life in several ways is theculmination of many personal relationships among individuals and families; there is a great joy inbelonging to the family (alegría de pertenecer a la familia). Many people have the experience thatgrandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren grow up in the same parish.There were opportunities named regarding the Church’s welcoming and hospitality. Someparishioners described the ongoing pattern of sitting next to people for years and not knowing oneanother's name. This presented a unique challenge once stay-at-home orders were put in placeduring the pandemic and compelled many ministry leaders to go out into the communities andmake personal outreach checks on the well-being of family and friends.As a diocese with many rural parishes and missions, it can be a challenge to gather inperson. Some participants described a lack of unity and deep relationship with others in theircommunity because of the physical distance between one another and the Church. Even somemissions described feeling a lack of unity with the parish church for that same reason. Some of thedelegates from mission churches shared their frustration that much of the church activity was basedat the parish, considerably distant from the mission church and their residence. For many, a reliablemeans of transportation is an ongoing challenge, so getting out to the parish during the weeknightsis difficult - if not impossible.Ministry Leadership among Clergy, Religious, and LaityRegarding the questions and reflection on the theme of participation, attendees highlightedthe importance of ministry leadership and formation. Some communities reported the joy of havinga leader to lead the flock. Some participants reported their parish had many parish leaders servingin various capacities and groups that strengthened families within the community. Others indicatedthey needed more people and ‘new blood’ to help grow or sustain ministries. One delegate sharedthat 20% of the parishioners are doing 80% of the work. The challenges with attracting more7

people included a lack of confidence in leading and sharing Catholic teachings with others, as wellas few opportunities to serve in a meaningful way.Many delegates recounted examples of how leaders rose to the challenge to find ways tominister to the very basic needs of the most vulnerable in their community during the pandemic.Their efforts to pray, feed, and visit those most in need were moments of powerful witness andgreat faith. Some particular roles and ministries recounted involved faith formation (i.e., CCD),Talleres de Oracion y Vida, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of the Americas,Movimiento Familiar, hospital chaplains, soup kitchens, Cursillo retreats, small Christiancommunities (comunidades de base), and prayer groups (grupos de oración). Some parishesindicated a frustration with not having a parish pastoral council, resulting in limited opportunitiesto share their voice with parish leadership.One delegate from El Ranchito recounted the tremendous loss she experienced during thelast few years with a rapid succession of deaths in her family as well as dealing with a bout ofcancer. She found strength in serving God and the Church. She was particularly grateful for thepastor’s encouragement to be a liturgical minister. She found her service to be a response to God'spurpose for her life as well as a means for personal growth.Regarding ministry leadership and formation, the delegates shared quite a fewopportunities. Many leaders desired to be formed and trained to be more effective in proclaimingthe kerygma and in their service to Christ present in the poor. They described humbly sharing thelittle that they knew with family and friends and those around them. They talked about the needfor ongoing formation in theology, Bible studies, and pastoral ministry. While there are currentlyopportunities made available on the part of the diocese and from other resources, there are stillvarious challenges in making them accessible to people at the parishes and missions.During a synodal listening session with business leaders and professionals, participantsexpressed a desire to contribute their expertise, resources, and network to collaborate in theChurch's temporal affairs related to its mission to announce the Gospel and to proclaim Jesus. Itwas a common sentiment in their sharing that the same people are serving in the few availableopportunities in their parishes and ministries. They described a silo-style of leadership and servicein which leaders were pulled in different directions and not always coming together to serve agreater purpose and mission. Some describe that this frustration was an obstacle to their faith andto inviting others to their parish. Some couples recounted their experience of serving in the Churchfor decades and finding barriers to lead within their communities because they were not marriedin the Church. Some married women described not being able to serve as catechists for the lack ofa sacramental marriage.The communities of religious men and women participated in listening sessions as well.They described the various ministries and social services they help animate throughout theDiocese. There was a general sense of closeness to the individuals and families they serve. Apalpable sense of missionary spirit permeated their sharing. Their responses to the synodalquestions were closely woven with the people they accompany in their ministries. They desiredpathways to form more lay people for ministry roles and decision-making in the life of the Church.Some noted the desire to see more women in significant leadership roles within the Church.8

An overwhelming majority of the synodal consultations affirmed a love and appreciationfor parish priests. Many parishioners shared the impact of the pastor’s personal invitation andencouragement. They recounted examples of difficult times, moments of celebration, and of activelife and service of the Church. Many had profound experiences with their pastor in the sacramentof confession, the celebration of Holy Mass, and funerals. One pastor reiterated that priests needto encourage the people (animar a la gente) and cultivate the gifts of the community.Some participants shared their frustration with pastors who were distant from theircommunities and the realities of many families. They desired a closeness to their pastor and forvarious reasons (e.g., health issues) the pastors were unable to connect with them. One pastordescribed finding people who wanted their priests to be more available and, mildly joking, saidthat people wanted access to him via a 24-hour hotline. For some pastors in a parish with missions,they encountered scheduling challenges to find time for building relationships with parishionersoutside of Holy Mass. Several parishes only celebrate Holy Mass once a week on Sunday, yetsome pastors found a way to coordinate a weekday celebration of Mass that allowed time for ameal and sharing (la convivencia) afterwards. People noted that these casual and social activitiessignificantly deepened the relationship with their pastor and the Church. Delegates shared that itwas effective to gather around a meal. They lightheartedly pointed to the ways the chickenbarbecues, parish festivals, and Lenten fish fries were all a means of making an invitation throughone’s stomach (haciendo la invitación por la pansa) and building community.Participants and delegates expressed their gratitude to Bishop Flores and Bis

by a deep love and fidelity to the Lord Jesus Himself. In the coming months, clergy and diocesan leaders, and consultative groups will gather . many times with both languages being used interchangeably within the same gathering. Many people engaged in synodal gatherings in a blended English and Spanish - a fruit of living, studying, and .