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Principles of Synodality

Principles of a Synodal Process

Who can participate?

Principles of a Synodal Process We see throughout the Gospels how Jesus reaches out to all. He does not only save people individually but as a people that he gathers together, as the one Shepherd of the entire flock (cf. John 10:16). The ministry of Jesus shows us that no one is excluded from God’s plan of salvation.

The work of evangelization and the message of salvation cannot be understood without Jesus’ constant openness to the widest possible audience. The Gospels refer to this as the crowd, composed of all the people who follow Jesus along the path and everyone that Jesus calls to follow him. The Second Vatican Council highlights that “all human beings are called to the new people of God” (LG, 13). God is truly at work in the entire people that he has gathered together. This is why “the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful, they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals” (LG, 12). The Council further points out that such discernment is animated by the Holy Spirit and proceeds through dialogue among all peoples, reading the signs of the times in faithfulness to the teachings of the Church.

In this light, the objective of this diocesan phase is to consult the People of God so that the Synodal Process is carried out through listening to all the baptized. By convoking this Synod, Pope Francis is inviting all the baptised to participate in this Synodal Process that begins at the diocesan level. Dioceses are called to keep in mind that the main subjects of this synodal experience are all the baptised. Special care should be taken to involve those persons who may risk being excluded: women, the handicapped, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people who live in poverty, Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith, etc. Creative means should also be found in order to involve children and youth.

Together, all the baptised are the subject of the sensus fidelium, the living voice of the People of God. At the same time, in order to participate fully in the act of discerning, it is important for the baptised to hear the voices of other people in their local context, including people who have left the practice of the faith, people of other faith traditions, people of no religious belief, etc. For as the Council declares: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (GS, 1).

For this reason, while all the baptized are specifically called to take part in the Synodal Process, no one – no matter their religious affiliation – should be excluded from sharing their perspective and experiences, insofar as they want to help the Church on her synodal journey of seeking what is good and true. This is especially true of those who are most vulnerable or marginalized.

A Process that is truly Synodal: Listening, Discernment, and Participation

The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment. It requires us to learn and exercise the art of personal and communal discernment. We listen to each other, to our faith tradition, and to the signs of the times in order to discern what God is saying to all of us. Pope Francis characterizes the two interrelated goals of this process of listening: “to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us.” (FRANCIS, Address at the Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015).

This kind of discernment is not only a one-time exercise, but ultimately a way of life, grounded in Christ, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, living for the greater glory of God. Communal discernment helps to build flourishing and resilient communities for the mission of the Church today. Discernment is a grace from God, but it requires our human involvement in simple ways: praying, reflecting, paying attention to one’s inner disposition, listening and talking to one another in an authentic, meaningful, and welcoming way.

The Church offers us several keys to spiritual discernment. In a spiritual sense, discernment is the art of interpreting in what direction the desires of the heart lead us, without letting ourselves be seduced by what leads us to where we never wanted to go. Discernment involves reflection and engages both the heart and head in making decisions in our concrete lives to seek and find the will of God.

If listening is the method of the Synodal Process, and discerning is the aim, then participation is the path. Fostering participation leads us out of ourselves to involve others who hold different views than we do. Listening to those who have the same views as we do bears no fruit. Dialogue involves coming together across diverse opinions. Indeed, God often speaks through the voices of those that we can easily exclude, cast aside, or discount. We must make a special effort to listen to those we may be tempted to see as unimportant and those who force us to consider new points of view that may change our way of thinking.

Attitudes for Participating in the Synodal Process

  • On various occasions, Pope Francis has shared his vision for what the practice of synodality looks like concretely. The following are particular attitudes that enable genuine listening and dialogue as we participate in the Synodal Process.
    • Being synodal requires time for sharing: We are invited to speak with authentic courage and honesty (parrhesia) in order to integrate freedom, truth, and charity. Everyone can grow in understanding through dialogue.
    • Humility in listening must correspond to courage in speaking: Everyone has the right to be heard, just as everyone has the right to speak. Synodal dialogue depends on courage both in speaking and in listening. It is not about engaging in a debate to convince others. Rather, it is welcoming what others say as a way by which the Holy Spirit can speak for the good of all (1 Corinthians 12:7).
    • Dialogue leads us to newness: We must be willing to change our opinions based on what we have heard from others.
    • Openness to conversion and change: We can often be resistant to what the Holy Spirit is trying to inspire us to undertake. We are called to abandon attitudes of complacency and comfort that lead us to make decisions purely on the basis of how things have been done in the past.
    • Synods are an ecclesial exercise in discernment: Discernment is based on the conviction that God is at work in the world and we are called to listen to what the Spirit suggests to us.
    • We are signs of a Church that listens and journeys: By listening, the Church follows the example of God himself, who listens to the cry of his people. The Synodal Process provides us with the opportunity to open ourselves to listen in an authentic way, without resorting to ready-made answers or pre-formulated judgments.
    • Leave behind prejudices and stereotypes: We can be weighed down by our weaknesses and sinfulness. The first step towards listening is freeing our minds and hearts from prejudices and stereotypes that lead us on the wrong path, towards ignorance and division.
    • Overcome the scourge of clericalism: The Church is the Body of Christ filled with different charisms in which each member has a unique role to play. We are all interdependent on one another and we all share an equal dignity amidst the holy People of God. In the image of Christ, true power is service. Synodality calls upon pastors to listen attentively to the flock entrusted to their care, just as it calls the laity to freely and honestly express their views. Everyone listens to one other out of love, in a spirit of communion and our common mission. Thus the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in manifold ways in and through the entire People of God.
    • Cure the virus of self-sufficiency: We are all in the same boat. Together we form the Body of Christ. Setting aside the mirage of self-sufficiency, we are able to learn from each other, journey together, and be at the service of one another. We can build bridges beyond the walls that sometimes threaten to separate us – age, gender, wealth, ability, education, etc.
    • Overcoming ideologies: We must avoid the risk of giving greater importance to ideas than to the reality of the life of faith that people live in a concrete way.
    • Give rise to hope: Doing what is right and true does not seek to attract attention or make headlines, but rather aims at being faithful to God and serving His People. We are called to be beacons of hope, not prophets of doom.
    • Synods are a time to dream and “spend time with the future”: We are encouraged to create a local process that inspires people, with no one excluded to create a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel. The following dispositions will help participants (cf. Christus Vivit):

    • An innovative outlook: To develop new approaches, with creativity and a certain audacity.
      Being inclusive: A participatory and co-responsible Church, capable of appreciating its own rich variety, embraces all those we often forget or ignore.
    • An open mind: Let us avoid ideological labels and make use of all methodologies that have borne fruit.
    • Listening to each and every one: By learning from one another, we can better reflect the wonderful multi faceted reality that Christ’s Church is meant to be.
    • An understanding of “journeying together”: To walk the path that God calls the Church to undertake for the third millennium.
    • Understanding the concept of a co-responsible Church: To value and involve the unique role and vocation of each member of the Body of Christ, for the renewal and building up of the whole Church.
    • Reaching out through ecumenical and interreligious dialogue: To dream together and journey with one another throughout the entire human family.

Give the Spirit the Mic!- A Strategy for Communal Discernment and Synodality

by Brian Grogan SJ

Brian Grogan is a Jesuit priest. Address: 35 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2.

A SYNODAL CHURCH (Part One)

As I write, the theme of the 2022 Synod has just been announced: ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission’. Synodality, understood as a pilgrim people walking along together and with God, is to be a constitutive dimension of the Church, with communal discernment as a central element. Already the documents from the Amazon Synod of 2020 encourage local communities to develop a participative style as they move along, and to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide them, lay and clergy, into ever-deepening fidelity to the gospel. Pope Francis has long been insistent, as throughout Evangelii gaudium, that communal discernment is the way forward for the People of God if they are to respond well to the emerging challenges of our world: the term recurs in that document some twenty times.

In one sense there is nothing new about synodality: in the OT the Hebrews walked along together in the wilderness, and they experienced the guiding hand of God who led them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (see Ex 13:21). The gospels too can be understood as synodal in that the disciples as a band of lay-persons, female and male, journeyed with Jesus (see Lk 8:1-3). Synodality brings us back to our identity as People of God, and opens new spaces for dialogue in the Church, with a new freedom that must be used responsibly. While it is still a largely unknown and mysterious concept both for Church leaders and the faithful, with its blossoming the Church will have come of age. The central insight, too easily overlooked, is that the ecclesial conversation involved must include God! This article stresses the crucial shift required if we are to take synodality seriously: from solely talking among ourselves about what we are to do we need also to engage directly with God to learn the divine will. This dimension of prayer may seem so obviously important as not to require mention, but how often does it happen?

let’s pause for a moment’s prayer!
Over the years I have come to think that many ecclesial meetings resemble those of a family gathered for a case conference concerning a seriously ill member. In their heartfelt concern for the patient the members spend the time discussing among themselves the gravity of the situation and its possible remedies while ignoring
the consultants who are present.

At many meetings I have attended – some of which I have led! – God may indeed be invited in, even if briefly, as when the Chair says: ‘Let’s pause for a moment’s prayer’. A brief silence falls and then the agenda takes over, with facts, preferences, debates and opinions; sometimes too with power plays followed by silences born not of peace but fear. Reference may or may not be made to specifically Christian values: someone may ask almost apologetically, ‘I wonder what God would want us to do?’ but the atmosphere may not be congenial to the unfolding of that question. An outsider might wonder what, if anything, distinguishes the meeting from that of a humanist group.

Eventually the Chair intervenes, summarises the discussion, asks for a show of hands, and may wrap up proceedings with a perfunctory Our Father or Glory Be. Over time a pattern of dull predictability emerges both in the style of the meetings and the conclusions, leading to passive aggression or absenteeism. Meeker members may feel they wouldn’t be missed by not showing up. Board meetings become ‘bored meetings’. Surprisingly, after such meetings a surge of energy may emerge that was absent or suppressed during the meeting itself. Is that, I wonder, the sad sigh of the Spirit who is moving on to a more fertile situation?

They talked among themselves
The all-too-human human approach sketched above echoes a recurring situation in the gospels: ‘the scribes were questioning in their hearts and discussing among themselves (Mk 2:8); an argument arose among the disciples (Lk 9:49; Mt 20:24); the Emmaus-bound disciples were talking with each other (Lk 24:13- 14); the Jews disputed among themselves about the bread of life (Jn 6:52).

The discussions between Jesus’ disciples when among themselves become graced only if and when the matter is referred to Jesus, who ‘knows their thoughts’ and who intervenes to reveal a divine value which transcends their divisions and misunderstandings. In the encounter with him liberating truth is achieved. So, for instance, the disciples learn with shock that in the kingdom of God the least in human reckoning is the greatest (Lk 9:49); that in the divine order of things it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer (Lk 24:26): and so forth.

My thoughts and your thoughts
The shift from the human to the divine level is demanding and requires much unlearning. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Is 55:8-9). Peter must have brooded long over Jesus’ criticism: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’ (Mt 16:23). Despite his good intentions Peter’s unredeemed mind-set is leading him in a way opposed to the kingdom of God. The challenge to conversion he faced is ours too. Like him we must grapple with the imagination of God, who has a disconcerting habit of thinking ‘outside the box’ as shown for instance in Samuel’s efforts to identify who should be anointed king of Israel: ‘Do not look on his (Eliab’s) appearance or on the height of his stature, for I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Sam:16:7).

As long as we remain confined in our own mind-sets we flounder through a meeting, and our conclusions have a hit-and- miss quality about them. Certainly a worthwhile meeting demands good preparation: we must laboriously gather the facts, identify options and so forth. But what happens next? How do we make our choices? At this point do we ask the Spirit to preside, so that our choices may be in tune with divine preferences? How can we become like the disciples who gather around the risen Lord, take to heart what they hear, and ‘bear fruit with patient endurance’ (Lk 8:15)?

They were afraid to ask him (mk 9:32)
Perhaps the elephant in the room is our fear to ask the Lord directly and upfront, ‘What are we to do?’ (see Acts 22:10). To do so would be so counter-cultural as to seem phoney, almost theatrical, like using a deus ex machina. Most of us, it has been said, are atheists before breakfast, but perhaps we remain so for the rest of the day! What does it mean to ask God directly to show us what to do?

Supposing God does not respond? Is it better to look for responses seemingly more reliable than; ‘I sensed God tugging me …’; ‘I feel unhappy about our proposal …’; ‘I felt God was more interested in Option X than Y’? Better to substitute some bright idea of our own, quote the latest book, launch a subtle attack on someone else’s point of view! But have you, like me, ever come away from a meeting with the disturbing feeling that you hadn’t said what you felt you should say? If so what was going on – were you by any chance ignoring a divine prompt, silencing the Spirit?

There is a contemplative quality about asking God to touch our hearts; to wait in silent prayer is demanding, as those who consistently try it well know. RS Thomas speaks of ‘the movement of a curtain’ as sometimes the only sign that God is at the far end of our prayer, and we evade the emptiness by saying, ‘We haven’t time for prayer, and there’s a lot to be done’.

