Pope Francis’ Synod of Bishops focuses on the meaning and purpose of synodality itself. Launched in October 2021, it was designed to draw local Catholics and national bishops’ conferences, religious orders and curia leaders into a long period of consultation and discernment that will culminate in an assembly in October 2023 in Rome.
“The fullness of the synodal process can only truly exist if the local churches are involved [in] this process,” said a statement, approved by Pope Francis and issued by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, which outlined the new synodal itinerary underpinning the theme, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”
“It is not just an event, but also a process that synergistically involves the People of God, the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome, each according to their own function,” the statement read.
The first stage of the two-year process began with ceremonies in Rome on October 9 and 10. Then the focus shifted to the local churches based on the five continents of the globe, and the American dioceses began their own synodal journey under the leadership of the local bishop.
“Without real participation from the people of God, talking about communion risks remaining wishful thinking,” Pope Francis said when he launched the synodal process last year. “[W]We must recognize the frustration and impatience felt by many pastoral workers, members of diocesan and parish advisory bodies and women, who often remain on the sidelines.
Preparatory materials provided by the Synod Secretariat, including a questionnaire and practical advice, have been adapted for Catholics in the United States.
The questionnaire asks respondents to record their position on fundamental Catholic beliefs, rate their religious practices, and rate the quality and scope of programs and services offered by their parish.
Public consultations or listening sessions in local parishes have also begun and will continue throughout the spring.
Pope Francis encouraged local dioceses/eparchies to be inclusive and reach out to those on the peripheries. Guests are expected to include practicing Catholics, those no longer attending church, non-Catholics as well as the poor, disabled and elderly.
The results of the questionnaires and listenings in this country will be provided to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which “will then meet in assembly for a period of discernment”, before preparing a “synthesis” which will be sent in Rome, laying the foundations for the continental phase of “dialogue and discernment”. The episcopal conferences of the United States and Canada will meet, while church leaders from Mexico will join the confederation of episcopal conferences of Latin and South America. The fruit of these deliberations will also be sent to the Vatican, and will contribute to the final universal phase of the Synod which will take place in October 2023 in Rome.
“The story of the synod illustrates all the good that these assemblies have brought to the Church, but also how the time had come for a broader participation of the People of God in a process of decision-making which affects the whole Church and everyone in the Church,” said Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, in an interview with Vatican News on May 21, who highlighted the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on synodality as “the one of the strongest themes of the current pontificate”.
According to Pope Saint Paul VI, “synod” comes from the Greek words syn and hodosj (“together” and “way”), that is to walk together on the path of Our Lord. The phrase evokes the accompaniment by the Risen One of his two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Synodality includes the charism of apostolic succession and the need for bishops to lead by virtue of their episcopal ordination, experts told the Register. Only a pope or a bishop convenes a synod.
“Communicate and Relate”
“The Second Vatican Council proposed that the Church learn to speak to itself, its members and the world in a new way,” said Father Dennis McManus, professor of systematic theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and priest. of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.
For Pope Francis, “synodalism is a way of communicating and connecting. This is how he sees the three parts of the Church – the people of God, the college of bishops and the bishop of Rome, the vicar of Christ – in constant exchange together, all three parts listening .
However, it remains unclear how the first phase of Francis’ synodal process which will conclude in late spring will work in practice, especially in regions battling the pandemic and struggling to rebuild mass attendance and finances. .
American dioceses and eparchies that have embraced the synodal process hope to see renewed engagement with their flock after pandemic-era restrictions.
“This synod is an opportunity to respond to the immense and important request of the Holy Father to engage in a dialogue to better understand our call to holiness and to feel the responsibility to participate in the life of the Church,” said Bishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement welcoming the new synodal process.
In this country, Mass attendance has fallen by about 14% and weekly parish collections have fallen by 12% from pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, a significant portion of U.S. dioceses are defined as “mission” dioceses, meaning they may have relatively small numbers of Catholics, possess limited resources, or possibly cover a large geographic area, issues that will likely hinder or prevent strong synodal engagement.
A USCCB representative told the Register that 167 of the country’s 196 dioceses and eparchies were participating in the first phase of the synod, although they could not provide specific data on the number of survey sponsors or public listening sessions.
Church leaders are also set to be pushed back by alienated Catholics and political groups seeking to change church teaching, amid confusion over the precise goals of the synodal process.
While Archbishop Gomez suggested the process was designed to nurture “missionary disciples,” some media and activist groups portrayed the synod as a move to “decentralize” decision-making in the Church, with a hoped-for transfer of power from the Church. hierarchy to the laity.
On a global level, public statements of dissent on Church teaching made by Luxembourg Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the synod’s general rapporteur who will oversee the drafting of the synod’s final report, have likely sparked expectation that the process will pave the way for a change in Church doctrine or discipline regarding same-sex unions, female ordination, or priestly celibacy. The Vatican has reported otherwise. But Francis, who encourages dialogue between Church leaders, has so far avoided any public correction from Cardinal Hollerich, who is also president of the confederation of European bishops’ conferences.
“Ideally, a synodal environment should give us a living snapshot of where the Holy Spirit is active in the Church or a church cardiogram, if you will,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey said during from a May 4 lecture last year titled “Synodalism and Pope Francis’ Long Game,” at Loyola University Chicago, which signaled his approach to the new synod.
The more the Church adopts synodality as a path of accompaniment to those on the “peripheries,” the New Jersey Cardinal said, the more deeply its members will undergo a conversion of heart and become less concerned about perceived threats to “norms and norms.” cannons”.
The Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.