Participants in the Synod Continental Assembly for Oceania in Suva, Fiji Participants in the Synod Continental Assembly for Oceania in Suva, Fiji 

Journeying Together: Synodality in the Church

As Pope Francis celebrates the 10th anniversary of his pontificate, Professor Sandie Cornish offers an encouragement from Australia for the Church to persevere in the Pope’s invitation to “journey together” and bear witness to the inherent dignity of each and every person.

By Sandie Cornish*

The Synod presents an invitation to return to our sources and to engage freshly with the call of the Gospel today.

As the recent Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania Assembly recognised, some of the youngest Churches in the region are the most vibrant. They look directly to the early Church for inspiration, by-passing the accretions of centuries.

Synodality invites us all to consider what the early Church’s practices of walking together in discipleship, community, unity in diversity, and Spirit-led transformation, might mean for the Church today.

The First Peoples of Australia embody the world’s oldest continuous living cultures. They have much to teach us about right relationships with God, one another, and with the whole of creation.

Yet they have often been denied what Saint John Paul II described as “the happiness of being with God and each other in Aboriginal fashion” and have instead been made to feel like “people divided into two parts, as though an Aboriginal had to borrow the faith and life of Christianity, like a hat or a pair of shoes, from someone else who owns them” (Address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People at Alice Springs, 29 November 1986).

Today we recognise the presumption that European expressions of faith are normative as racism. The equal dignity of all persons is not a social principle that applies only outside the Church. Racism, sexism, and clericalism are wounds on the body of Christ that need healing.

Synodality calls us to conversion, proposing that the Church is a community on a journey towards truth. It affirms a baptismal, co-responsible and communal understanding of what it is to be Church, in which all the faithful share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions.

Conversion entails change. Being nourished and guided by Tradition does not preclude embracing the process of conversion to new actions, processes, and attitudes.

The sins and failings of our Church must be faced honestly, especially the criminal abuse of children and vulnerable adults. We need to leave behind anything that has proven to be inauthentic, anything that has fostered or protected such behaviour. We need to understand when new wineskins are required.

The synodal journey of ongoing conversion encourages us to become a Church that witnesses unambiguously to the equal dignity of each person and of all peoples, both within its internal life, and in its action in the world.

Reading the signs of our times in the light of the Gospel, we see that God’s action in the world is not restricted to the Catholic Church! A more synodal Church will be open to ecumenical and interfaith wisdom.

It will be open to wisdom from all branches of human knowledge, which continues to develop. It will be open to walking with all people of authenticity on a path of encounter, dialogue and accompaniment.

As we seek to be ever-closer followers of Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit on a journey to the Kingdom of the Father, we are not alone. All of creation participates in the mystery of salvation. All creatures “are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God … [and we are] called to lead all creatures back to their Creator” (Laudato Si’ n 83). Our listening and dialogue must include attentiveness to the earth, and all its creatures.

In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis stresses the need for a culture of encounter and dialogue in addressing the major issues of our world (n 215 – 221). Such a culture is also essential for the internal life of the Church, especially its governance and leadership. Thus openness, accountability, and transparency in Church decision-making, leadership, and governance were constant calls in the Synod consultations.

The internal health of the Church, and the effectiveness of its external witness, are inter-connected. In both cases, a culture of encounter and dialogue, and a spirituality of synodality will help us to walk together in faith.

* Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at the Australian Catholic University, and a member of the FCBCO Secretariat for the Suva Assembly

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13 March 2023, 08:00