Perhaps our faith is weak, so that we doubt this whole business of God speaking to human beings. Scripture is proclaimed as ‘The Word of the Lord’ and we respond, ‘Thanks be to God’. But we doubt that the word might be spoken to us and through us as the good news in the present tense. We accept that in scripture God is portrayed as speaking to a glorious variety of characters, but we may doubt that God might be trying to speak ‘upfront and personal’ with the likes of us, now. Is our self-image too low? Would we even want this to happen? Like Amos we may protest that we are not prophets, only herdsmen and dressers of sycamore trees, but the Lord may be saying to us – as Vatican II does, ‘Go, prophesy!’ (Amos 7:14-15). We are told that God likes doing new things: ‘I will make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known’ (Is 48:6). This however is disconcerting to the well-ordered and tidy-minded, so let’s not go there! But in M P Gallagher’s words, the world of change is the theatre of the Spirit.

Perhaps we have a poor grasp of the language God chooses to use with us? Does God really address us through our emotions, feelings, tugs, aversions, through the struggles and mood-wars of the heart, through consolation and desolation? Perhaps we so control our own lives that we have little experience of chatting with God about our choices? Does pride, fear of change or of loss of power sap our enthusiasm for such a conversation? Are we embarrassed about sharing what went on – or didn’t go on – during our prayer for fear it might reveal our inner poverty, our paper-thin sense of God?

Led by another
St Ignatius was known as strong-willed but a recent biographer emphasises that the later Ignatius was always ‘led by Another’. He had come to see that God wishes to deal directly with each of us, and he would make no decision without consulting with God, ‘as a wise and loving Father’. He had long been ignorant of the remarkable fact that God was addressing him through his feelings and emotions, but after he internalised God’s lessons on his alternating moods of consolation and desolation, he had no doubt that the real God is always online, working on our hearts, orchestrating all things and inviting each of us into service. His advice to his followers was that ‘they should keep God always before their eyes’: this is the contemplative stance. We are to be watching out for the beckoning of God, whether in the demands of the gospel, the calls of the Church, the signs of the times, or the inner stirrings of the heart. For Ignatius, Christian living worth the name is a following of God who is drawing us from out front and from the future into the mystery of the Kingdom: we are – all of us – to be ’led by Another’. There is radical joy in this, as pope Francis keeps reminding us: consolation is the prevailing resonance in the hearts of those who are trying to please God.

Spirit-led meetings
‘Bidden and unbidden, God will be present’ – so said the Delphic Oracle in the 5thc BC. A version of this quotation hung above C G Jung’s door in Switzerland, but it merits circulation at every meeting. It can remind each member that God is listening attentively to what is being said (see Mal 3:16; Jer 8:6). We can rightly say that the three divine Persons attend every meeting because decisions made at meetings shape our world for good or ill, and this world is the focus of intense divine concern. So the process of meetings must be so designed as to facilitate its members to encounter God and to struggle to harmonise with divine preferences.

A sense of mystery and anticipation grows with the belief that God will be present. Such meetings may be hard work but are never boring: encounters with the divine are not dull affairs! Gospel characters who met Jesus – the Samaritan woman at the well, Zacchaeus in his tree, the woman taken in adultery, the blind man – all were enlivened by the experience. The strategy outlined here sets up the possibility of such direct encounter with the Lord. When used well, it is found to liberate group energy, bring new life to meetings, and give participants the sense that the Holy Spirit truly does ‘speak to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7 etc). Even we Jesuits use it on occasion!

We can call this strategy a Spirit-led conversation, because it puts the Spirit at the centre. When all the relevant facts are to hand and the issue is boiled down to ‘What will we do?’ the group hands the Holy Spirit the mic! This cuts out endless opinion- airing and contradictory views, and ensures that everyone can be heard, because equal weight is given to the contribution of each. Instead of trying to hold to predetermined positions each tries to cultivate openness and uncertainty, in anticipation of the Spirit’s preferred option. Faced with the mystery of God, each becomes a learner; status and rank have no priority; each contributes humbly and tentatively what they sense God may be asking. Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is apposite here: ‘I am only a little child: I do not know how to go out or come in…Give your servant therefore an understanding mind’ (1Kg 3:9; also Wisdom of Solomon 9). We seek ‘the wisdom that comes from above’ (James 3:17). We make an act of faith that the God who created and sustains us is also committed to leading us to what is best. In asking the Spirit to animate the meeting, we will be gifted with a new awareness of the closeness of God in our lives.

A SYNODAL CHURCH (Part Two)

A SPIRIT-LED EXERCISE IN DISCERNMENT

So much for preliminaries: it is time to see our strategy in practice. A Leader is presumed.
Agenda: The particular agenda of any Christian meeting for communal discernment will flow from the group’s desire to ‘seek the kingdom of God’ (Lk 12:31) or as Pope Francis puts it, ‘We are united by the new commandment that Jesus left us, by the pursuit of the civilisation of love’ (Beloved Amazon 109).

Format: While I have set out below a number of steps the format must not be rigid but allow for flexibility and variation as occasion, time and the capacity of participants demand. Communal discernment can be a very human and untidy event, though conducted under the guidance of the Lord of history. In Making Good Decisions I offer a variety of practical examples of what actually went on.(Brian Grogan: Making Good Decisions. Dublin; Veritas 2015, pp 233-252.) The two core points are

  • that solid time is given to praying privately over the issue in question:
  • that the members report back on what went on in that prayer instead of simply resuming discussion of what each thinks should be done.

It was at one of these meetings that the phrase was coined, ‘Give the Spirit the mic!’ – to call contributors back to the task in hand when they were getting stuck in the groove of their personal agendas. In other words, ‘Don’t tell us what YOU were thinking about, but what GOD seemed to be whispering to you about the issue.’ Gentle humour works well!

Step One: The Leader welcomes the members, reminding them of the procedure, discussed beforehand, which will be followed. Then the time-commitment is set. A period of prayer to the Holy Spirit follows, each member asking to be open to the Holy Spirit, who is poured into our hearts (Rm 5:5) and waiting to speak with us (Rev 2:7). The image of Elijah waiting for the still small voice can be helpful (1Kg 19:12). (Time: 15 mins).

Step Two: Preparatory work may already have been done on the issue, so that the members are up to speed on the issue. Now the latest update on the facts is given, with clarifications as needed. The options should be taken singly; Yes or No to each. Many years ago I assisted at a discernment on the Option: ‘Should we buy a formation house in a very poor area?’ The listing of factors for and against the option united the group in common concern, and wonderfully concentrated the mind, as Samuel Johnson remarked about a prisoner being told that he is to be hanged in a fortnight.

When the Pro/Con listing is complete the communal discernment is ready to begin. The group is divided, ideally about six to a group to allow enough time for sharing. A suitable mix of personalities helps: each sub- group chooses a Chairperson who orchestrates its proceedings (15 mins)

Step Three: Everyone finds a suitable prayer space, asking the Spirit to enlighten them on the choice to be made. The focus is to be on what goes on in heart rather than head: heart is understood as the privileged place in which God meets each individual (15 minutes or more as time allows).

Step Four: The sub-groups gather in separate rooms and each person shares briefly what came up for them in the time of prayer. Everyone is encouraged to speak: the ‘small people’ so beloved of Jesus may otherwise be overawed by the fact that the PP or even the bishop is present! Who knows through whom the Spirit may choose to speak? God used the jawbone of an ass, wielded by Samson, to achieve divine purposes (Judges 15:16) (5 mins per person, total about 30 mins)

In this stage the Chair’s task is to gently but firmly concentrate the focus on what is heart-felt rather than heady; e.g., ‘We’ll come back to that idea later, but had you any sense of attraction to either side of the option?’ Responses might run as follows: ‘I felt that God might be saying …’ ‘I was against the idea at first but it warmed up for me.’ ‘I felt energy for the option, even though it would be demanding.’

Each sharing is followed by a silent pause without interventions.

Step Five: When everyone has spoken, a silent space follows in which each reflects prayerfully on what touched them when the others were sharing. Each then shares the fruit of this reflection (30 mins).
Again, no comments. Each is listening out for the whisper of the Spirit through the various contributions.

Step Six: The Chair thanks the members for trying to allow the Spirit’s voice be heard through them, and invites suggestions on where the group seems to be beckoned, and what it wants to report back to the plenary. Clarifications may lead toward consensus (15 mins or more)

Step Seven: A plenary session. The Leader searches for signs of consensus – unity, peace, consolation, energy, joy and a growth in love for God and neighbour.

Ideally agreement will emerge on what to do next. This will involve, if required, submission of the agreed proposal to a higher authority, and consultation of others affected by the proposal. Time for confirmation of the intended action is important. Feasibility Studies, Action Plans, Pilot Projects would follow.

A brief reference to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) may help the participants to realise that what has just gone on is linked to what went on in the Early Church. The same Spirit is at work. The issue then was whether gentiles had to be circumcised, as in Jewish tradition, before being baptised. The Spirit brought unity to the divided Church and led it into freedom, apostolic commitment, mission and joy. Ideally this present group can also say, ‘It has seemed good to the Holy spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28) (30 mins)

Conclusion: Much could be added to flesh out the intricacies of communal discernment: the importance of believing that God is fully engaged; the need for inner freedom and a pure desire for God’s will; the ability to listen well to others’ hearts as well as one’s own; the capacity to avoid one’s hidden agendas; the recognition of true consolation, of which the paradigm is Jesus who managed through thick and thin to ’please the Father’ (Jn 8:29); the willingness to exercise the prophetic gift of trying to articulate the promptings and nudging’s of the Spirit; and much more. (For a detailed examination of the dynamics of meetings see Brady, P & Grogan B: Meetings Matter: Spirituality and Skills for Meetings. Dublin; Veritas, 2009.) The process mapped out above is unequivocally Spirit-centred – an act of faith in God’s graced guidance. It supposes that the still small voice of the Spirit can be heard when we silently wait for God. When Elijah came out of his cave God spoke with him: we too need to get out of our caves and stand unprotected on the mountain, so that God’s grace may illuminate our dull minds and soften our shrivelled hearts. When the meeting goes well, the members will experience for themselves ‘the burning of heart’ that came to the Emmaus couple when Jesus was talking to them on the road (Lk 24:32).
The process ‘works’!

Postscript
Learning from the Amazon Synod, October 2019
It would be enriching to learn the process used in the recent Synod. It included formal and liturgical prayer; doubtless too the participants gave time to private prayer. One hopes that the crowded schedule allowed for the key elements of personal prayer followed by a sharing of its fruits.

A great deal of knowledge was made available and required serious study. In an atmosphere that was open and frank, Francis would have demanded of his fellow-bishops ‘a continuous and profound conversion of hearts, possible only with the grace of the Holy Spirit’. This call to conversion echoes his own story of being ‘a sinner yet mercifully chosen’: through it he came to an extraordinary level of inner freedom.

While Pope Francis’ Beloved Amazon is a disappointment to many good people, it reveals that communal discernment is not a DIY event, nor is it accomplished by a majority vote, nor yet is it a deal-making or a Win/Lose dynamic. Rather than being neatly wrapped up it may be spread over considerable time. It may also involve the graced emergence of a higher viewpoint: participants who in good faith differ from one another may find, sooner or later, that God is offering a greater gift than either side had hoped for. ‘The Spirit can work amid differences’ (108) and opposing approaches can be resolved on a higher plane. Humble prayer can open up a creative vista in which the right step forward is revealed by ‘overflow’ in Pope Francis’ happy term (105). This overflow of grace may weave the conflicting values into a surprising synthesis, thus enabling consensus or even unanimity to emerge. We may hope that Pope Francis is waiting for one of these ‘overflow’ moments when ‘authentic solutions’ will be shown us by God in regard to the neuralgic issues of deaconesses and the ordination of suitable married men.

 

Glossary of Terms related to the Synod

Authority
The New Testament uses a specific term to express the power Jesus received from the Father to grant salvation, which He exercises over all creatures in the power (δύναμις) of the Holy Spirit: έξουσία (authority). It consists in imparting the grace that makes us “children of God” (cf. John 1,12). The Apostles receive this έξουσία from the risen Lord, who sends them to teach the nations by baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all He has commanded (cf. Matthew 28,19-20). By virtue of baptism, every member of the People of God is given a share in this authority, having received the “anointing of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 John 2,20.27), having been taught by God (cf. John 6,45) and having been guided “to the complete truth” (cf. John 16,13). (ITC, Syn., no. 17)

There is to be no distance or separation between the community and its Pastors – who are called to act in the name of the only Pastor – but a distinction between tasks in the reciprocity of communion. A synod, an assembly, a council cannot take decisions without its legitimate Pastors. The synodal process must take place at the heart of a hierarchically structured community. In a diocese, for example, it is necessary to distinguish between the process of decision-making through a joint exercise of discernment, consultation and co-operation, and decision-taking, which is within the competence of the Bishop, the guarantor of apostolicity and Catholicity. Working things out is a synodal task; decision is a ministerial responsibility. A correct exercise of synodality must contribute to a better articulation of the ministry of the personal and collegial exercise of apostolic authority with the synodal exercise of discernment on the part of the community. (ITC, Syn., no. 69)

Baptism and Confirmation
Baptism is the sacrament by which we enter into the People of God, freed from original sin and adopted as sons and daughters of God in Christ. Baptism is the fundamental identity of all the faithful, including priests, religious, and lay people. Pope Francis describes the mission of every baptized person as that of being a missionary disciple in the midst of the People of God, to bring the light of the Gospel to every corner of the world.

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.

Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for? (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 120)
Confirmation is the sacrament by which the faithful receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, we become fully equipped for the mission entrusted to us at our baptism. The Spirit poured out upon us enables us to live ever more deeply our primordial vocation as sons and daughters of God who cry out “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15) We are not only called to live out our call as sons and daughters of God, but also to invite others into this filial relationship with the Father in Christ, of which the Holy Spirit makes us partakers.

Charisms
The Lord’s έξουσία (authority) is expressed in the Church through the variety of spiritual gifts (τα πνευματικά) or charisms (τα χαρίσματα) the Spirit shares out among the People of God for the upbuilding of the one Body of Christ. In exercising them we need to respect an objective τάξις, so that they can develop in harmony and bear the fruit they are meant to bear for the good of all (cf. 1 Corinthians 12,28-30; Ephesians 4,11-13). The Apostles have the first place among them – with a special and pre-eminent role being attributed by Jesus to Simon Peter (cf. Matthew 16,18f., John
21,15ff.): they, in fact, are entrusted with the ministry of guiding the Church in fidelity to the depositum fidei (1 Timothy 6,20; 2 Timothy 1,12.14). But the term χάρισμα also evokes the gratuitous and varying character of the free initiative of the Spirit, who grants each one his or her own gift with a view to the general good (cf. 1 Corinthians 12,4-11; 29-30; Ephesians 4,7), always in terms of mutual submission and service (cf. 1 Corinthians 12,25): since the highest gift, the one that regulates them all, is love (cf. 1 Corinthians 12,31). (ITC, Syn., no. 18)

Church: Taking up the ecclesiological perspective of Vatican II, Pope Francis sketches the image of a synodal
Church as “an inverted pyramid” which comprises the People of God and the College of Bishops, one of whose members, the Successor of Peter, has a specific ministry of unity. Here the summit is below the base.

“Synodality, as a constitutive element of the Church, offers us the most appropriate interpretative framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself…. Jesus founded the Church by setting at her head the College of Apostles, in which the Apostle Peter is the ‘rock’ (cf. Matthew 16,18), the one who must “confirm” his brethren in the faith (cf. Luke 22,32). But in this Church, as in an inverted pyramid, the top is located below the base. Consequently, those who exercise authority are called ‘ministers’, because, in the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all”[68]. (ITC, Syn., no. 57)

Consensus
Consensus in the context of the Synodal Process does not mean uniformity or a democratic majority. This would ignore the fact that the Holy Spirit can speak through the words of one single member of the People of God or a small group. Rather, consensus in synodal key refers to the process of listening to one another in order to discern the common path that God is calling us to in a spirit of communion, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Consultation
In previous Synods, consultation was sought by means of questionnaires that were circulated among the faithful prior to a gathering of the Synod of Bishops in Rome on a particular topic. This current Synod seeks to broaden the experience of “consultation” in order to move towards a more synodal Church that more fully listens to and engages the entire People of God. In this way, “consultation” is now taking the form of a wider “participation.” The Synod of Bishops in Rome is no longer the sum total of the experience of Synodality in the Church, but rather the culmination of a long process by which the voice of the Spirit resounds throughout the whole Church, at the diocesan, national, continental, and universal levels.

Communion
Synodality is a living expression of the Catholicity of the Church as communion. In the Church, Christ is present as the Head united to His Body (Ephesians 1,22-23) in such a way that she receives from Him the fullness of the means of salvation. The Church is Catholic also because she is sent to all, in order to gather the entire human family in the richness of the plurality of cultural forms, under the Lordship of Christ and in the unity of His Spirit. The synodal path expresses and promotes her Catholicity in two ways: it shows the dynamic way in which the fullness of faith is shared by all members of the People of God and it assists in handing it on to all people and all peoples. (ITC, Syn., no. 58)

Diocesan Pre-Synodal Meeting
Each local Church culminates the diocesan phase with a Diocesan Pre-Synodal Meeting. This gathering provides the opportunity for diverse members of the diocese to come together for a liturgical celebration, to pray together, to reflect on their experience of the Synodal Process in the diocese, to listen the feedback that has been raised, to dialogue about the current reality of the local Church and the signs of the times, and to discern the Spirit’s call for the diocese in relation to its growth in synodal conversion. While much of the consultation process during the Diocesan Phase might have occurred within specific communities of the local Church, such as parishes, ministries, youth and other groups, the objective of the Diocesan Pre-Synodal Meeting is to bring together a representative cross-section of the whole diocese, including minority groups and those on the peripheries, and enable participants to listen, reflect, and discern together. Thereafter the outcome of the meeting should be part of the diocesan synthesis, as described in Part 4 of the Vademecum.

Diocesan Synodal Team
The role of the Synodal team is to implement, coordinate, and oversee the diocesan phase of the Synodal Process under the leadership of the local Bishop, collaborating with the Diocesan Contact Person(s). The synodal team must plan the listening sessions to be carried out on the local level to ensure the widest participation possible including those on the margins. Special efforts must be made to engage those who are seldom listened to in the Church. The Synodal team organises any gatherings, events, and meetings that coincide with the Synodal Process. The goal is to create an authentic experience of synodality at the local level. Upon the completion of the listening sessions, the Synodal team is responsible for elaborating the diocesan synthesis on the basis of the experiences and feedback received from all those who participated.

Discernment
The Synodal Process entails a discernment process oriented towards consensus. We listen to each other in order to discern what God is saying to all of us. This kind of discernment is not only a one- time event, but ultimately a way of life, grounded in Christ, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, living for the greater glory of God. Communal discernment helps to build flourishing and resilient communities for the mission of the Church today. Discernment is a grace from God, but it requires our human involvement in simple ways: praying, reflection, paying attention to one’s inner disposition, listening and talking to one another in an authentic, meaningful, and welcoming way. Discernment in this spiritual key plants seeds that can bear the fruits of fraternity, healing, communion, mission, and more. God comes to lead and inspire us as we seek to discern His will.

Ecclesial
Synodality is the path of journeying together that corresponds to the deep nature of the Church. In this sense, any Synodal Process is deeply ecclesial since it is rooted in the nature of the Church and necessarily involves the common journey of the People of God. Walking together in a synodal way calls us to deeper communion with one another, moving towards an ever fuller participation in the mission we share. For this journey together, a vital principle is “sentire cum Ecclesia: to feel, sense and perceive in harmony with the Church. This is required not just of theologians, but of all the faithful; it unites all the members of the People of God as they make their pilgrim journey. It is the key to their ‘walking together.'” (ITC, Syn., no. 56) We do not walk the synodal path alone, as isolated individuals, parishes, or dioceses. Rather, synodality is the journey of the entire Church all together, which is experienced and lived out across the whole of God’s people.

Episcopal
The greek term episkopos is used in the New Testament to refer to one who has “oversight” of the flock of God. The leaders in the early Christian communities were the successors of the apostles, and this apostolic succession continues to this day in the bishops who are appointed in the Catholic Church. “Bishops exercise their specific apostolic authority in teaching, sanctifying and governing the particular Church entrusted to their pastoral care at the service of the mission of the People of God.” (ITC, Syn., no. 56) “Episcopal” thus refers to the mission of the bishop, who guides the flock of Christ entrusted to his care amid the communion of the entire Church. The bishop is not meant to be the summit of a pyramid, but rather the servant of the faithful entrusted to his care. Episcopal conferences are the collegial body of bishops at a national or international level to promote fraternity among bishops and unity across local Churches.

Instrumentum Laboris
The Instrumentum Laboris is the “Working Document” that is used as the basis for the discussions, interventions, and exchanges that take at the Synod of Bishops. It is a document published by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. Unlike previous Synods, the current Synodal process will involve two versions of the Instrumentum Laboris. One version will be published after the listening phase at the diocesan level has been synthesized at the national level. This first draft will then serve as the “Working Document” for the meetings that will take place at the continental level. Based on the work of the continental phase, a second draft of the Instrumentum Laboris will then be published, which will serve as the basis for the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.

Local Church
In the context of the Synodal Process, “local Church” refers to each diocese, eparchy, ordinariate, and equivalent ecclesial body. The local Church is the first level on which synodality is exercised, encompassing parishes, ministries, movements, and other communities. Here “the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy People in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which the Bishop presides, surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers”[90]. (ICT, Syn., no. 77) The historical, linguistic and cultural links that mould interpersonal communication in the local Church and describe its particular features facilitate the adoption of a synodal style in its daily life and are the basis for effective missionary conversion. In the local Church Christian witness is embodied in specific human and social situations, which allows for an incisive initiation of synodal structures which serve mission. As Pope Francis has emphasized, “only to the extent that these organizations keep connected to the ‘base’ and start from people and their daily problems, can a synodal Church begin to take shape”[91]. (ITC, Syn., no. 77)

Listening
Pope Francis has affirmed that: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens. […] The faithful People, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other; and all listening to the Holy Spirit.” The International Theological Commission explained this central role of listening as follows (ICT, Syn., no. 111):

Synodal dialogue depends on courage both in speaking and in listening. It is not about engaging in a debate where one speaker tries to get the better of the others or counters their positions with brusque arguments, but about expressing whatever seems to have been suggested by the Holy Spirit as useful for communal discernment, at the same time being open to accepting whatever has been suggested by the same Spirit in other people’s positions, “for the general good” (1 Corinthians 12,7).

Mission
The dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium sets out a vision of the nature and mission of the Church as communion, with the theological presuppositions of a suitable re-launch of synodality: the mystical and sacramental conception of the Church; her nature as People of God on pilgrimage through history towards the heavenly homeland, in which all her members are by virtue of baptism honoured with the same dignity as children of God and appointed to the same mission; the doctrine of sacramentality of the episcopate and collegiality in hierarchical communion with the Bishop of Rome. (ITC, Syn., no. 40)

Parrhesia
Parrhesia refers to the boldness that the coming of the Holy Spirit brought about in the hearts of the apostles at Pentecost. It is the inner courage that sent them out to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Lord without fear in the days of the Early Church. The Spirit offers us this same boldness to carry out the mission of the Church today. Parrhesia is required in the Synodal Process so that we can speak boldly and listen humbly, inspired by the Holy Spirit as we journey forward towards this “new phase of evangelization” to which God calls us (cf. ITC, Syn., no. 121) The parrhesía of the Spirit required the People of God on its synodal journey is the trust, frankness and courage to “enter into the expanse of God’s horizon” in order to “ensure that a sacrament of unity exists in the world and that man is therefore not destined for dispersion and confusion”[169]. The lived and enduring experience of synodality is, for the People of God, a source of the joy promised by Jesus, a catalyst of new life, the springboard for a new phase of missionary commitment. (ITC, Syn., no. 121)

Participation
A synodal Church is a Church of participation and co-responsibility. In exercising synodality she is called to give expression to the participation of all, according to each one’s calling, with the authority conferred by Christ on the College of Bishops headed by the Pope. Participation is based on the fact that all the faithful are qualified and called to serve each other through the gifts they have all received from the Holy Spirit. The authority of Pastors is a specific gift of the Spirit of Christ the Head for the building up of the entire Body, not a delegated and representative function of the people. (ITC, Syn., no. 67)

The distinction between deliberative and consultative votes must not allow us to underrate the opinions expressed and votes made in various synodal assemblies and councils. The expression votum tantum consultivum, which indicates the weight of evaluations and proposals in such august assemblies, is inadequate if it is understood according to the mens of civil law in its various expressions [81].

The consultation that takes place in synodal assemblies is actually different, because the members of the People of God who take part in them are responding to the summons of the Lord, listening as a community to what the Spirit is saying to the Church through the Word of God which resonates in their situation, and interpreting the signs of the times with the eyes of faith. In the synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyse, dialogue, discern and offer advice on taking pastoral decisions which correspond as closely
as possible to God’s will. So, in coming to formulate their own decisions, Pastors must listen carefully to the views and experiences of the faithful. Canon law stipulates that, in certain cases, they must act only after having sought and obtained the various opinions according to juridically established procedures [82]. (ICT, Syn., no. 68) At the same time, the path of synodality requires much wider participation than only that which is required by the law. People of God

The Second Vatican Council focused on the Church as the “People of God.” This makes clear that the Church is not only a hierarchical structure, but a people on pilgrimage together, guided by God on its journey. God brings us into unity with one another as He draws us into union with Himself: “God does not make men and women holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.” (Lumen Gentium, 9) This people was first made manifest in Israel, whom God chose as His own and with whom he established his first covenant. In Jesus Christ, entry into the People of God has been extended to every people and nation: “Go therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). God invites all peoples to be part of the people that is particularly his own: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10) The mission of the Church is to gather the People of God throughout its journey through history in view of the Kingdom of God. In this sense, the Church is the sign and instrument of “intimate union with God and the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1). The Church is at the service of the mission of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who brings all of humanity together in himself: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

Power
The New Testament uses a specific term to express the power Jesus received from the Father to grant salvation, which He exercises over all creatures in the power (δύναμις) of the Holy Spirit: έξουσία (authority). It consists in imparting the grace that makes us “children of God” (cf. John 1,12). The Apostles receive this έξουσία from the risen Lord, who sends them to teach the nations by baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all He has commanded (cf. Matthew 28,19-20). By virtue of baptism, every member of the People of God is given a share in this authority, having received the “anointing of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 John 2,20.27), having been taught by God (cf. John 6,45) and having been guided “to the complete truth” (cf. John 16,13). (ITC, Syn., no. 17)

