La Crosse couple presenters at synod Print
State News
Written by Denis Downey, La Crosse Catholic Times Staff   
Thursday, Oct. 02, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
Alice and Jeff Heinzen

MENOMONIE -- Alice and Jeff Heinzen will not only be serving as auditors for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family that Pope Francis has called for October 5 to 19 at the Vatican but also they will make a presentation before the general assembly at the historic event.

One of 14 married couples

In their main role as one of 14 married couples from around the world selected to serve as auditors for the synod, the Heinzens will observe all of the general assembly sessions and participate in group discussions with the English-speaking delegates.

“During the general assemblies, we will be listening and observing,” said Alice Heinzen. “We may only speak during these sessions if requested. Our input will mainly be shared during the small discussion groups.”

In July, Alice Heinzen replaced her husband as director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life of the Diocese of La Crosse when he became president of McDonell Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls. Her previous position was as diocesan Natural Family Planning coordinator.

Between them, the Heinzens have spent more than two decades in the Office for Marriage and Family Life, and they will combine that experience with their experiences of growing up in Catholic families, as a married Catholic couple, and as Catholic parents when they address the general assembly.

Addressing the synod

“We will be presenting a four-minute witness that will be part of the discussion on Part II, chapters one and two of the working document titled Instrumentum Laboris,” Alice Heinzen. “Our comments illustrate pastoral programs for the family in light of new challenges. To that end, we have submitted both a personal and professional assessment of marriage and family life.

“We begin with our account of what our mothers and fathers taught us about marriage that helped us become the married Catholics we are today. We close with our experiences working in the office for over 20 years. And, we humbly make a suggestion to study the why -- not the what -- that we do what we do as a Church.”

Since accepting the pope’s invitation to participate in the synod on families this summer, Alice said she and her husband have been very busy doing their homework to prepare as best they can for their roles at the synod.

“Trust us -- the preparation for this synod has been extensive,” she said. “We have consulted Bishop (Callahan) and will continue to do so right up until the synod begins.

“We have also talked with the good folks at the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) regarding their thoughts on our participation. Jack Felsheim (diocesan director of communications) has provided us with a basic course in communications so that we properly manage the deluge of media requests that come in every day. And we are reading lots and lots of articles and related documents that may be explored at the synod.

“Most importantly, we are praying and fasting in preparation.”

Preparing for the synod

As they prepare for the synod, the Heinzens know they and the other participants will be treading into some sensitive waters as family issues within the Church -- including views on traditional marriage, divorce, children, cohabitation, contraception, and others -- have come under fire from the secularized society and from within the Church itself. That is why they say it is important to seek divine guidance in not only their preparation for the synod but also as they participate in it.

“We both hope that all that we do and say is pleasing to God,” Alice said. “That requires us to be open to the Spirit’s promptings.

“We know that some of the topics that we will be exploring are tough and somewhat contentious. Thus, we must remain clear-headed and faithful as we listen, reflect, and discuss each matter.

“Our expectation is that the synod participants will provide Pope Francis with meaningful and practical recommendations that will strengthen sacramental marriage and the domestic Church across the globe. We know that this is not a democratic convention where the majority gets to decide. This synod is a gathering of 250-plus persons from around the world who have a deep desire to get God’s plan for love and life into everyone’s heart and mind.

“Our work at the synod is only the second step in the full process. When we are done, all the proceedings will be reviewed by the General Secretary and his committee. They will process it and bring it to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops next October.”

In awe of their situation

Before the Heinzens departed for Rome on September 30, they were still a bit in awe of their situation -- of all the Catholic couples in not only the United States, but in the world, why has this pair of family life professionals from the Chippewa Valley been chosen to participate in this historic undertaking?

It is a question they have been asked -- and have asked themselves -- a number of times. Alice said she may have found the answer in a conversation with a media member across the globe.

“Both of us are still asking why we have been chosen,” she said. “I spoke with an NBC affiliate in Rome . . . and he asked me why we were chosen. I told him that the answer to that question is a mystery for both he and I.

“Then I said, ‘Are you asking because we are such a low-profile couple?’ He said, ‘Yes, no one knows much about you two.’ And then he said, ‘I think that is what Pope Francis is all about, bringing the Church to the common people.’

“We are not offended to be labeled ‘common’ because that is what we truly are. We anticipate growing closer to God through this experience, and we are really looking forward to being in Rome together. Perhaps we will have time to squeeze in a dish of gelato and a glass of red wine on a delightful piazza while in the Eternal City.”

The Heinzens also plan to attend the ordination to the transitional deaconate of Daniel Thelen, a seminarian for the Diocese of La Crosse studying at the North American College in Rome, on October 2 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

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