Drawing on the guiding principles of his pontificate, Pope Francis this year invited Catholics both in the mainstream of Church life and on the margins to express their dreams, ideas and concerns in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in 2023.
The Pope’s invitation to discern a way forward for the Church stems from his belief that the Holy Spirit inspires all members to be missionary disciples, sharing fundamental Christian beliefs as they go out into the world.
The pope officially opened the synodal process at the Vatican on October 9-10. It was launched on October 16 and 17 in dioceses around the world.
Under the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”, the Pope called on the Church to practice synodality, that is, to listen to one another – and to get along – in all facets of Church Life, Coordinators of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Effort Explained.
The October opening “is just the first step in a larger, longer-term process to really incorporate the fruits of Vatican II and become a synodal church,” said Julia McStravog, a former employee. from the USCCB who is consulting with the bishops on the process. .
“We’re going to have a consultation. It’s also going to be a learning process on how to really engage synodally,” McStravog said.
The launch began a two-year journey that will culminate with the synod of bishops in October 2023. The synod is expected to adopt an outcome document that will guide the continued development of a synodal church in the future.
The pope’s call for synodality is rooted in his deep involvement as cardinal in 2007 in drafting a document on the life of the Church for the Latin American council of bishops, known as CELAM, its acronym in Spanish, which met in Aparecida, Brazil. The document made repeated calls for a “continental mission,” a church that seeks ways to take the gospel to all.
In the first ongoing phase, dioceses and parishes have begun to convene discussions, or consultations, in which people from across the Church have been invited to participate. The listening sessions will continue until June.
Each diocese is asked to submit a summary report to the USCCB or its appropriate episcopal conference office, which will then have until August 15 to present a report to the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.
The process presents opportunities to welcome the Holy Spirit to guide the discussions, said Richard Coll, executive director of the Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, which is coordinating the effort for the USCCB.
“The Synod of Bishops says not to focus on what the end product will be. Focus on the process itself and how the Spirit will guide the Church, represented in part by subsidiarity in the work that you do at the diocesan level,” said Coll.
Diocesan consultations are also an opportunity for creativity, McStravog added.
“It’s a time to be co-creators with Spirit. … It’s a chance to reinvigorate an engaged community through creativity and the call to be open. There’s a chance to reaffirm good and to reimagine some things that could be better,” she explained.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, echoed the pope’s call for creativity when addressing the fall general assembly of bishops in Baltimore in November.
“No one is unimportant in this time of listening,” he said, encouraging bishops to remember that the first phase of the process must involve the participation of the whole Church “listening together, praying together, discern together” the voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Pope Francis has asked us to invite people, to listen to people, including those who do not show up in our pews,” said Bishop Flores, who has started a three-year term as president of the Committee of Bishops on Doctrine at the close of the assembly.
He also described the synodal process as a “deliberate path and style of communion”.
To facilitate the effort, the Synod of Bishops, under the direction of Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General, has introduced documents to guide the work carried out in the dioceses. The USCCB followed by also developing an additional document.
The main Vatican document is a “vade-mecum,” or manual, offering support to diocesan teams “to prepare and gather the people of God so that they can give voice to their experience in their local church.”
The USCCB document further defines Vatican documents. It includes a checklist of actions, a suggested timeline for dioceses to follow, and a list of background documents to help parishes and dioceses through the initial process and ensure broad participation.
An addendum, compiled by the American Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, offers ideas for liturgical celebrations to mark the opening and closing of the synodal process in dioceses and suggestions for Bible readings and musical themes.
At the beginning of the first phase, several American prelates said that this effort was an opportunity to better involve people in the life of the church.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert W. McElroy said he expects the diocese to become more synodal in its functioning as the first phase unfolds, long before final conclusions are reached by the Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis in October 2023.
“I hope this is an opportunity for us not only to assess the level of synodality, which is already present in the life of our local church, but to take it forward dramatically,” he said. .
Meanwhile, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, convened a team of 260 delegates who were instructed to come out and meet the people in prayer. From church meetings at town hall to one-on-one conversations, delegates will hear people talk about their concerns, their hurts and their hopes, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re not trying to solve a problem. What we’re trying to do is discern the solution that’s already there. The Holy Spirit already knows what the solution is,” he said. -he declares.
For several other dioceses, the process will build on local synods that address local priorities, including young adults, family life and ministry to Latino members.
When the Vatican receives the summary reports of the diocesan meetings of the episcopal conferences around the world, the secretariat of the synod of bishops will draft by autumn 2022 the “instrumentum laboris”, or working document, to guide the continental ecclesial assemblies. or regional events that will take place by March 2023.
These assemblies will produce another series of documents that will help in the drafting of a second working document for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.