In terms of re-vitalising synodal practice on the level of the universal Church, Blessed Paul VI instituted the Synod of Bishops. It is a “permanent Council of Bishops for the universal Church”, directly and immediately subject to the power of the Pope, “providing information and offering advice”, which “can also enjoy the power of making decisions when such power is conferred upon it by the Roman Pontiff”[41]. This institution aims to continue to extend to the People of God the
benefits of communion lived during the Council. (ITC, Syn., no. 41)

Sensus fidei
The anointing of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the sensus fidei of the faithful [65]. “In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization. The People of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible in credendo. This means that it does not err in faith, even when it cannot find words to explain that faith. The Spirit guides it in truth and leads it to salvation. As part of His mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively”[66]. This connaturality shows itself in a “sentire cum Ecclesia: to feel, sense and perceive in harmony with the Church. This is required not just of theologians, but of all the faithful; it unites all the members of the People of God as they make their pilgrim journey. It is the key to their ‘walking together.'”[67] (ITC, Syn., no. 56)

The Second Vatican Council took a decisive step forward towards the importance of the Church reading the “signs of the times.” This means that the Church does not carry out her mission in a vacuum, detached from the realities of the world around her. Rather, the Church is sent out in the midst of the world, in order to unite men and women of every time and place to God and one another. The Church must therefore be attentive to the needs, realities, and concerns of the world in every era in order to carry out her mission in the service of humanity. The Church must thus read the signs of the times in the light of the faith, in order to discern how God is calling her to respond amid the circumstances and events of every period of time. Ultimately, reading the signs of the times is a means of realizing the profound solidarity between the Church and humanity: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” (Gaudium et Spes, 1)

Synod: The Synod is “the programme of those synodal events in which the Church is called together by the competent authority in accordance with the specific procedures laid down by ecclesiastical discipline, involving the whole People of God in various ways on local, regional and universal levels, presided over by the Bishops in collegial communion with the Bishop of Rome, to discern the way forward and other particular questions, and to take particular decisions and directions with the aim of fulfilling its evangelising mission.” (ITC, Syn., no. 70)

Synodal Process
Synodality is not so much an event but an ongoing path and process. The Synodal Process that is currently being undertaken by the Church involves the entire People of God. It begins with a diocesan phase, which has been detailed in this Vademecum, followed by a national phase, continental phase, and finally a culminating phase of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Synodality
Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.” Pope Francis describes a synodal Church as a “listening Church knowing that listening is more than feeling. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. We must all listen to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Truth to know what the Spirit is saying to the Church. […] This is what the Lord expects from the Church of the third millennium.” (Address at the commemoration of the 50 th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015) Synodality creates the opportunity to listen to all and provide opportunities to listen to the Holy Spirit and the People of God in order to discern together and walk forward on a common path. Pope Francis understands this as walking together and accompanying each other on the spiritual journey to live out our call to mission in communion with one another.

Vocation of All the People of God: This vocation of all the People of God, the community of believers in Jesus Christ, is to bring about the Kingdom of God. All members of the Church, laity, religious, and clergy according to their proper charisms and roles collaborate in the responsibility for fulfilling its mission. Vatican Council II urged active involvement in the life of the church by emphasizing the principles of collaborative responsibility, consultation and lay participation. The laity have an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church, their activity is so necessary within church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness. (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 10)

Pastors also know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world. On the contrary they understand that it is their noble duty so to shepherd the faithful and recognize their service and charismatic gifts that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart. (Lumen Gentium, 30)

Vademecum: The Vademecum is a handbook to support the efforts of all of the People of God to contribute to the listening and discernment that is the foundation for the Synod on Synodality. It is a stimulus and a practical guide offering ideas for those appointed as a diocesan (or parish) contact person or team, mindful that each local Church has its own culture, traditions, recent history, and resources.

Vatican II

Pope John XXIII convoked the twenty-first ecumenical council in the history of the Church, which gathered all the bishops of the world between 1962 and 1965 at the Vatican. In the opening address of the Council, John XXIII characterised its purpose in this way: What is necessary today is that the whole of Christian doctrine, with no part of it lost, be received in our times by all with a new fervour, in serenity and peace, in that traditional and precise conceptuality and expression which is especially displayed in the acts of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I. […] What is needed is that this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which loyal submission is due, be investigated and presented in the way demanded by our times. For the deposit of faith, the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, are one thing; the fashion in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgement, is another thing. This way of speaking will require a great deal of work and, it may be, much patience: types of presentation must be introduced which are more in accord with a teaching authority which is primarily pastoral in character. (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, 11 October 1962)

• Pope Paul VI brought the Council to its conclusion and implemented many of its reforms, including the use of the vernacular in the liturgy as well as promoting unity between Christians and within the entire human family. Some of the decisive turning points of the Second Vatican Council include: a new openness to dialogue and unity with non-Christians and Christians who are not Catholic (cf. Nostra Aetate, Unitatis Redintegratio); a new approach to the relationship between the Church and the world (cf. Gaudium et Spes); and a renewed understanding of the nature of the Church, particularly as the “People of God” (cf. Lumen Gentium). The Synod of Bishops was instituted in 1975 as a way of continuing the fraternal and collegial experience of the Second Vatican Council, to continue discerning the signs of the times in each successive era in a spirit of communion and mission.

Vademecum and Preparatory Document

VADEMECUM

FOR THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY

Official Handbook for Listening and Discernment in Local Churches:

Prayer for the Synod: Adsumus Sancte Spiritus

Every session of the Second Vatican Council began with the prayer Adsumus Sancte Spiritus, the first word of the original Latin, meaning, “We stand before You, Holy Spirit,” which has been historically used at Councils, Synods and other Church gatherings for hundreds of years, and is attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636). As we embrace this Synodal Process, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in us so that we may be a community and a people of grace. For the Synodal journey from 2021 to 2023, we propose to the following simplified version,1 so that any group or liturgical assembly can pray it more easily.

Introduction

What is the purpose of this Vademecum?

This Vademecum is designed as a handbook that accompanies the Preparatory Document at the service of the synodal journey. The two documents are complementary and should be read in tandem with one another. In particular, the Vademecum offers practical support to the Diocesan Contact Person(s) (or team), designated by the diocesan Bishop, to prepare and gather the People of God so that they can give voice to their experience in their local Church. This worldwide invitation to all the faithful is the first phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”

In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue on the local level through this Synod, Pope Francis is calling the Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium.

This handbook is offered as a guide to support each local Church’s efforts, not as a rulebook. Those who are responsible for organizing the process of listening and dialogue at the local level are encouraged to be sensitive to their own culture and context, resources, and constraints, and to discern how to implement this diocesan synodal phase, guided by their diocesan Bishop. We encourage you to take useful ideas from this guide, but also to have your own local circumstances as your starting point. New and creative pathways may be found for working together among parishes and dioceses in order to bring this Synodal Process to fruition. This Synodal Process need not be seen as an overwhelming burden that competes with local pastoral care. Rather, it is an opportunity to foster the synodal and pastoral conversion of each local Church so as to be more fruitful in mission.

Many regions already have established processes for engaging with the faithful at the level of their parishes, movements, and dioceses. We are conscious that there are a number of countries where the local Church has initiated a synodal conversation of its own, including the Ecclesial Assembly in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Plenary Council in Australia, and the synodal journeys in Germany and Ireland. There are also many diocesan synods that have taken place all over the world, including several that are currently underway. These regions and dioceses are called to creatively articulate the synodal processes already underway with the phases of the current Synod taking place across the entire Church. For certain other regions, the experience of this Synodal Process is new and uncharted territory. Our
intention is that the resources offered through this Vademecum might providehelpful tools at the service of all, by proposing good and fruitful practices that can be adapted along the way as we journey together. In addition to this handbook, the Vademecum includes: a) online liturgical, biblical, and prayer resources, as well as b) more detailed methodological suggestions and tools, c) examples from recent synodal exercises, and d) a Glossary of Terms for the
Synodal Process.

It is especially important that this listening process happen in a spiritual setting that supports openness in sharing as well as hearing. For this reason, you are encouraged to root the local experience of the Synodal Process in meditation on Scripture, the liturgy, and prayer. In this way, our journey of listening to one another can be an authentic experience of discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit. Authentic discernment is made possible where there is time for deep reflection and a spirit of mutual trust, common faith, and a shared purpose.

The Preparatory Document reminds us of the context in which this Synod is taking place – a global pandemic, local and international conflicts, growing impact of climate change, migration, various forms of injustice, racism, violence, persecution, and increasing inequalities across humanity, to name a few. In the Church, the context is also marked by the suffering experienced by minors and vulnerable people “due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power, and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.” (FRANCIS, Letter to the People of God (20 August 2018). With all this being said, we find ourselves at a crucial moment in the life of the Church and the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has made existing inequalities explode. At the same time, this global crisis has revived our sense that we are all in the same boat, and that “one person’s problems are the problems of all” (FT, 32). The context of the COVID-19 pandemic will surely affect the unfolding of the Synodal Process. This global pandemic creates real logistical challenges, but also offers an opportunity to promote the revitalization of the Church at a critical time in human history, when many local Churches are facing various questions about the path forward.

In the midst of this context, synodality represents the path by which the Church can be renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit, listening together to what God has to say to his people. However, this journey together not only unites us more deeply with one another as the People of God, it also sends us out to pursue our mission as a prophetic witness that embraces the entire family of humanity, together with our fellow Christian denominations and other faith traditions.

What is Synodality? Background for this Synod

By convening this Synod, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” (FRANCIS, Address for the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015)). Following in the wake of the renewal of the Church proposed by the Second Vatican Council, this common journey together is both a gift and a task. By reflecting together on the journey that has been made so far, the diverse members of the Church will be able to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives, guided by the Holy Spirit (PD, 1). Enlightened by the Word of God and united in prayer, we will be able to discern the processes to seek
God’s will and pursue the pathways to which God calls us – towards deeper communion, fuller participation, and greater openness to fulfilling our mission in the world. The International Theological Commission (ITC) describes synodality this way:

‘Synod’ is an ancient and venerable word in the Tradition of the Church, whose meaning draws on the deepest themes of Revelation […] It indicates the path along which the People of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents Himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14,6), and to the fact that Christians, His followers, were originally
called ‘followers of the Way’ (cf. Acts 9,2; 19,9.23; 22,4; 24,14.22).

First and foremost, synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working.

In this sense, synodality enables the entire People of God to walk forward together, listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to participate in the mission of the Church in the communion that Christ establishes between us. Ultimately, this path of walking together is the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God (PD, 1).

The entire People of God shares a common dignity and vocation through Baptism. All of us are called in virtue of our Baptism to be active participants in the life of the Church. In parishes, small Christian communities, lay movements, religious communities, and other forms of communion, women and men, young people and the elderly, we are all invited to listen to one another in order to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who comes to guide our human efforts, breathing life and vitality into the Church and leading us into deeper communion for our mission in the world. As the Church embarks on this synodal journey, we must strive to ground ourselves in experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.

What is the aim of this Synod? Objectives of the Synodal Process

The Church recognizes that synodality is an integral part of her very nature. Being a synodal Church finds expression in ecumenical councils, Synods of Bishops, diocesan Synods, and diocesan and parish councils. There are many ways by which we experience forms of “synodality” already across the Church. Yet being a synodal Church is not limited to these existing institutions. Indeed, synodality is not so much an event or a slogan as a style and a way of being by which the Church lives out her mission in the world. The mission of the Church requires the entire People of God to be on a journey
together, with each member playing his or her crucial role, united with each other. A synodal Church walks forward in communion to pursue a common mission through the participation of each and every one of her members. The
objective of this Synodal Process is not to provide a temporary or one-time experience of synodality, but rather to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term.

One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the institution of the Synod of Bishops. While the Synod of Bishops has taken place up until now as a gathering of bishops with and under the authority of the Pope, the
Church increasingly realizes that synodality is the path for the entire People of God. Hence the Synodal Process is no longer only an assembly of bishops but a journey for all the faithful, in which every local Church has an integral
part to play. The Second Vatican Council reinvigorated the sense that all the baptised, both the hierarchy and the laity, are called to be active participants in the saving mission of the Church (LG, 32-33). The faithful have received the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation and are endowed with diverse gifts and charisms for the renewal and building up of the Church, as members of the Body of Christ. Thus the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops is in dialogue with the sensus fidelium, the living voice of the People of God (cf. Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, 74). The path of synodality seeks to make pastoral decisions that reflect the will of God as closely as possible, grounding them in the living voice of the People of God (ICT, Syn., 68). It is noted that collaborating with theologians – lay, ordained, and religious – can be a helpful support in articulating the voice of the People of God expressing the reality of the faith on the basis of lived experience.

While recent Synods have examined themes such as the new evangelization, the family, young people, and the Amazon, the present Synod focuses on the topic of synodality itself.

The current Synodal Process we are undertaking is guided by a fundamental question: How does this “journeying together” take place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allowing the Church to proclaim the Gospel? and what steps is the Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church? (PD, 2)

In this light, the objective of the current Synod is to listen, as the entire People of God, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. We do so by listening together to the Word of God in Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church, and then by listening to one another, and especially to those at the margins, discerning the signs of the times. In fact, the whole Synodal Process aims at fostering a lived experience of discernment, participation, and co-responsibility, where a diversity of gifts is brought together for the Church’s mission in the world.

