Back in October 2021, Pope Francis opened preparations for the 2023 Synod of Bishop’s Gathering in Rome which will focus on the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In simple terms, this Synod focuses on how we are operating and journeying as a Church in this third millennium.
The invitation that Pope Francis has extended to all inside and outside the Church, invites each person across the globe to reflect on their experience of Church and articulate their own sense of where God can be found in their community, their lives and, indeed, in the world at large.
The concept and language of Synodality is something new and perhaps difficult for many to understand, yet it offers great promise for the future in that it is grounded in an ancient way of being Church that stretches back to the earliest Church communities of the first millennium.
A Synodal Church is one that listens deeply, journeys with all God’s people regardless of their position in Church and society, and, most importantly, a Synodal Church respects the gifts we each have by virtue of our baptism and the fraternal bonds that this calls us to as Catholic Christians living in Community.
This Synod on Synodality represents the largest consultation of all God’s People in recent, if not all of Church history and, therefore, this unique moment is to be seen as special. The Diocese of Derry has taken Pope Francis’ invitation seriously and, after forming a Synodal committee, has developed a listening and consultation process that all parishes and communities have readily engaged in planning over the past few months.
There has been a series of webinars on Synodality that have been well attended across the Diocese, and four training days for Parish Synod facilitation teams have taken place in the Inishowen, Co Derry, Co Tyrone and Derry City Deaneries.
In March and April, across the Diocese of Derry, people from all walks of life are being asked to engage in spiritual conversations facilitated in each parish community. These conversations will call us to listen deeply to others, whilst speaking courageously and freely about our own experiences of Church. Invariably, such conversations will be challenging, and each person is called to encounter those who hold opinions vastly different from their own with humility and a deep sense of respect and reverence.
On commencing this journey, the Holy See in Rome produced a series of documents to help each Diocese and their communities on the journey to the October 2023 Synod. In one of those documents, the Vademecum, we are warned of the “The temptation to treat the Synod as a kind of a parliament” and that these conversations should not be treated as a “political battle in which, in order to govern, one side must defeat the other”. This Synodal pathway and the Synodal church it strives to create is one whereby the Holy Spirit is the agent and one whereby prayer, encounter and relationship are the primary characteristics.
My own experience of Synodality is one that stretches back to studies at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry with a Venezuelan theologian, Rafael Luciani, who has now been appointed to the theological Commission for this Synod convened by Pope Francis.
Like many I meet in the work I am now engaged in, the learning curve around Synod and the language of Synodality was a steep but graced one, and what strikes me most now is the fact that it was not in learning the vocabulary of Synodality, or the Theology that underpins it, that allowed me to grasp this way of being Church, but by walking the path in a diverse, open and faith filled community which was orientated to Sharing the Good News with all.
We have just celebrated the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Colmcille, Patron Saint of Derry Diocese, known as the dove of the Church. It strikes me that the community in Iona that St Columba founded saw the Holy Spirit not as a peaceful dove, but as a wild goose; a wild goose that disrupts, challenges and breaks the peace.
The Synodal pathway instituted by Pope Francis is only the beginning of a longer journey and the way ahead will surely be challenging as we endeavour to learn this new way of being Church, but it also offers hope and the promise of a vibrant and authentic way of living our Catholic Christian faith. I encourage all across the Derry Diocese to engage in the spiritual conversations in your parishes and invite you to welcome those you know and love who have, perhaps, stepped away from the Church.
To learn more about Synodality and the ability of all to sense where God moves in our lives you can access the International Theological Commission documents Synodality in the life and mission of the Church and Sensus Fidei in the Life and Mission of the Church by clicking the links below.
Click Here for Synodality in the life and mission of the Church
Click Here for Sensus Fidei in the Life and Mission of the Church
Janet Forbes is a member of the Irish Synodal Task Group and this article was originally published in the February edition of The Net which is the Derry Diocesan Newsletter