Pope Francis has called for a synod in the church. The theme of this Synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”  The solemn opening of the Synod took place in Rome on October 9-10, and in the particular Churches (the diocesan phase) on October 17. It will conclude in the Vatican in October of 2023 with the assembly of bishops from around the world.

The diocesan phase, which runs until April, will focus on listening to and consulting the people of God.  The pope spoke to members of his diocese, the Diocese of Rome, to explain how the synodal process should work and why.  As explained in a recent article in The Pilot

Essentially, he said, it will be a period of mutual listening in which everyone — cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople — plays a leading role and “nobody can be considered a plain bit player.”

The purpose is not to collect everyone’s individual opinions, he said, but rather to hear what the Holy Spirit is quietly — and perhaps surprisingly — saying through them.

The synodal journey will require discussing viewpoints and expectations that are different and seeking out people who have been alienated “to hear not what they say but what they feel, even the insults,” he said.

“Allow yourselves to meet (others) and be questioned (by them), let their questions be your questions, allow yourselves to walk together. The Spirit will lead you,” the pope told them. “Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue and allow yourselves to be shocked by the dialogue. It is the dialogue of salvation.”

“The Holy Spirit in his freedom knows no boundaries, nor does he allow himself to be limited by affiliations,” he said; if the parish is not to be “an exclusive club, then I suggest you leave doors and windows open” so everyone can be welcomed.

After Christ’s death and resurrection, God did not leave behind a “vacuum” that has to be filled by people insisting on taking his place or demanding the church be modeled on their cultural or historical beliefs — leading the church to become like a country with “armed borders, guilt-mongering customs houses” with “a spirituality that blasphemes the gratuity of God’s engaging action,” Pope Francis said.

Instead, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who provides the “drive,” strength and ability to be witnesses in words and deeds of God’s unconditional love and his immense hospitality that knows no bounds or borders, the pope said.

This is the church’s path and a synodal church moves in the world knowing the Holy Spirit “will be with us,” he said.

Read the complete article in The Pilot

What is Synodality? Background for this Synod

By convening this Synod, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” Following in the wake of the renewal of the Church proposed by the Second Vatican Council, this common journey together is both a gift and a task. By reflecting together on the journey that has been made so far, the diverse members of the Church will be able to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, guided by the Holy Spirit (PD, 1). Enlightened by the Word of God and united in prayer, we will be able to discern the processes to seek God’s will and pursue the pathways to which God calls us – towards deeper communion, fuller participation, and greater openness to fulfilling our mission in the world. The International Theological Commission (ITC) describes synodality this way:

‘Synod’ is an ancient and venerable word in the Tradition of the Church, whose meaning draws on the deepest themes of Revelation […] It indicates the path along which the People of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents Himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14,6), and to the fact that Christians, His followers, were originally called ‘followers of the Way’ (cf. Acts 9,2; 19,9.23; 22,4; 24,14.22).

First and foremost, synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working.

In this sense, synodality enables the entire People of God to walk forward together, listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to participate in the mission of the Church in the communion that Christ establishes between us. Ultimately, this path of walking together is the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God (PD, 1).

The entire People of God shares a common dignity and vocation through Baptism. All of us are called in virtue of our Baptism to be active participants in the life of the Church. In parishes, small Christian communities, lay movements, religious communities, and other forms of communion, women and men, young people and the elderly, we are all invited to listen to one another in order to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who comes to guide our human efforts, breathing life and vitality into the Church and leading us into deeper communion for our mission in the world. As the Church embarks on this synodal journey, we must strive to ground ourselves in experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.

What is the aim of this Synod? Objectives of the Synodal Process

The Church recognizes that synodality is an integral part of her very nature. Being a synodal Church finds expression in ecumenical councils, Synods of Bishops, diocesan Synods, and diocesan and parish councils. There are many ways by which we experience forms of “synodality” already across the Church. Yet being a synodal Church is not limited to these existing institutions. Indeed, synodality is not so much an event or a slogan as a style and a way of being by which the Church lives out her mission in the world. The mission of the Church requires the entire People of God to be on a journey together, with each member playing his or her crucial role, united with each other. A synodal Church walks forward in communion to pursue a common mission through the participation of each and every one of her members. The objective of this Synodal Process is not to provide a temporary or one-time experience of synodality, but rather to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term.

One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the institution of the Synod of Bishops. While the Synod of Bishops has taken place up until now as a gathering of bishops with and under the authority of the Pope, the Church increasingly realizes that synodality is the path for the entire People of God. Hence the Synodal Process is no longer only an assembly of bishops but a journey for all the faithful, in which every local Church has an integral part to play. The Second Vatican Council reinvigorated the sense that all the baptised, both the hierarchy and the laity, are called to be active participants in the saving mission of the Church (LG, 32-33). The faithful have received the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation and are endowed with diverse gifts and charisms for the renewal and building up of the Church, as members of the Body of Christ. Thus the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops is in dialogue with the sensus fidelium, the living voice of the People of God (cf. Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, 74). The path of synodality seeks to make pastoral decisions that reflect the will of God as closely as possible, grounding them in the living voice of the People of God (ICT, Syn., 68). It is noted that collaborating with theologians – lay, ordained, and religious – can be a helpful support in articulating the voice of the People of God expressing the reality of the faith on the basis of lived experience.

While recent Synods have examined themes such as the new evangelization, the family, young people, and the Amazon, the present Synod focuses on the topic of synodality itself.

The current Synodal Process we are undertaking is guided by a fundamental question: 

How does this “journeying together” take place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allowing the Church to proclaim the Gospeland what steps is the Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church? (PD, 2)

In this light, the objective of the current Synod is to listen, as the entire People of God, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. We do so by listening together to the Word of God in Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church, and then by listening to one another, and especially to those at the margins, discerning the signs of the times. In fact, the whole Synodal Process aims at fostering a lived experience of discernment, participation, and co-responsibility, where a diversity of gifts is brought together for the Church’s mission in the world.

In this sense, it is clear that the purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission (PD, 32). Thus the objective of this Synodal Process is not only a series of exercises that start and stop, but rather a journey of growing authentically towards the communion and mission that God calls the Church to live out in the third millennium.

This journey together will call on us to renew our mentalities and our ecclesial structures in order to live out God’s call for the Church amid the present signs of the times. Listening to the entire People of God will help the Church to make pastoral decisions that correspond as closely as possible to God’s will (ITC, Syn., 68) The ultimate perspective to orient this synodal path of the Church is to serve the dialogue of God with humanity (DV, 2) and to journey together the kingdom of God (cf. LG, 9; RM, 20). In the end, this Synodal Process seeks to move towards a Church that is more fruitfully at the service of the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

The theme of this Synod, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission

In the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, Pope Francis declared that “the world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission.” This call to cooperate in the mission of the Church is addressed to the entire People of God. Pope Francis made this clear when he issued a direct invitation to all the People of God to contribute to Church efforts towards healing: “every one of the baptised should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.” In April 2021, Pope Francis initiated a synodal journey of the whole People of God, to begin in October 2021 in each local Church and culminating in October 2023 in the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

(The background information above is from “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, 07.09.2021” which was released on September 7, 2021, and can be read in its entirety on the Vatican website.)