In this sense, it is clear that the purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission (PD, 32). Thus the objective of this Synodal Process is not only a series of exercises that start and stop, but rather a journey of growing authentically towards the communion and mission that God calls the Church to live out in the third millennium.

This journey together will call on us to renew our mentalities and our ecclesial structures in order to live out God’s call for the Church amid the present signs of the times. Listening to the entire People of God will help the Church to make pastoral decisions that correspond as closely as possible to God’s will (ITC, Syn., 68) The ultimate perspective to orient this synodal path of the Church is to serve the dialogue of God with humanity (DV, 2) and to journey together the kingdom of God (cf. LG, 9; RM, 20). In the end, this Synodal Process seeks to move towards a Church that is more fruitfully at the service of the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

The theme of this Synod, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission

In the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, Pope Francis declared that “the world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission.” This call to cooperate in the mission of the Church is addressed to the entire People of God. Pope Francis made this clear when he issued a direct invitation to all the People of God to contribute to Church efforts towards healing: “every one of the baptised should feel involved in
the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.” In April 2021, Pope Francis initiated a synodal journey of the
whole People of God, to begin in October 2021 in each local Church and culminating in October 2023 in the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

KEY WORDS FOR THE SYNODAL PROCESS

The theme of the Synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The three dimensions of the theme are communion, participation, and mission. These three dimensions are profoundly interrelated. They are the vital pillars of a Synodal Church. There is no hierarchy between them. Rather, each one enriches and orients the other two. There is a dynamic relationship between the three that must be articulated with all three in mind.

Communion: By his gracious will, God gathers us together as diverse peoples of one faith, through the covenant that he offers to his people. The communion we share finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Trinity. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit. Together, we are inspired by listening to the Word of God, through the living Tradition of the Church, and grounded in the sensus fidei that we share. We all have a role to play in discerning and living out God’s call for his people.

Participation: A call for the involvement of all who belong to the People of God – laity, consecrated and ordained – to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another. This listening creates space for us to hear the Holy Spirit together, and guides our aspirations for the Church of the Third Millennium. Participation is based
on the fact that all the faithful are qualified and are called to serve one another through the gifts they have each received from the Holy Spirit. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyse, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will (ICT, Syn., 67-68). Genuine efforts must be made to ensure the inclusion of those at the margins or who feel excluded.

Mission: The Church exists to evangelize. We can never be centred on ourselves. Our mission is to witness to the love of God in the midst of the whole human family. This Synodal Process has a deeply missionary dimension to it. It is intended to enable the Church to better witness to the Gospel, especially with those who live on the spiritual, social, economic, political, geographical, and existential peripheries of our world. In this way, synodality is a path by which the Church can more fruitfully fulfil her mission of evangelization in the world, as a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.

The Experience on the Local Level

The first phase of the Synodal Process is a listening phase in local Churches. Following an opening celebration in Rome on Saturday, October 9, 2021, the diocesan phase of the Synod will begin on Sunday, October 17, 2021. To assist the initial phase of the synodal journey, the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, wrote to each Bishop in May 2021, inviting him to appoint a contact person or team to lead the local listening phase. This person or team is also the liaison between the diocese and parishes, as well as between the diocese and the episcopal conference. Local Churches are asked to provide their responses to their episcopal conference to enable aggregation of ideas prior to the deadline of April 2022. In this way, episcopal conferences and the synods of Oriental Churches can in turn provide a synthesis to the Synod of Bishops. This material will be synthesised as the basis for the writing
of two working documents (known as the Instrumentum Laboris). Finally, the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in Rome in October 2023.

As stated in the Preparatory Document (no. 31):

The purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the Pastors and the Faithful of the [local] Churches at all the different levels, through the most appropriate means according to the specific local
realities: the consultation, coordinated by the Bishop, is addressed “to the Priests, Deacons and lay Faithful of their [local] Churches, both individually and in associations, without overlooking the valuable contribution that consecrated men and women can offer” (EC, 7). The contribution of the participatory bodies of the [local] Churches is specifically requested, especially that of the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Council, from which “a synodal Church [can truly] begin to take shape. (”FRANCIS, Address at the Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015)).

Equally valuable will be the contribution of other ecclesial entities to which the Preparatory Document [and this Vademecum] will be sent, as well as that of those who wish to send their own contribution directly. Finally, it will be of fundamental importance that the voice of the poor and excluded also find a place, not only that of those who have some role or responsibility within the [local] Churches.

Religious communities, lay movements, associations of the faithful, and other ecclesial groups are encouraged to participate in the Synodal Process in the context of the local Churches. However, it is also possible for them, and for any group or individual that does not have an opportunity to do so at the local level, to contribute directly to the General Secretariat as stated in Episcopalis Communio (art. 6 on the Consultation of the People of God):

§1. The consultation of the People of God takes place in the particular Churches, through the Synods of Bishops of the Patriarchal Churches and the Major Archbishoprics, the Councils of Hierarchs and the Assemblies of Hierarchs of the Churches sui iuris and through the Episcopal Conferences. In each particular Church, the Bishops carry out the consultation of the People of God by recourse to the participatory bodies provided for by the law, without excluding other methods that they deem appropriate.

§2. The Unions, the Federations and the male and female Conferences of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life consult the Major Superiors, who in their turn may approach their own Councils and other members of the Institutes and Societies in question.

§3. In the same way, the Associations of the Faithful recognized by the Holy See consult their own members.

§4. The dicasteries of the Roman Curia offer their contribution, taking account of their respective particular areas of competence.

§5. The General Secretariat of the Synod may identify other forms of consultation of the People of God. Each listening phase will be adapted to local circumstances. People in remote communities with limited internet access are likely to have a different involvement than those in urban settings. Communities currently in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to organize different dialogue and listening opportunities than those with high rates of recovery. Whatever the local circumstances, the Diocesan Contact Person(s) are encouraged to focus on maximum inclusion and participation, reaching out to involve the greatest number of people possible, and especially those on the periphery who are often excluded and forgotten. Encouraging the widest participation possible will help to ensure that the syntheses formulated at the levels of dioceses, episcopal conferences, and the whole Church capture the true realities and lived experience of the People of God. Because this engagement of the People of God is foundational, and a first taste of the experience of synodality for many, it is essential that each local listening exercise be guided by the principles of communion, participation, and mission that inspire this synodal path. The unfolding of the Synodal Process at a local level must also involve:

  • Discernment through listening, to create space for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Accessibility, in order to ensure that as many people as possible can participate, regardless of location, language, education, socio-economic status, ability/disability, and material resources.
  • Cultural awareness to celebrate and embrace the diversity within local communities.
  • Inclusion, making every effort to involve those who feel excluded or marginalized.
  • Partnership based on the model of a co-responsible Church.
  • Respect for the rights, dignity, and opinion of each participant.
  • Accurate syntheses that truly captures the range of critical and appreciative perspectives of all responses, including views that are expressed only by a minority of participants.
  • Transparency, ensuring that processes of invitation, involvement, inclusion, and aggregation of input are clear and well communicated.
  • Fairness, ensuring that participation in the listening process treats each person equally, so that every voice can be duly heard.

The Diocesan Contact Person(s) are encouraged to tap into the richness of the lived experience of Church in their local context. Throughout the diocesan phase, it is helpful to keep in mind the principles of the Synodal Process and the need for some structure to the conversation, so that it can be synthesised and effectively inform the writing of the working documents (Instrumentum Laboris). We aim to be attentive to how the Spirit speaks through the People of God.

Listening, Consultation and Facilitation

The Suggested tools for reflecting, sharing, and responding to the questions of the Synod

The following are some tools for reflecting, sharing, and responding to the questions of the Synod. Some of these tools are particularly suitable for children, youth, and people who prefer approaches that are simple and easy to relate to.

Narrative approach: Telling or writing one’s own faith story and journey with the Church

One’s life story. People can be invited to tell their story, their view of faith, the way they have sought to take their place in the Church. During the diocesan or national synthesis, care should be taken not to read these stories as simple testimonies, but to hear what paths they open up for the local churches.

A text that drives exchanges. We can invite a small group of people to write a joint text; then other groups of people react to this text and comment on it from their own daily lives. This way of doing things can be applied to hearing one another’s life stories, which can be shared with groups of other people. All these words can also open the eyes of other Christians on the mission of the Church and its capacity to “reach everyone.”

Finding the right words. Participants can be invited to say what the Church evokes in them, or to name the words that designate what it takes to “walk together with Jesus” (a possible translation of synodality), and then which words are opposed to “walking together”; they can then be invited to explain why they evoked this or that word. The participants can then choose which words are the most significant and the most apt to convey the group’s message.

Using images and artistic creation

Communicating through images. Presented with various images, people are invited to find those that best capture what walking together in the Church means to them. Participants can then share why they chose that particular image. On the basis of these exchanges, a joint text can be written.

An individual or shared artistic creation. People are invited to draw an image of the Church in which they walk together, and they are asked to comment on their drawing. People can also make an artistic creation together, as a way of visually representing the Church or their place in it. In any case, once the work has been created, participants are invited to share about what they have created; their comments can then be transmitted as well as their creative works.

Writing together. Participants are invited to write a story, a poem, a prayer, a psalm, or a songon the theme of “walking together with Jesus” or “walking together in the Church.” This piece of writing may be intended to update selected passages from the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles. What they write can be passed on as it is. It can also be proclaimed during synodal celebrations (for example, if it is a song, it can become a dance for the synodal celebration). Acting it out. A group of participants can write a short play that expresses what it means to “walk together” in the Church, why it is important, why it is difficult, etc. This story can then be acted out and performed at a Synodal assembly.

Scriptural approach

Gospel sharing. The Word of God inspires and enlightens our journey together, giving us food to share with one another on the way. Participants are invited to comment on the attitudes of the characters and to react to them; they may be asked if a particular gesture or word of Jesus reminds them of, or sheds light on, something in their daily lives. We can then look for how a particular Gospel passage renews our way of living in the Church. For example, we can read Mk 10:46-52, observing the attitude of the different characters, what it evokes of the Church as we know it, and then how Jesus allows the excluded Bartimaeus to walk forward with everyone. We can likewise pray over Luke 24:13-35, seeing Jesus transform the disciples’ disappointment into missionary joy and dynamism on the road to Emmaus, as he made their hearts burn within them, walking with them on the way.
(Cf. Note of the Centre Sèvres on the Voice of the Poor)

Links and other suggested resources

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishop’s website for the Synod on Synodality. To access click here.

Synod on Synodality’s resource website. To access click here.

Diocesan links and other resources for the Synodal Pathway
(Please let us know of any updated links and resources)

Conversation in the Spirit

A conversation in the Spirit focuses on the quality of one’s capacity to listen as well as the quality of the words spoken. This means paying attention to the spiritual movements in oneself and in the other person during the conversation, which requires being attentive to more than simply the words expressed. This quality of attention is an act of respecting, welcoming, and being hospitable to others as they are. It is an approach that takes seriously what happens in the hearts of those who are conversing. There are two necessary attitudes that are fundamental to this process: active listening and speaking from the heart.

The aim of conversations in the Spirit is to create an atmosphere of trust and welcome, so that people can express themselves more freely. This helps them to take seriously what happens within them as they listen to others and speak. Ultimately, this interior attentiveness makes us more aware of the presence and participation of the Holy Spirit in the process of sharing and discernment. The focus of a conversation in the Spirit is on the person to whom we are listening, on ourselves, and what we are experiencing at a spiritual level. The fundamental question
is: “What is happening in the other person and in me, and how is the Lord working here?”

a) Active Listening

  • Through active listening, the goal is to try and understand others as they are. We listen not only to what the other person says, but also to what he or she means and what he or she might be experiencing on a deeper level. This means listening with a heart that is open and receptive.
  • This way of listening is “active” because it involves paying attention to more than one level of expression of the other. In order to do so, one must participate actively in the listening process.
  • We listen to the other while he or she is speaking, and do not focus on what we are going to say afterwards.
  • We welcome, without judgment, what the other person says, no matter what we think about the person or what they have said. Each person is an expert on his or her own life. We must listen in a way that is “more disposed to giving a good interpretation to what the other says than condemning it as false” (Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, no. 22).
  • We must believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Conversation in the Spirit other person.
  • Welcoming without prejudice is a deep way of welcoming the other in his or her radical uniqueness.
  • Active listening is letting oneself be influenced by the other and learning from the other.
  • Active listening is demanding because it requires humility, openness, patience, and involvement, but it is an effective way of taking others seriously.

b) Speaking from the Heart

  • This means sincerely expressing oneself, one’s experience, one’s sentiments and thoughts.
  • It involves speaking about one’s own experience and what one truly thinks and feels.
  • We take responsibility not only for what we say, but also for what we feel.
  • We do not blame others for what we feel.
  • We share the truth as we see it and as we live it, but do not impose it.
  • Speaking from the heart is offering a generous gift to the other, in return for being actively listened to.
  • This process is greatly enriched by a regular personal practice of prayerful self-examen. Without a habit of discernment and knowledge of oneself and how God is present in one’s life, one cannot actively listen or speak from the heart.

In summary, what are the desired attitudes for a conversation in the Spirit?

