Pope Francis has called for a worldwide synod on synodality in 2023. In the lead up to the synod, he wants church leaders and bishops to gather the “sense of the faithful” on a important issues we face together. The first phase of this process began at the local level in October 2021 and is to continue until August 2022. The input that is gathered will be sent to the Synod of Bishops in Rome so that they can develop a working document for their international gathering of bishops in October 2023. Your input is extremely important for this process to be an authentic discernment.
Our bishops are responsible for developing and implementing a process for gathering and “listening to all the baptized” on important matters in our church in the lead up to the 2023 Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participate, and Mission.”
In order to realize this new consultation process, Pope Francis opened the three phase consultation this October 9, 2021. The three phases include:
As the new head of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, noted that they chose to undertake the new, three-part format because “the time was ripe for a wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church.”
“The Second Vatican Council teaches that the people of God participate in the prophetic office of Christ, therefore, we must listen to the people of God, and this means going out to the local churches,” noted Cardinal Grech. He also explained that the church, as the people of God, “is an active subject in the life and mission of the church by virtue of their baptism…In his wisdom, Pope Francis has continued to strengthen the consultation and discernment process for synods addressing the family, youth, and the fate of our common world as we witness the destruction of the Amazon and its people. With the new process in mind, we must ask our bishop to make every effort to invite all the baptized so that, together, we may pray, listen deeply to the Spirit of God, listen to each other, and work together to spread the Gospel message in our own parish communities, in our diocese, and around the world.”
Since the diocesan phase of the process began this October, Catholics make sure their bishop has a plan in place to carry out the process. Volunteer if you can to help. Here is a map of dioceses that indicate they are implementing the synod process.
If you bishop refuses to enter into the synod process or ignores it, there is still a way to make your voice heard. Pope Francis and the General Secretariat and organizers of the 2023 Synod want your input!
The synod document states:
Religious communities, lay movements, associations of the faithful, and other ecclesial groups are encouraged to participate in the Synodal Process in the context of the local Churches. However, it is also possible for them, and for any group or individual that does not have an opportunity to do so at the local level, to contribute directly to the General Secretariat as stated in Episcopalis Communio (art. 6 on the Consultation of the People of God):
§1. The consultation of the People of God takes place in the particular Churches, through the Synods of Bishops of the Patriarchal Churches and the Major Archbishoprics, the Councils of Hierarchs and the Assemblies of Hierarchs of the Churches sui iuris and through the Episcopal Conferences. In each particular Church, the Bishops carry out the consultation of the People of God by recourse to the participatory bodies provided for by the law, without excluding other methods that they deem appropriate. §2. The Unions, the Federations and the male and female Conferences of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life consult the Major Superiors, who in their turn may approach their own Councils and other members of the Institutes and Societies in question. §3. In the same way, the Associations of the Faithful recognized by the Holy See consult their own members. §4. The dicasteries of the Roman Curia offer their contribution, taking account of their respective particular areas of competence. §5. The General Secretariat of the Synod may identify other forms of consultation of the People of God.
Each listening phase will be adapted to local circumstances. People in remote communities with limited internet access are likely to have a different involvement than those in urban settings. Communities currently in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to organize different dialogue and listening opportunities than those with high rates of recovery. Whatever the local circumstances the Diocesan Contact Person(s) are encouraged to focus on maximum inclusion and participation, reaching out to involve the greatest number of people possible, and especially those on the periphery who are often excluded and forgotten. Encouraging the widest participation possible will help to ensure that the syntheses formulated at the levels of dioceses, episcopal conferences, and the whole Church capture the true realities and lived experience of the People of God. Because this engagement of the People of God is foundational, and a first taste of the experience of synodality for many, it is essential that each local listening exercise be guided by the principles of communion, participation, and mission that inspire this synodal path.
The unfolding of the Synodal Process at a local level must also involve:
● Discernment through listening, to create space for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
● Accessibility, in order to ensure that as many people as possible can participate, regardless of location, language, education, socio-economic status, ability/disability, and material resources.
● Cultural awareness to celebrate and embrace the diversity within local communities.
● Inclusion, making every effort to involve those who feel excluded or marginalized.
● Partnership based on the model of a co-responsible Church.
● Respect for the rights, dignity, and opinion of each participant.
● Accurate syntheses that truly captures the range of critical and appreciative perspectives of all responses, including views that are expressed only by a minority of participants.
● Transparency, ensuring that processes of invitation, involvement, inclusion, and aggregation of input are clear and well communicated.
● Fairness, ensuring that participation in the listening process treats each person equally, so that every voice can be duly heard.
The Diocesan Contact Person(s) are encouraged to tap into the richness of the lived experience of Church in their local context. Throughout the diocesan phase, it is helpful to keep in mind the principles of the Synodal Process and the need for some structure to the conversation, so that it can be synthesised and effectively inform the writing of the working documents (Instrumentum Laboris). We aim to be attentive to how the Spirit speaks through the People of God.
As noted, this first phase is meant to provide input for the working document the 2023 Synod participants will use to discern what the Spirit is calling us to do and be today.
If you bishop has not put a process in place for listening to the Catholics in your diocese, FutureChurch has developed some resources to help you to contact your bishop urging him to make the process accessible to all.
This is your time to speak up! Let’s discern the future, together!