Synod for a Synodal Church: dialogue, listening and discernment continue

Leaders of the continental stage of the Synod for a Synodal Church meet in Rome on Monday and Tuesday, providing them the opportunity of meeting directly with the Secretariat of the Synod guiding the process.

By Sr Bernadette Reis, fsp

On Monday morning, in the offices of the Secretariat of the Synod, a Meeting of the Presidents of the International Reunions of Episcopal Conferences and their Continental Taskforce Coordinators took place.

A representative of each continent presented specific information regarding the continental stage introduced by the Synod Secretariat on 27 October. For each territory – Asia, Africa, Oceania, North America, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe – information was presented regarding the people directly involved with the synodal process, as well as the dates already planned, the participants, objective and methodology being used to carry out the Continental Assemblies.

Feedback from various delegates demonstrated the heart of pastors voicing some pastoral concerns they have noted after having read the Working Document for the Continental Stage: the need to reach out to those in the military as well as their families, the need to develop a theology of God from the backdrop of the suffering so many are facing in the world today, and how the synodal process so far has provided Episcopal Conferences with a concrete forum through which to begin to understand the new vision Pope Francis is proposing for how to be Church.

Positive feedback was also communicated by Mauricio López, a member of the Commission on Methodology, who moderated the morning session. He noted that five months ago he perceived a hint of anxiety regarding the continental stage. After hearing the presentations from each of the continental territories, he now notes that there is more understanding of the direction the synod is going. He also expressed gratitude for the way he sees the methodology and tools proposed by Secretariat being embraced and concretized through the Continental Stage process.

Further dialogue on the Continental Document

Father Giacomo Costa, SJ, a Consultor of the General Secretariat of the Synod, who has been involved at all levels of the Synod process so far, as well as the drafting of the continental document, presented some aspects regarding the methodology the Secretariat is proposing for the Continental Stage assemblies. The purpose of the methodology proposed is that of fostering a dialogue with the Working Document for the Continental Stage being a springboard. This document that reflects the thousands of pages recording the consultation process at the parish and national levels, he said, has been offered to all the local Churches for further dialogue. Only after this further dialogue will it be presented to the Pope, and eventually to the Synod session.

Main guiding question

The Document itself, Father Costa further explained, is the fruit of the consultation of the People of God, rather than the basis of pastoral discernment to be enacted after the Synod or a sociological survey. Thus, the consultation process is still unfolding around the fundamental question, “How are the local Churches living and experiencing walking together, and where is the Holy Spirit leading us?” Hence, the methodology used seeks to bring out the particular experiences, intuitions and questions, and pastoral priorities at the level of the local Church throughout the world which will then contribute to the larger synod dialogue. The fruit of this dialogue will form the content of the documents that each continental Synodal Task Force will be send back to the Secretariat by 31 March 2023.

Type of discernment needed

This process, Fr Costa continued, requires the art of discernment, of being able to listen profoundly to what is actually being said, beyond the spoken words used. He then differentiated the two types of discernment needed in the synodal process. The type of discernment Bishops are called to exercise in this stage, he said, is guided by theology toward the end of helping them to listen and to understand what other questions need to be asked. This is a different type of discernment than the type that will later be required during the actual Synod Sessions when theology serves as an aid in discerning the application of theology to the experiences, intuitions and questions, and pastoral priorities that emerged during the Continental Stage.

Giving voice to the challenges

Adjunct Professor Susan Pascoe, a Member of the Synod Methodology Commission and the Taskforce for the Continental Stage, facilitated a discussion regarding the challenges the delegates have encountered during the process. Some of the challenges voiced are: the small minority of people who have participated so far; the challenge facing the Church regarding how she carries out her mission; the prevalence of personal piety rather than community-building practices and ritual; the vast amount of information, proposals and suggestions that makes synthesizing or coming to conclusions difficult; the need for a definition of “inclusive” regarding how the voices and views of non-Catholics or former Catholics is envisioned; misunderstanding that the consultation process is meant to grant all of the requests people are raising; bringing out the voices of women is a challenge particularly in those places where societies are still patriarchal; media interpretation of the synod from a sociological rather than ecclesiastical slant.

The morning session concluded with two short presentations – Synod Communications Director, Thierry Bonaventura, summarized various communications efforts and themes emerging from the synodal process; and Secretariat undersecretary Sr. Nathalie Becquart, presented the fundraising activity in view of subsidizing the Continental Assemblies.

In the end, Cardinal Grech addressed a few words of appreciation for the dialogue that had transpired throughout the morning. He also reflected on how fitting the Scriptural icon of Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10) proposed in the Preparatory Document has been. No matter the challenges that the Synodal process is raising, he reflected, the fundamental position is that of remaining attentive, like Saint Peter, to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who can even speak through a pagan.

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28 November 2022, 16:06