  • Listen actively and attentively.
  • Listen to others without judgment.
  • Pay attention not only to the words, but also to the tone and feelings of the one who is speaking.
  • Avoid the temptation of using the time to prepare what you will say instead of listening.
  • Speak intentionally.
  • Express your experiences, thoughts, and feelings as clearly as you can.
  • Listen actively to yourself, mindful of your own thoughts and feelings as you speak.
  • Monitor possible tendencies to be self-centred when speaking.
Prayer and Spirituality

Adsumus Prayer in English and in Irish

Adsumus, Sancte Spiritus

Prayer of invocation to the Holy Spirit for an ecclesial assembly of governance or discernment (thus synodal)

Every session of the Second Vatican Council began with the prayer Adsumus Sancte
Spiritus, the first word of the Latin original meaning, “We stand before You, Holy Spirit,”
which has been historically used at Councils, Synods and other Church gatherings for
hundreds of years, being attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636). As we
are called to embrace this synodal path of the Synod 2021-2023, this prayer invites the Holy
Spirit to operate within us so that we may be a community and a people of grace. For the
Synod 2021-2023, we propose to use this simplified version, so that any group or liturgical
assembly can pray more easily.

Click here find out more information about the Adsumus Prayer (The official prayer of the Synod)

 

The Vatican has also launched a website and smartphone app to help Catholics pray for the success of the two-
year process culminating in the 2023 synod on synodality. The app can be downloaded via android or apple app store and the Vatican prayer websites can be accessed here and here

Pray As You Go is a daily prayer session, designed to go with you wherever you go, to help you pray
whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc.A new prayer session is produced every day of the working week and one session for the weekend. It is not a ‘Thought for the Day’, a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer. Lasting between ten and thirteen minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection.

Sacred Space Daily Prayer online

Essential Ignatian Resources

Title revised from Latin, to have a proper incipit, different from the Adsumus Dominus Sancte Spiritus. The
Caeremoniale Episcoporum 1984ss., n. 1173, only proposes the use of the Adsumus but does not give the text.
The German version Das Zeremoniale für die Bischöfe, n. 1188, gives a German translation based on the
Latin text of the Acta Synodalia of the Council, vol. I/1, p. 159.
Youth Facilitation Resources

Synodal Listening Sessions with Young People

Facilitator’s Guide

The Synodal Journey an Introduction

On October 9-10th in Rome Pope Francis launched the theme of the 2023 Synod of Bishops – For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.  This Synod, which examines what life is like in the Church at this moment in time, is unlike any synod that has gone before and involves the largest consultation with the lay faithful in Church history.   Importantly the current Synodal process asks questions about how we make decisions, how we create community and how welcoming are we are? Importantly it asks us to consider if we provide opportunities for all to participate in the mission of the Church, and bring the love of Christ into every corner of the world? 

Pope Francis asks the entire Church to journey together over the next two years and in introducing this new method of preparing for the gathering of Bishops at the Synod in 2023 ensures that this Synod is not just another meeting with oral presentations and written reports but the beginning of a new way of being Church.

The diocesan phase of the Synod was introduced in every parish across the Archdiocese of Armagh on October 17th.  This is an important part of consultations that are happening across the world and marks the beginning of a wider conversation and consultation process that will take place in Ireland over the coming years.

We live in a period of great change and the journey we step out on offers opportunities to reflect on how we are currently operating as a Church.  The conversations we have now will resonate for a long time and it is important that young people are given the opportunity to express their experiences of Church and articulate their sense of what they think the Holy Spirit is asking of us here and now.

NB: The timeline for the Irish Synodal Pathway can be found at https://synod.ie/timeline/

Getting Started

In Christus Vivit, the post synodal exhortation that followed the Synod on Youth in October 2018, Pope Francis tells us that “Youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind.” And that “an institution as ancient as the Church can experience renewal and a return to youth at different points in her age-old history” (CV 34).  Young people have a vibrancy and energy that is coupled to a deep sense of justice, for this reason it is important that they are at the centre of our Synodal conversations for their voices and the freshness of their ideas can become catalysts for the “renewal” and a “return to youth” that Pope Francis calls for at this time. 

 

During this Synodal process Pope Francis asks for the widest and deepest consultation, one where each person speaks with Parrhesia, that is, with courage and freedom.   It can be difficult for young people to muster the courage to speak, and we must empower them to speak truthfully throughout this process. It is also important that safe environments are created to assist them. We therefore offer the following to for consideration when planning your gathering or facilitated listening:

  • Planning: Ensuring that all resources needed are in place before your gathering. (Either in person or online)
  • Scheduling: Ensure that you have allocated sufficient time for your conversations.
  • Representation: Ensure that participants are broadly representative of all sectors of the Church and that a voice is given to marginalized communities and groupings.
  • Know your community or group and their culture, adjust for language, disability etc.
  • Make sure the language you use reflects your community, is accessible to young people and that it is culturally appropriate.
  • Ensure that young people can ask questions of clarification if necessary.
  • Given the nature of the conversations prepare for issues relating to pastoral care and safeguarding.  Know the protocol for reporting any disclosures that occur, ensuring that young people are not negatively impacted by the conversations.

Please check with your Group, School, Parish or Diocese for safeguarding policy, processes and reporting structures.

Facilitating Listening Sessions with Young People

Many young people come from different contexts and share their thoughts and opinions through different mediums.   For this reason, we offer three options for facilitating conversations that are designed to hear the thoughts and sentiments of young people across the Church.  

  1. Individual Input: Graffiti Wall Exercise (Virtual or in Person)
  2. Paired Conversation (Two young People)
  3. Facilitated Group Conversation

Each option should last no more that 1 ½ hours and should share the following elements:

  • A Group Agreement.
  • Prayer.
  • Pope Francis’ Synodal Vision.
  • Synodal common ground activity.
  • The opportunity to share freely their experiences and thoughts about the Church (in their parish, school or in the Archdiocese of Armagh
  • Closing prayer or reflection. 

Desired Outcomes of the Listening Exercises

  • To have a basic understanding of what Pope Francis’ vision of Synodality is.
  • To freely share their experiences of the Church in a safe and positive environment.
  • To experience what it is like to share their thoughts in an environment where others hold different points of view.
  • To experience what it is like to be truly listened to.

 

Option 1: Individual Input: Graffiti Wall Exercise (Virtual or in Person)

Option 1 is the use of a facilitated Graffiti Wall Exercise.  This option is useful if you have young people who are reluctant to share in a group setting.  Graffiti walls give young people the freedom to express themselves in a ways and spaces they might not otherwise. For some, this freedom comes from the accessibility of a graffiti wall and for others it allows young people with language and other significant difficulties the opportunity to share their experiences in a safe and accessible manner.

This activity can be conducted both in person and virtually.  If you are planning on using all the activities contained in the prescribed programme, please allow 1 ½ hours for this conversation. 

See Appendix 7 for Materials and resources needed for this conversation.

Group Agreement It is important that the facilitator asks participants to agree that personal information shared during the conversation will be confidential and that no one should disclose personal information about other people by using names or other identifying features.  Remind each young person to share what they are comfortable sharing.  Ask that all young people show their agreement by raising their hand.

It is also important that you encourage young people to speak to you or a member of your staff/community/group after the conversation if they have more they want to say or something extra they want to share in private.

Remember the conversation may trigger some memories both positive and negative, and that you have a pastoral responsibility all who take part.

Outline of Graffiti Wall Exercise (Conversation Length 1 ½ Hour)

 Opening Prayer/Reflection (5 minutes)

Each facilitator is encouraged to open the conversation with the Adsumus Prayer.   The Holy Spirit is central to the conversations over the coming months, and it is important to note that every session of the Second Vatican Council began with the prayer Adsumus Sancte Spiritus.  The Prayer is as follows:

Adsumus Prayer

 We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.

The first word of the Latin original meaning, “We stand before You, Holy Spirit,” which has been historically used at Councils, Synods and other Church gatherings for hundreds of years, being attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636).  As we embrace this new way of being Church and the synodal path, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to operate within us so that we may be a community and a people of grace.

Sharing Pope Francis Synodal Vision (10 minutes)

 Facilitators are encouraged to use one of the video resources below to highlight Pope Francis vision for a Synodal Church and frame the conversation that the young people will engage in.

The video by Rahai is included in the PowerPoint resources that accompany this guide and facilitators are encouraged to use this or substitute the one most appropriate to their context.

 Common Ground Activity (20 minutes)

Set-up: If conducting the activity in person stand in a large standing circle, if conducting virtually ask everyone to switch their camera to gallery view so they can see each participant.

Instructions: Let everyone know that their thoughts and input is valuable and ask them to share freely what their experiences of Church have been.  

Read the following statements one at a time and ask participants (if in person) to step into the circle if the statement is true for them, then to step back out. Explain that there are no right or wrong answers, just an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and opinions. If this is being conducted online, then you can ask the young people to clearly raise their hand if the statement is true for them. 

Emphasize that participating in this activity is voluntary – so even if the statement is true for them, they don’t have to step in or raise their hand if they don’t want to. Everyone gets to decide when they step into the circle or raise their hand. Ask participants to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings about stepping into or not stepping into the circle for each statement.

Step into the circle if . . .

  • You believe that the Church journeys with people in their daily lives.
  • You believe that the Church listens to you, your family, and your friends.
  • You believe we live in a community that is inclusive and where all are made welcome.
  • You have witnessed or experienced the joy of being part of a parish community and parish life.
  • You are concerned that many people all around the world and indeed here in Ireland do not have opportunities and equality.
  • You believe we can all work together in the Church to make relationships safer and healthier and our communities the compassionate and peaceful ones Jesus asks of them.
  • You believe that we all interconnected and that by building on that common ground we can make a difference as a Church.
  • You are curious about building the Synodal Church that Pope Francis talks about but are not sure what you can do.
  • You believe that young people need to lead the movement in our Church to create compassionate communities rooted in respect, equity, and justice.
  • You believe the world can be a better place and that the Church has a strong role in making it so.

Ask the young people to remain in the circle for short discussion.

 Discuss these questions

  1. Which statements were hardest to answer?
  2. Which statements had the most consensus or most people in the circle or with their hands up?
  3. How did it feel when you chose to step in?
  4. How did if feel when you chose to stay out?
  5. Which statements made you feel most powerful or hopeful?

NB:  you may wish to have another person observing the activity and recording the conversation.

Graffiti Wall Exercise (30 Minutes)

In Person Set up:

Three flip chart sheets of paper should be hung around the room with one of the statements below written at the top of each piece of paper. For this activity, you will need a clock or watch with a second hand or a stopwatch.

  1. What memory or experience of the Catholic Church do you value or cherish most in your life?
  2. How can our Church be a welcoming and inclusive community?
  3. How can each one of us be listened to more effectively and encouraged to participate in decision-making in the Church?
  4. What inspires you in the life of your parish or school community to bring the love of Christ into the world? What discourages you?

Instructions: Explain the activity and then divide the group into three smaller groups, ask that each group ensures that each person can offer some thoughts. Assign each group to one of the pieces of paper and provide a marker to each group. During the first rotation, give each group 5 minutes to write or draw all the ideas that they can come up with to answer the question at the top of their paper. At the end of five minutes, ask groups to rotate to the next flip chart paper. During the second rotation, give each group 5 minutes to do the same thing (repeat this step twice more, giving the students 10 minutes for the final two questions). Ask the young people to read what the groups before them wrote, before they write and to avoid writing what has already been written.

Online Set up:

Use breakout groups for the activity.  It is important that you have another facilitator to look after the IT requirements for the session and facilitators to chair the breakout groups.  Pre-allocate groups before the session begins. To facilitate online you may use either a Padlet Wall or a Google Doc to allow for sharing.  Again, these should be prepared prior to the session, the links to each shared with participants along with Group details.  With a GoogleDoc you can insert the questions listed below and participants can access and insert responses synchronously.

  1. What memory or experience of the Catholic Church do you value or cherish most in your life?
  2. How can our Church be a welcoming and inclusive community?
  3. How can each one of us be listened to more effectively and encouraged to participate in decision-making in the Church?
  4. What inspires you in the life of your parish or school community to bring the love of Christ into the world? What discourages you?

Instructions: Explain the activity, divide the group into three smaller groups, ask that each group gives everyone the chance to offer some thoughts. Assign each group to one of the questions prior to entering breakout rooms and outline the order in which they should complete the questions. Each group will have 30 minutes to respond to all questions and a message will be transmitted to the room asking them to respond to the next question. 

Group Discussion After Breakout Groups end.  (15 minutes)

Ask the young people to offer any closing thoughts they would like to give.  You may wish to ask the young people:

“Are there any closing remarks you would like to offer to Pope Francis as we journey to the 2023 Synod on Synodality?”

 Closing Prayer/Reflection (5 minutes)

This session will close with a prayer of your choice

Links to digital resources required for facilitating Graffiti Wall Listening Activity

Option 2: Paired Conversation (Virtual or in Person)

Opening Prayer/Reflection (5 minutes)

As with option 1 each facilitator is encouraged to open the conversation with the Adsumus Prayer.  You may wish to speak into the background to the prayer.

Adsumus Prayer

 We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.Amen.

 Sharing Pope Francis Synodal Vision (10 minutes)

 As with option 1 facilitators are encouraged to use the video resources prepared to highlight Pope Francis vision for a Synodal Church and frame the conversations that young people will engage in.  See option 1 for respective links.  The video by Rahai is included in the PowerPoint resources that accompany this guide and facilitators are encouraged to use this or substitute the one most appropriate to their context.

