Pope Francis is inviting Catholics worldwide to participate in the Synod on Synodality. He has specifically asked for them to reflect on their experiences with the Church. The theme of the synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”
• The word “synod” is rooted in Greek, meaning “same road” or “journeying.” A synod is a meeting of Church leaders and has a centuries-old history within Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. It caught on in the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, with bishops’ synods held every four years to discuss issues within the Church. The synod ultimately serves as a consultative body for the pope, with the Holy Father making the final decisions.
Pope Francis also has convened special synods in the past, including on topics such as the family, young people and the Amazon. Before each gathering, the pope has asked bishops to hold local listening sessions in their dioceses, and he has invited laypeople to participate in the bishops’ meetings in Rome.
• The two-year process for the Synod on Synodality began last October and will culminate with a gathering of bishops from all over the world in Rome in October 2023.
• How is this taking place at the local, national and international levels? A diocesan listening phase is currently taking place through April 2022, followed by a continental phase from September 2022 to March 2023 and finally a “universal Church phase,” culminating with the gathering of bishops in Rome in October 2023.
• Synodality is a way of thinking and being that reflects the truth that the Church is led by the Holy Spirit, who enables everyone to offer their own contribution to the Church’s life. It is also reflected in a synodal style of governance, in which people participate in decision making, share responsibility for the Church’s mission and cooperate in the day-to-day life of the Church. “The synod is an ecclesial event and its protagonist is the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said at the opening of the Synod last October. “If the Spirit is not present, there will be no synod.”
• The local Synod on Synodality coincides with All Things New, the archdiocese’s strategic pastoral planning initiative. Feedback from the Disciple Maker Index survey, along with interviews, listening sessions and targeted surveys, will be synthesized and included in a local synod report. That report will be joined with reports from dioceses worldwide and will contribute to the synod on a universal Church level.
Reaching the margins
Pope Francis has stressed on several occasions the need for the synod to involve everyone and to reach out to as many people as possible. Anyone who has been baptized is invited to participate. “Everyone has a part to play; no one is a mere extra … The synod is for everyone, and it is meant to include everyone … Let everyone come in … the Holy Spirit needs us. Listen to Him by listening to each other. Leave no one behind or excluded.”
• Who is invited? The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, immigrants, the imprisoned and those who have left the Church or are no longer active in their faith were among those groups whom Francis had in mind when he asked the Church to reach those on the peripheries.
• A local task force of archdiocesan leadership (including representation from laity, priesthood and permanent diaconate) is overseeing the creation of several discussion groups, which will be conducted in the coming months. Groups include the LGBT communities; interfaith leaders; parents of individuals who identify as transgender; people who have left the Church or are no longer active in their faith; communities of color and different cultural backgrounds; people who are incarcerated; and the poor, through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
• Groups will be asked
several questions, including:
Based on your personal experience, what about the Catholic Church fills your heart?
Based on your personal experience, what about the Catholic Church breaks your heart?
How can the Church better listen to people who are marginalized or socially excluded, including, but not limited to, cultural-ethnic groups, women, those living with disabilities, those experiencing poverty and those identifying as LGBTQ+?
Why this is
Father Mitch Doyen, one of the local task force members, noted that Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski sees the importance of undertaking the task of reaching out to marginalized groups in order to bear fruit for the Holy Father’s mission for the whole Church and the local Church.
“In my own prayer, I am understanding this as a response to Jesus’ first commission when He said to take this message of salvation to the ends of the earth,” said Father Doyen, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in St. Louis. “We imagine (the first apostles) going all over the world, carrying the Good News of salvation to every corner of the planet. But I don’t think that was all of what Jesus meant. He wants us to find those who are the edges of the human experience: those without power, without wealth, those who are on the edge. These are the groups the task force has identified.”
Evangelization is not simply bringing the gift of truth in a box with a ribbon on top, said Father Doyen. “We always bring Christ in us to encounter Christ who is dwelling in others,” he said. “Which means all of us will change.”
“The Holy Father is asking us to humbly engage in spiritual discourse, which is a way of communing that is deeper than a discussion,” he said. “He is inviting us to listen to one another in a way that the Holy Spirit leads us to become a new creation. If we truly encounter one another, the Spirit will lead us where we need to go.”
Sister Nancy Corcoran is involved in ministry related to people who identify as transgender, especially family members of transgender individuals. The Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet is planning a discussion with several family members that includes the questions for the synod process.
Sister Nancy said she has learned about unconditional love through her ministry to families, which primarily includes parents. “It’s for the people — for the parents — who are confused and angry and grieving; that’s who I am really ministering with,” she said. “All I do is listen. It is a ministry of accompaniment.”