The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022. A second, continental phase, will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission’. Pope Francis has outlined his vision and hopes for the synod, which some Vatican commentators have described as the most significant Catholic event since the Second Vatican Council in 1962–1965.
Pope Francis calls for a Road Trip
Pope Francis has spent much of his papacy seeking to renew our Church by reminding us of what’s truly important and challenging us to be Christ’s body here on earth, in new and creative ways. And, he’s doing it again. Earlier this year Francis announced a global synod entitled ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission’.
Synod is a church word that requires defining. Calling on the language skills of Bishop Peter Cullinane, he described it this way, ‘it’s an experience of being “on the road together”’. I immediately resonated with this translation because it evokes in me the idea of a road trip – being together with friends, sharing good conversations, being open to adventure and working things out as you go along. In this synod, Pope Francis wants us to really listen to one another and the Holy Spirit. In the same way a road trip has a destination, a synod is about going somewhere. Exactly where we are going will become clearer along the way. Pope Francis is pointing us in a direction, knowing the Holy Spirit is ultimately in charge and, wherever we end up, one thing is for sure, it’s going to be an interesting journey.
For those looking for a more precise translation, a synod is a process by which open and honest dialogue is promoted between members of the Church, with the opportunity for every baptised person to have their say and be listened to, in a prayerful and respectful environment, especially those whose voices are seldom heard. Canonically, synods are decision-making tools.
As with every journey, in a Church context, being on the road together cannot but help remind us of the Emmaus story, which was and continues to be both transformative and surprising for the disillusioned. St Luke’s telling of this story reminds us, our Lord is with us, even when we don’t recognise him. It’s also a story about walking and talking, about opening hearts and minds and ultimately, making sense of life in the darkness of grief and uncertainty.
Here in Palmerston North, we haven’t experienced a synod before, so this is new territory for us. With the blessing of Cardinal John Dew, the Archdiocese of Wellington has generously offered to share with us their experience from their own previous synods.
Right now, we are in the process of creating a team to plan and lead our diocese’s involvement. This group will be responsible for resourcing parish communities, promoting the synod and for encouraging maximum participation. Finally, they will bring our submissions together, which will then be submitted to the next stage of the global synodal process. This particular synodal process is unique, as it is both a global and a local experience. Pope Francis is addressing the whole world and we want to do our very best to respond and involve as many people as possible. Given the expansiveness and importance of this project, we must give of our best.
So, where to from here? While we are at the ‘build’ stage, there is a Vatican website with more information about this whole process at: www.synod.va. Don’t panic about the Church language. All will become clear once we’re on the road. Our diocese will begin the local phase with an Opening Mass, at 6pm, Sunday 17 October, at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Everyone is welcome to attend. On that day each parish will also mark the beginning of this process during Sunday Eucharist. The actual synodal process will begin locally in November; and in January next year we will hold a pre-synodal meeting with representatives from across the diocese. Pope Francis is reaching out, inviting us to respond. This is an exciting opportunity and a wonderful responsibility for us all as Catholics to answer the Pope’s call to truly listen to one another and share voices from our diocese with our global Church in Rome in 2023.
Lastly, and most importantly, this new process will only bear fruit if we make it a prayerful experience and open ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May our good God bless you and your companions on the road.
Synod and the Archdiocese
On Sunday, 17 October 2021, Pope Francis invites every Catholic diocese in the world to celebrate the opening of the Synod of Bishops on the theme ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission’.
The word ‘synodality’ means journeying or ‘walking together’. We, ‘the People of God’, are invited to reflect together on what this mutual journey means for us as Church. This call is for every baptised person.
In the Archdiocese of Wellington, we have experienced the fruits of synodality, with our most recent Synod taking place in 2017. People in our parishes had the opportunity to participate in a process of discernment, which enabled us to listen to one another, and to reflect on what the Holy Spirit was saying. A similar process is being encouraged here.
The Vatican recently released two documents – the ‘Preparatory Document’ and the ‘Official Handbook’. These documents will help us to reflect, listen and share new ideas, energy and creativity. The documents are available online at www.synod.va
Synod’s fundamental question
A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together’: How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?
To help us explore this question, Pope Francis invites us all to reflect on ten themes: The Journeying Companions; Listening; Speaking out; Celebrating; Sharing Responsibility for the Mission; Dialogue in Church and Society; With the other Christian Denominations; Authority and Participation; Discerning and Deciding; Forming Ourselves in Synodality.
To respond, we are invited to reflect deeply on any experiences the fundamental question calls to mind. Where have we found joy, what difficulties have we encountered? Where, in those experiences, can we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? What is the Spirit asking of our Church?
Over the coming weeks, you are being invited to take part in this global synodal journey by taking the time to pray and reflect on the above themes – both individually and with others, and through the detailed information and materials that will be available through parishes, the archdiocesan website and social media pages. Everyone is encouraged to take part. People are also encouraged to find creative ways to connect with others in this process, for example with uni friends, coffee groups, family members and friends who may feel disconnected and so on. Submissions can be made online individually or by participating in a group.
The Synod of Bishops Opening Mass for the Archdiocese of Wellington will be celebrated on Sunday 17 October, 10am, at St Teresa’s Pro-Cathedral, Karori. Parishes all over the archdiocese will also celebrate the Synod’s opening that weekend.