 Common Ground Activity (20 minutes)  See option one for instructions on how to conduct the “Common Ground Activity”.

Paired Conversations (50 minutes)

Instructions: Participants pair off to discuss the four questions posed in the Archdiocese of Armagh. One person in the pair talks for 5 minutes, while the second listens, then they reverse talking and listening roles. Explain that you will read the question aloud, then again at the five-minute mark.  The participants are asked to repeat this process for all four questions and to note down their responses on the form provided, using additional paper if required.

  1. What memory or experience of the Catholic Church do you value or cherish most in your life?
  2. How can our Church be a welcoming and inclusive community?
  3. How can each one of us be listened to more effectively and encouraged to participate in decision-making in the Church?
  4. What inspires you in the life of your parish or school community to bring the love of Christ into the world? What discourages you?

 Closing Prayer/Reflection (5 minutes)

This session will close with a prayer of your choice

Links to digital resources required for facilitating Graffiti Wall Listening Activity

Option 3: Facilitated Group Conversation (In Person or Online)

Opening Prayer/Reflection (5 minutes)

As with option 1 each facilitator is encouraged to open the conversation with the Adsumus Prayer.  You may wish to speak into the background to the prayer.

Adsumus Prayer 

We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.

 Sharing Pope Francis Synodal Vision (10 minutes)

 As with option 1 facilitators are encouraged to either use their choice from the video resources prepared to highlight Pope Francis vision for a Synodal Church and frame the conversation that the young people will engage in.  See option 1 for respective links.  The video by Rahai is included in the PowerPoint resources that accompany this guide and facilitators are encouraged to use this or substitute the one most appropriate to their context.

 Common Ground Activity (20 minutes)  See option one for instructions on how to conduct the “Common Ground Activity”.

Facilitated Group Conversation (50 minutes)

It is suggested that this activity should have no more that 15 participants to aid the quality of the conversation.  After completing the Common Ground Activity participants are asked to form a continuous seated circle, place two chairs back-to-back in the centre of the circle.  Explain that one chair is allocated to the speaker and the other is allocated to the person wishing to speak next.  

Only those seated in the middle of the circle on the two seats are permitted to speak, those in the outer circle must listen to those speaking.  Synodal listening is different to mere auditory listening and facilitators could suggest that the young people try to “listen with all their senses” so that they can develop a deep sense of what the other persons point of view is and how this might reflect what God wants for our Church. The two seats must not be empty at any time (except when one person leaving the circle after speaking) and anyone can enter the speaking circle, take a chair and offer some thoughts.

The facilitator might ask the young people to think about the “Common Ground” activity they have just completed and think about the Synod questions on the PPT and tell the others:

  • What struck them?
  • What have they had difficulty with?

The facilitator should also place the questions posed on a PowerPoint in the room and ask the young people to speak into any question that is particularly important to them.  All should be encouraged to speak freely, and it is important to have an additional facilitator in the room to record responses.

Whilst this works best in person it is possible to modify it for use in an online gathering.  Questions should be circulated prior to the online conversation, and it may be necessary to modify the activity to mediate the difficulties of working online.

Links to digital resources required for facilitating Graffiti Wall Listening Activity

Concluding Notes

We would like to take the opportunity to thank each school, parish, and group in advance for your efforts to facilitate conversations with young people.  The conversations we will have over the coming months and years are some of the most important to be held in recent times.  It is important therefore that young people are involved and integrated in a meaningful way. Therefore, the next step for all schools, communities and other groups is to bring our young people together and collate their responses and reflections to the questions posed.   

The responses should be anonymous, and facilitators are asked to place these responses in an envelope and return them immediately after the gathering to the Diocesan Office, Ara Coeli, Cathedral Road, Armagh, BT61 7QY by Monday, February 28th.  The envelope should be marked Universal Synod.  Alternatively collated responses can be submitted electronically via Google Form links provided in the appendix below.

A gathering of representatives of every community and group across the Archdiocese will be held at the end of April to discuss the questions and responses agreeing a representative document that will be passed on, through the Irish Episcopal Conference, to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in August 2022.  

Notes: Synodal Listening with Young People

Responses to the Synod Questions

Graffiti Wall, Paired Conversation,  and Facilitated Conversation Activity

  1. What memory or experience of the Catholic Church do you value or cherish most in your life?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. How can our Church be a welcoming and inclusive community?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 

  1. How can we be listened to more effectively and encouraged to participate in decision-making processes in the Church?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1.  What inspires you in the life of your parish community to bring the love of Christ into the world? What discourages you?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

National Synthesis

National Synthesis

Between October 2021 and May 2022, faith-based conversations and consultations took place across the island of Ireland and, on 29th May, dioceses and groups submitted a synthesis document to the Bishops’ Conference. These submissions were reviewed in a spirit of prayer and discernment over the weekend of Pentecost (June 2022) by members of a National Steering Committee and the emerging themes were presented to representatives of these dioceses and groups at an assembly in Athlone on 18th June. Following the assembly, a further period of prayer and discernment began and the synthesis from the Catholic Church in Ireland was prepared for submission to the Synod office in Rome. The National Synthesis, Synthesis of the Consultation in Ireland for the Diocesan Stage of the Universal Synod 2021 – 2023, is now available in both English and Irish as a resource for further outreach, deeper reflection, and to gain greater insights.

To access the booklets please click here

Continental Resources

WORKING DOCUMENT FOR THE CONTINENTAL STAGE

“Enlarge the space of your tent” (Is 54:2)

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil. 2:5-7)

Introduction

1. The Synod is on: one year after the opening of the synodal journey, we can enthusiastically affirm this! During this first part of the consultative phase, millions of people all over the world have been involved in the Synod’s activities: some by participating in the meetings at the local level, some by collaborating in the animation and coordination of the activities at the different levels, and some by offering the support of their prayers: “We also express our gratitude to the contemplative nuns who accompanied their people in prayer and continue to pray for the fruits of the Synod of Synodality” (EC Peru). All of these people who got involved are the real protagonists of the Synod!

2. They set in motion urged on by a desire to respond to the basic question guiding the entire process: “How does this ‘journeying together,’ which takes place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?” (Preparatory Document, no. 2).

3. Along the way they experienced the joy of meeting as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing what resonated within them from listening to the Word, and reflecting together on the future of the Church based on the impetus of the Preparatory Document (PD). This has nourished the desire for an increasingly synodal Church: synodality has ceased to be an abstract concept for them and has become a concrete experience; they have tasted its flavor and want to continue to do so. “‘Through this process we have discovered that synodality is a way of being Church – in fact, it is the way of being Church’. ‘The Holy Spirit is asking us to be more synodal’” (EC England and Wales).

4. Their experience has been translated into words, in the contributions that the different communities and groups have sent to the Dioceses. These submissions were synthesized and transmitted to the Episcopal Conferences, and in turn, from the outline contained in the PD, the Episcopal Conferences drafted a report that was sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod.

5. Globally, participation exceeded all expectations. In all, the Synod Secretariat received contributions from 112 out of 114 Episcopal Conferences and from all the 15 Oriental Catholic Churches, plus reflections from 17 out
of 23 dicasteries of the Roman Curia besides those from religious superiors (USG/UISG), from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, and from associations and lay movements of the faithful. In addition, over a thousand contributions arrived from individuals and groups as well as insights gathered through social media thanks to the initiative of the “Digital Synod.” These materials were distributed to a group of experts: bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, lay men and lay women, from all continents and with very diverse disciplinary expertise. After reading the reports, these experts met for almost two weeks together with the writing group, composed of the General Relator, the Secretary General of the Synod, the Undersecretaries and various officials of the Synod Secretariat, plus members of the Coordinating Committee. This group was finally joined by the members of the General Council. Together they worked in an atmosphere of prayer and discernment to share the fruits of their reading in preparation for the drafting of this Document for the Continental Stage (DCS).

6. The quotations that punctuate the DCS try to give an idea of the richness of the materials received, letting the voices of the People of God from all parts of the world speak as much as possible on their own terms and find resonance. They are not to be interpreted as endorsing the positions of any particular area of the globe, nor as simply representing geographical variety, although care has been taken to ensure a certain balance in terms of source provenance. Rather, these quotes were chosen because they express in a particularly powerful, beautiful or precise way sentiments expressed more generally in many reports. However, it is clear that no single document could condense the depth of faith, vitality of hope and energy of charity that overflow from the contributions received. Behind them one glimpses the power and richness of the experience that the different Churches have had by setting out and opening themselves to the diversity of voices that have taken the floor. Enabling this encounter and dialogue is the meaning of the synodal journey, whose ultimate purpose is not to produce documents but to open horizons of hope for the fulfilment of the Church’s mission.

7. It is within this journey, which is far from reaching its conclusion, that this DCS is situated and finds its meaning. In view of the Continental Stage of the synodal journey, the Document organizes around a small number of nuclei the
hopes and concerns of the People of God from across the globe. In this way, it provides an opportunity for the local Churches to listen to each other’s voices in view of the Continental Assemblies in 2023. Their task will be to draw up a list of priorities, upon which the First Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held from 4 to 29 October 2023, will carry out their discernment.

8. Clarifying the DCS’s function also allows us to focus on what it is not: it is not a conclusive document, because the process is far from being finished; it is not a document of the Church’s Magisterium, nor is it the report of a sociological survey; it does not offer the formulation of operational indications, goals and objectives, nor a full elaboration of a theological vision. Nonetheless it is theological in the sense that it is loaded with the exquisitely theological treasure contained in the experience of listening to the voice of the Spirit enacted by the People of God, allowing its sensus fidei to emerge. But it is also a theological document in the sense that it is orientated to the service of the Church’s mission: to proclaim Christ who died and rose again for the salvation of the world.

9. To avoid misunderstandings in its reading, it is essential to keep in mind the particular nature of the DCS, as well as its structure. The Document opens with a chapter that offers more than a simple account of ‘what happened’, presenting a narrative of the synodality experienced so far, with the consultation of the People of God in the local Churches and the discernment of the Pastors in the Episcopal Conferences: it profiles the synodal experience, presents the difficulties encountered and the most significant fruits gathered, identifying the cornerstones of what constitutes an authentic collective experience of the Christian faith. In this way it does not provide a definition of synodality in the strict sense – for this you can refer to the PD or the materials listed on the Synod website (www.synod.va) – but expresses the shared sense of the experience of synodality lived by those who took part. What emerges is a profound re-appropriation of
the common dignity of all the baptized. This is the authentic pillar of a synodal Church and the theological foundation of a unity which is capable of resisting the push toward homogenization. This enables us to continue to promote and make good use of the variety of charisms that the Spirit with unpredictable abundance pours out on the faithful.

10. The second chapter presents a biblical icon, the image of the tent with which chapter 54 of the book of Isaiah opens. This image and narrative represents a key to an interpretation of the contents within the DCS in the light of the Word, placing them in the arc of God’s promise that becomes a vocation for his People and his Church: “Enlarge the space of your tent!”

11. This tent is a space of communion, a place of participation, and a foundation for mission. In turn, the third chapter articulates the key words of the synodal journey connecting them with the fruits of listening to the People of God. It does so by gathering them around five generative tensions that are intertwined with one another:

1. listening as openness to welcome: this starts from a desire for radical inclusion – no one is excluded – to be understood in a perspective of communion with sisters and brothers and with our common Father; listening appears here not as an instrumental action, but as the assumption of the basic attitude of a God who listens to his People, as the following of a Lord whom the Gospels constantly present to us in the act of listening to the people who come to him along the roads of the Holy Land; in this sense listening is already mission and proclamation;

2. our outgoing drive toward mission. This is a mission that Catholics recognize as needing to be carried out with brothers and sisters of other confessions and in dialogue with believers of other religions, transforming human actions of care into authentically spiritual experiences that proclaim the face of a God who cares to the point of giving his own life so that we may have it in abundance;

3. carrying out the mission requires assuming a style based on participation, this corresponds to the full assumption of co- responsibility of all the baptized for the one mission of the Church arising from the common baptismal dignity;

4. the construction of concrete possibilities for living communion, participation and mission through structures and institutions inhabited by people properly formed and sustained by a living spirituality;

5. the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy, the source and summit of Christian life, which brings the community together, making communion tangible, enables the exercise of participation, and nourishes the momentum toward mission with the Word and the Sacraments.

12. Finally, the fourth chapter offers a glimpse toward the future by appealing to two levels both of which are indispensable for proceeding along the path: the spiritual level that seeks to orientate us towards a horizon of missionary synodal conversion, and the methodological one that traces our next steps for the Continental Stage.

13. The DCS will be understandable and useful only if it is read with the eyes of the disciple, who recognizes it as a testimony to the path of conversion toward a synodal Church. This means a Church that learns from listening how to renew its evangelizing mission in the light of the signs of the times, to continue offering humanity a way of being and living in which all can feel included as protagonists. Along this path, the lamp to our steps is the Word of God, which offers the light with which to reread, interpret and express the experience that has been lived.

14. Together we pray:
Lord, you have gathered all your People in Synod.
We give you thanks for the joy
experienced by those who decided to set out
to listen to God and to their brothers and sisters during this year,
with an attitude of welcome, humility, hospitality and siblinghood.
Help us to enter these pages as on “holy ground.”
Come Holy Spirit: may you be the guide of our journey together!

