Building on the guiding principles of his papacy, Pope Francis this year invited Catholics both in the mainstream of church life and on the fringes to express their dreams, ideas and concerns for the future. Synod of Bishops in 2023.
The Pope’s invitation to discern a way forward for the Catholic Church stems from his conviction that the Holy Spirit inspires all members to be missionary disciples, sharing core Christian beliefs as they go out into the world.
The Pope officially opened the synodal process in the Vatican on October 9-10. It was launched on October 16 and 17 in dioceses around the world.
Under the theme “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”, the Pope called the Church to practice synodality, that is to say to listen to and understand each other in all facets. of Church Life, coordinators of the effort at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explained.
The October opening “is just the first step in a larger, longer-term process to truly incorporate the fruits of Vatican II and become a synodal church,” said Julia McStravog, a former employee of the Church. ‘USCCB who is a consultant to the bishops on the process. .
“We are going to have consultations. It will also be a learning process on how to truly engage in a synod,” said McStravog.
The launch began a two-year journey that will culminate with the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. The Synod is expected to adopt an outcome document that will guide the continued development of a Synodal Church in the future.
The Pope’s call to synodality is rooted in his deep involvement as a cardinal in 2007 in writing a document on the life of the church for the Council of Bishops in Latin America, known as CELAM , its acronym in Spanish, which met in Aparecida, Brazil. The document made repeated calls for a “continental mission,” a church that sets out in search of ways to share the gospel with all.
In the current first phase, dioceses and parishes began to organize discussions, or consultations, in which people from across the church were invited to participate. Listening sessions will continue until June.
Each diocese is invited to submit a summary report to the USCCB or its appropriate episcopal conference office, which will then have until August 15 to present a report to the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican.
The process provides opportunities to welcome the Holy Spirit to guide discussions, said Richard Coll, executive director of the Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, which coordinates the effort for the USCCB.
“The Synod of Bishops says not to focus on what the end product will be. Focus on the process itself and on how the Spirit will guide the Church, represented in part by subsidiarity in the work that you do at the diocese level, ”said Coll.
Diocesan consultations are also an opportunity for creativity, added McStravog.
“This is a time to be co-creators with Spirit.… It is a chance to invigorate an engaged community through creativity and the call to openness. There is a chance to reaffirm the good and to reinventing some things that could be better, “she explained.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas echoed the pope’s invitation to creativity when addressing the fall general assembly of bishops in Baltimore in November.
“No one is indifferent in this time of listening”, he said, encouraging the bishops to remember that the first phase of the process must involve the participation of the whole Church “to listen together, to pray together, to discern together “the voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Pope Francis has asked us to invite people, to listen to people, including those who do not show up in our benches,” said Bishop Flores, who began a three-year term as president of the Closing Doctrine Committee of Bishops. of the assembly.
He also described the synodal process as a “deliberate path and style of fellowship”.
To facilitate the effort, the Synod of Bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General, presented documents to guide the work carried out in the dioceses. The USCCB also followed up by developing an additional document.
The main Vatican document is a “vademecum”, or manual, offering support to diocesan teams “to prepare and bring together the people of God so that they can express their experience in their local church”.
The USCCB document further defines Vatican documents. It includes a checklist of actions, a suggested timeline for dioceses to follow, and a list of reference materials to help parishes and dioceses go through the initial process and ensure broad participation.
An addendum, developed by the United States Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, offers ideas for liturgical celebrations to mark the opening and closing of the synodal process in dioceses and suggestions for scripture readings and musical themes.
At the start of the first phase, several American prelates declared that this effort is an opportunity to better involve people in the life of the church.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert W. McElroy said he expects the diocese to become more synod in its operation as the first phase unfolds, long before final conclusions are reached. reached by the Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis in October 2023.
“I hope this is an opportunity not only for us to assess the level of synodality, which is already present in the life of our local church, but to take it forward in a spectacular way,” he said. .
Meanwhile, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, called a team of 260 delegates who were tasked with going out and meeting people in prayer. From meetings at parish town hall to one-on-one conversations, delegates will hear people talk about their concerns, hurts and hopes, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re not trying to solve a problem. What we’re trying to do is discern the solution that’s already there. The Holy Spirit already knows what the solution is,” he said. -he declares.
For several other dioceses, the process will build on local synods that address local priorities, including young adults, family life, and ministry to Latino members.
When the Vatican receives the synthesized reports of the diocesan meetings of the episcopal conferences around the world, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will draft by the fall of 2022 the “instrumentum laboris”, or working document, to guide the continental ecclesial assemblies or regional events that will take place by March 2023.
These assemblies will produce another series of documents that will help in the drafting of a second working document for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.
Related story and online resources:
The opening Mass of the Synod invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit for a period of listening to one another
Online resources of the Synod of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington