By Salvatore Cernuzio
“One listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit.”
To make the synodality desired by Pope Francis since the beginning of his pontificate concrete and visible, the next Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023, will not only be celebrated in the Vatican but in each particular Church of the five continents, following a three-year itinerary divided into three phases: diocesan, continental and universal.
An integral synodal process
The General Secretariat announced the new synodal itinerary on Friday in a document approved by the Pope.
“The fullness of the synodal process can only truly exist if the local churches are involved that process,” the document states. “For a genuine participation of the local churches, there also must be the involvement of other ecclesial bodies in this process, such as the Synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Councils and Assemblies of the Churches sui iuris, and Episcopal Conferences, with their own national, regional, and continental entities.”
A decentralised Synod
The Synod was conceived by Pope Paul VI as a way to continue the collegial experience of the Second Vatican Council. During the ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis expressed his desire for a common path for “laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome.” Now, for the first time, a "decentralised" Synod is being celebrated.
Solemn opening with the Pope in the Vatican
The synodal path will begin at the Vatican, in the presence of the Pope, on 9 and 10 October 2021 with a time for encounter and reflection, followed by a moment of prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist.
Diocesan phase: consultation and participation of the People of God
The particular Churches will begin their journey on Sunday, 17 October, under the presidency of the diocesan bishop.
The objective of this phase is the consultation of the People of God. To this end, the Secretariat of the Synod will send a preparatory Document accompanied by a Questionnaire and a Vademecum with proposals for carrying out the consultation in each particular Church. The same Document will be sent to Curial Dicasteries, Unions of Superiors and Major Superiors, unions or federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, Universities or Faculties of Theology.
Each bishop, before October 2021, will appoint a diocesan representative as a point of reference and liaison with the Bishops’ Conference; the Conference, in turn, will appoint a representative or team to coordinate with the General Secretariat of the Synod.
The diocesan discernment will culminate in a “Pre-Synodal Meeting.” The contributions will be sent to their own Episcopal Conference. The bishops, gathered in assembly for a period of discernment, will make a synthesis which they will send to the General Secretariat of the Synod. This first stage will be completed by April 2022.
Once the material has been obtained, the first Instrumentum laboris will be drafted, which will be published and sent to the particular Churches in September 2022.
Continental phase: dialogue and discernment
This will mark the beginning of the second, continental phase, scheduled to take place from September 2022 to March 2023.
The aim is to engage in a dialogue on the Instrumentum laboris. At the end of the their discussions, each continental grouping will draft a final document, which they will send to the General Secretariat in March 2023.
The Secretariat will then draft a second Instrumentum laboris, based on the responses. Publication is planned for June 2023.
Universal phase: the bishops of the world in Rome
The synodal journey will culminate in October 2023 with the celebration of the Assembly of Bishops in Rome, according to the renewed procedures established in 2018 by Pope Francis in the Constitution Episcopalis communio.