Synod on synodality: Harnessing 'sensus fidei fidelium'
By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis officially inaugurated the Synod for a Synodal Church on 10 October 2021. Local Churches throughout the world then began the lengthy consultation process which has been described as historic in terms of the number of people consulted throughout the entire world.
Then on 16 October 2022 he announced that the Synod would take place in two sessions, one in October 2023 and one in October 2024 in order to provide more time for discernment.
The General Secretariat of the Synod tasked with planning this Synod in all its facets and stages, is holding a Meeting of the Presidents of the International Reunions of Episcopal Conferences and their Continental Task Force Coordinators on the 28th and 29th of November. Adjunct Professor Susan Pascoe, a Member of the Synod Methodology Commission and the Task Force for the Continental Stage facilitated a discussion regarding the opportunities and challenges of the Continental Stage on Monday morning. In October, Prof. Pascoe addressed the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), updating the assembly on the Synodal process.
On the sidelines of the FABC General Conference, Prof. Pascoe and Dr. Christina Kheng, a Member of the Synod’s Methodology Commission, and member of the Faculty of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines, spoke with Vatican News regarding their experience of both the Consultation Stage of the Synod, and the meeting held in Frascati (near Rome) to draft the Working Document for the Continental Stage.
Learning synodality by doing
Dr Christina Kheng: “What has become very important to me is that as a Church, we are used to being ready with the answers or telling people what's right and what's wrong. But in this process of learning and doing synodality, everyone is learning as we go along. And sometimes it's trial-and-error. What's key about the sensus fidei fidelium is that theologically we know what it is. We can actually talk about it and describe it. But this is the first time we are actually trying to harness it even on a worldwide basis. We have the example of the Council of Jerusalem. That was the early Church with a relatively small number of people compared to what we have today.
“So, in a way, we are learning as we go along trying to find out what exactly are the methods and the processes to harness the sensus fidei fidelium. I admit that it has not been always a smooth process. We've had to adjust so many times. But the wonderful thing is that the adjustment does occur. At the very beginning when people asked for more time, the deadline was extended. And now we have even the surprise move to have two sessions of the meeting. And what's also going to be a surprise move is that people are now going to see the document for the continental stage. They're going to have a chance to give feedback, raise questions, and that's never been done before. So really, we are learning synodality by doing synodality.”
Working as one
Susan Pascoe: “What strikes me is that the people involved in this exercise – and it's a mixture of lay people, religious, priests, and of course we have Cardinals and Bishops as well – we're working as one. There's, as in civil terms, a flat structure. When we met together in Frascati, we were all around the same tables. The overpowering sense that there was, was that this is a critical moment in the life of the Church, that we are privileged to have been called to contribute. All of us, I think to a person, feel humbled by that calling and deeply grateful that we've been asked to contribute. And when we talked about it in Frascati, the words that kept coming up were that this was both a gift, and a responsibility.
“A gift in that the process at Frascati was one of deeply prayerful reflection, but reflection as a, if you like, a newly created community, and then moments together discerning as we went along. But we had a sustained prayerful state for 12 days. [It's] not very often in your life that you get that opportunity. So, there's the gift. And in terms of the responsibility, each of us felt I think an acute responsibility that we've been entrusted to bring forth the voices of the people of God. Our views were irrelevant. Any, there were a lot of experts there, I won't say their views were irrelevant, but our role was to draw forth the voices of the people of God. And what I think is so impressive is it was done prayerfully, it was done authentically, transparently, very robustly. So, it's a process that I think will stand the test of time. “
The Synod heroes
Dr. Christina Kheng . “One thing that impressed me very much is just the plethora of efforts and the creativity that we saw from people all over the world. If people admire the array of direct quotes and voices from the ground all over the world in all continents. I would really like to emphasize that the real heroes of this synodal process are the synodal teams. They are people who traveled far and wide, who worked for a long time to get to remote areas to bring the voices from the peripheries to the centre. There were people who did not travel physically, but had to travel a lot emotionally and socially to reach out to their friends or relatives who have left the Church who feel disenfranchised by the Church to persuade them to lend their voice to be consulted in this process. To me, these are the real heroes of this synodal process. And it's because of them that we have this rich and valuable array of voices from the field. Of course, much, much, much more has to be done and to be improved upon. Many people were not consulted, but I think it's a very good start and I hope it's a momentum that will keep going. The synodal journey has only just begun and let's keep going.
Authorized and invited to speak
Prof. Susan Pascoe: “So, as Christina said, we're really beginning a reanimation of the way that we are Church. There's a lot of reflection back to the early Church, and we know that wasn't perfect, and our efforts now are not perfect. But this is about deep engagement. It's about having both a doctrinal and a pastoral focus on the work that we do. I think we are really fortunate at this moment in history to have Pope Francis who's personally invested in this process. But also, there are some extraordinary Church leaders – we could list dozens of them at the moment – who are giving great leadership to the Church at this point in time. And it's a point in time where we know the leadership is needed.
“And just in terms of the idea of us moving towards the People of God having a voice, at the opening of the Synod on the 9th of October last year, Pope Francis, whose got a wonderfully poetic way of speaking, said baptism is your identity card. If you want to contribute to the life of the Church, it's for all of the baptized. And for me, he made good on that earlier, when in 2018 he wrote directly to the People of God. There’d been a lot of reports on sexual abuse within the Church, and he wrote this letter to the People of God, put it on the internet, it wasn't mediated through Church officials, basically saying we need you to step up and work within the Church, this has got to be all of the People of God to transform the Church from the perspective of the abuse. And the reason I think that's very important is that many people didn't feel authorized to speak in the past, and that was an authorization and the synodal journey is an invitation – you're both authorized and invited, and that's the open invitation for all of us.”
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