 

1. The experience of the synodal journey

15. The reports sent by Churches across the world give voice to the joys, hopes, sufferings and wounds of Christ’s disciples. In their words we hear resonate what lies at the heart of all humanity. They express the desire for a Church that walks with Christ under the guidance of the Spirit to fulfil its mission of evangelization. “Our current ‘synod’ experience has awakened in the lay faithful the idea of, and a desire to, get involved in the life of the Church, in its engagement with the world today, and in its pastoral work on the ground” (EC Canada).

1.1 “The fruits, the seeds, the weeds of synodality”

16. The first part of the synodal journey has produced abundant fruit, new seeds that promise new growth, and above all, an experience of joy in challenging times: “Largely, what emerges from the fruits, seeds and weeds of synodality are voices that have great love for the Church, voices that dream of a Church of credible witnesses, a Church that is inclusive, open and welcoming Family of God” (EC Zimbabwe). Haiti speaks for many: “Despite the continuous cases of kidnapping and violence recorded, the reports of the Dioceses express the joy of those who were able to actively participate in this first phase of the Synod” (EC Haiti). This is a joy that many have asked be extended and
shared with others. The Diocese of Ebibeyín (Equatorial Guinea) echoes this: “this synodal experience has been one of the most rewarding that many have been able to experience in their Christian lives. From the first moment the work of the Synod began to the point where we are now, there is great enthusiasm among the People of God.” Among the fruits
of the synod experience, several summaries highlight the strengthened feeling of belonging to the Church and the realisation on a practical level that the Church is not just priests and bishops: “While sharing the fundamental question: ‘How is this journeying together happening today in your particular Church?’ it was noted that people could realize the true nature of the Church and in that light, they were able to see the situation of their Particular Church” (EC Bangladesh).

17. Widespread appreciation was given to the method of spiritual conversation which allowed many to look honestly at the reality of Church life and name the lights and shadows. This honest appraisal bore immediate missionary fruits. “There is a strong mobilization of the People of God, the joy of coming together, of walking together and of speaking freely. Some Christians who felt hurt and who had distanced themselves from the Church came back during this consultation phase” (EC Central African Republic). Many emphasised that this was the first time the Church had asked for their opinion and they wish to continue this journey: “Meetings in the spirit of the synodal method, in which all
members of the congregation or community can openly and honestly express their opinion, as well as meetings with various groups outside the Church, should continue. This kind of cooperation should become one of the ‘unwritten laws’ of the Church culture, so as to foster rapprochement between Church members and groups in society, thus creating a readiness of people for deeper dialogue” (EC Latvia).

18. However, there has been no shortage of challenges, which the reports do not hide. Some are related to the coincidence of the consultative phase with the pandemic; others stem from the difficulty of understanding what synodality means, the need for a greater effort to translate and enculturate the materials, the failure to organize synodal gatherings in some local contexts, or resistance to the basic proposal. There is no shortage of very clear expressions of rejection:
“I distrust the Synod. I think it has been called to bring about further change to Christ’s teachings and wound his Church further” (individual submission from the UK). Quite frequently, the fear has been expressed that the emphasis on synodality could push the Church toward adopting mechanisms and procedures that depend on a democratic-type majority principle. Among the difficulties a scepticism about the real efficacy or intent of the synodal process should be noted: “Some expressed doubts about the outcome of the synodal process due to their perception of the Church as a rigid institution unwilling to change and modernize itself, or due to a suspicion that the synodal outcome had been predetermined” (EC Canada).

19. Numerous reports mention the fears and resistance on the part of the clergy, but also the passivity of the laity, their fear of expressing themselves freely, and the struggle to understand and articulate the priests’ and bishops’ role within the synodal dynamic: “In this process there was also resistance, lack of participation, communities that did not join. This may have been partly due to the novelty of the challenge, since many communities are not accustomed to this way of living the Church. It was also due to the fact that some leaders and pastors did not assume the animating and guiding role that corresponded to them. Several diocesan reports complain about the lack or weak involvement of priests” (EC Chile). In many cases, the synodal process and materials reveal that there is a widespread perception of a separation between priests and the rest of the People of God: “Consultations in dioceses and at national level have shown that the relationship between priests and the faithful is difficult in many places. On the one hand, there is criticism of a perceived distance between clergy and laity, in some places priests are even experienced as an obstacle to a fruitful community. At the same time, the challenges for priests are named: the shortage of priests and also the increasing loss of volunteers lead to exhaustion; also, priests do not always feel heard, some see their ministry questioned. What makes a good priest? How can parish life be an enriching experience for everyone involved? Why do fewer and fewer men feel a vocation? These questions need to be discussed” (EC Austria).

20. An obstacle of particular relevance on the path of walking together is the scandal of abuse by members of the clergy or by people holding ecclesial office: first and foremost, abuse of minors and vulnerable persons, but also abuse of other kinds (spiritual, sexual, economic, of authority, of conscience). This is an open wound that continues to inflict pain on victims and survivors, on their families, and on their communities:
“There was ongoing reference to the impact of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and the Church’s response […]. For many, the aftermath of this is still a powerful, unresolved issue. There was a strong urgency to acknowledge the horror and damage, and to strengthen efforts to safeguard the vulnerable, repair damage to the moral authority of the Church and rebuild trust. Some Dioceses reported that participants wished for them publicly to acknowledge and atone for past abuses” (EC Australia). Careful and painful reflection on the legacy of abuse has led many synod groups to call for a cultural change in the Church with a view to greater transparency, accountability and co-responsibility.

21. Furthermore, in too many countries the synodal way has crossed paths with the wars that stain our world with blood, “giving free reign to fanaticism of all kinds and to persecutions, even massacres. Sectarian and ethnic incitements were noted, which degenerated into armed and political conflicts, often bloody” (Maronite Church). Particularly painful are those situations in which Christians, including Catholics, live in countries at war with each other. Even in these fragile situations which intensify an encounter with the Cross and Resurrection, Christian communities have been able to take up the invitation addressed to them to build experiences of synodality, to reflect on what it means to walk together, and express a desire to continue to do so: “Concerning the tragedy of the genocide against the Tutsi that has so divided the Rwandan people, one should better deepen the theme of communion with a view to an authentic healing of the collective memory. This Synod has given us a better understanding that the pastoral of unity and reconciliation must continue to be a priority” (EC Rwanda).

1.2 Our common baptismal dignity

22. Practices of lived synodality have constituted “a pivotal and precious moment to realize how we all share a common dignity and vocation through our Baptism to participants in the life of the Church” (EC Ethiopia). This foundational reference to baptism – not as an abstract concept but as a felt identity – immediately brings into focus the link between the synodal form of the Church and the possibility of fulfilling its mission: “there was a growing understanding that it is important for all who have received the blessing of baptism to walk together, sharing and discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit who calls them. There was a deep realization that in the synodal Church walking together is the way to become a missionary Church” (EC Japan). Many local Churches within contexts that see the presence of numerous Christian denominations place particular stress on the baptismal dignity of all Christian sisters and brothers, and the common mission in service of the Gospel. A synodal process is incomplete without meeting brothers and sisters from other confessions, sharing and dialogue with them, and engaging in common actions. The reports express a desire for deeper ecumenical encounter, and the need for formation to support this work.

23. The reports present the synod process as an experience of novelty and freshness: “People of God remarked on the uniqueness of speaking freely and being heard in organized conversations that were open-ended and attentive with guidance of the Holy Spirit. They spoke of how, after decades of church going, they had been asked to speak
for first time” (EC Pakistan). Another image refers to an experience of liberation and new life: the eggshell shattering as new life unfurls its wings.

24. Elsewhere, expressions emerge that evoke rather the idea of distance between family members and a desired return, the end of a collective alienation from one’s identity as a synodal Church. To use a biblical image, one could say that the synodal journey marked the first steps of the return from an experience of collective exile, the consequences of which affect the entire People of God: if the Church is not synodal, no one can really feel fully at home.

2. Listening to the Scriptures

25. It is to a people living the experience of exile that the prophet addresses words that help us today to focus on what the Lord is calling us to through the experience of lived synodality: “Enlarge the space of your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly, lengthen your ropes and make firm your pegs” (Is 54:2).

26. To the people in exile the prophet’s words evokes the experience of the exodus, when they dwelt in tents, and announces the promise of the return to the land, a sign of joy and hope. To prepare, it is necessary to enlarge the tent, acting on the three elements of its structure. The first is the tent cloth, which protect from the sun, wind and rain, delineating a space of life and conviviality. They need to be spread out, so that they can also protect those who are still outside this space, but who feel called to enter it. The ropes that hold the cloths together are the second structural element of the tent. They must balance the tension needed to keep the tent from drooping with the softness that cushions movement caused by the wind. That is why if the tent expands, the ropes must be stretched to maintain the right tension. Finally, the pegs are the third element: they anchor the structure to the ground and ensure its solidity, but remain capable of moving when the tent must be pitched elsewhere.

27. Listened to today, these words of Isaiah invite us to imagine the Church similarly as a tent, indeed as the tent of meeting, which accompanied the people on their journey through the desert: called to stretch out, therefore, but also to move. At its centre, stands the tabernacle, that is, the presence of the Lord. The tent’s hold is ensured by the sturdiness of its pegs, that is, the fundamentals of faith that do not change but can be moved and planted in ever new ground, so that the tent can accompany the people as they walk through history. Finally, in order not to sag, the structure of the tent must keep in balance the different forces and tensions to which it is subjected: a metaphor that expresses the need for discernment. This is how many reports envision the Church: an expansive, but not homogeneous dwelling, capable of sheltering all, but open, letting in and out (cf. Jn. 10:9), and moving toward embracing the Father and all of humanity.

28. Enlarging the tent requires welcoming others into it, making room for their diversity. It thus entails a willingness to die to self out of love, finding oneself again in and through relationship with Christ and one’s neighbor: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). The fruitfulness of the Church depends on accepting this death, which is not, however, an annihilation, but an experience of emptying oneself in order to be filled by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and thus a process by which we receive richer relationships, deeper ties to God and each other. This is the place of grace, and of transfiguration. For this reason, the apostle Paul recommends, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil. 2:5-7). It is under this condition that the members of the Church, each and all together, will be able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the mission assigned by Jesus Christ to his Church: it is a liturgical, Eucharistic act.

3. Towards a missionary synodal Church

29. The biblical imagery of the tent relates to other images that appear in numerous reports: that of the family and that of home, the place to which people wish to belong, and to which they wish to return. “The Church-home does not have doors that close, but a perimeter that continually widens” (EC Italy). The dynamic of home and exile, of belonging and exclusion, is felt as a tension in the reports. One noted “Those who feel at home in the Church feel the absence of those who don’t” (EC Ireland). Through these voices, we hear the dream of “a global and synodal Church that lives unity in diversity. God is preparing something new, and we must collaborate” (USG/UISG).

30. The submissions are encouraging because they avoid two of the main spiritual temptations facing the Church in responding to diversity and the tensions it generates. The first is to remain trapped in conflict, such that our horizons shrink and we lose our sense of the whole, and fracture into sub-identities. It is an experience of Babel and not Pentecost, well recognizable in many features of our world. The second is to become spiritually detached and disinterested in the tensions involved, continuing to go our own way without involving ourselves with those close to us on the journey. Instead, “the call is to live better the tension of truth and mercy, as Jesus did […]. The dream is of a Church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment” (EC England and Wales).

31. The vision of a Church capable of radical inclusion, shared belonging, and deep hospitality according to the teachings of Jesus is at the heart of the synodal process: “Instead of behaving like gatekeepers trying to exclude others from the table, we need to do more to make sure that people know that everyone can find a place and a home here” (remark by a parish group from the USA). We are called to go to every place, especially outside the more familiar territories, “leaving the comfortable position of those who give hospitality to allow ourselves to be welcomed into the existence of those who are our companions on the journey of humanity” (EC Germany).

3.1 Listening that becomes welcoming

32. In this journey, the Churches have realised that the path to greater inclusion – the enlarged tent – is a gradual one. It begins with listening and requires a broader and deeper conversion of attitudes and structures, as well as new approaches to pastoral accompaniment; it begins in a readiness to recognise that the peripheries can be the place where a call to conversion resounds along with the call to put the Gospel more decisively into practice. Listening requires that we recognize others as subjects of their own journey. When we do this, others feel welcomed, not judged, free to share their own spiritual journey. This has been experienced in many contexts, and for some this has been the most transformative aspect of the whole process. The synodal experience can be read as a path of recognition for those who
do not feel sufficiently recognised in the Church. This is especially true for those lay men and women, deacons, consecrated men and women who previously had the feeling that the institutional Church was not interested in their faith experience or their opinions.

33. The reports also reflect on the difficulty of listening deeply and accepting being transformed by it. They highlight the lack of communal processes of listening and discernment, and call for more training in this area. Furthermore, they point to the persistence of structural obstacles, including: hierarchical structures that foster autocratic tendencies; a clerical and individualistic culture that isolates individuals and fragments relationships between priests and laity; sociocultural and economic disparities that benefit the wealthy and educated; and the absence of “in-between” spaces that foster encounters between members of mutually separated groups. Poland’s report states “Not listening leads to misunderstanding, exclusion, and marginalization. As a further consequence, it creates closure, simplification, lack of trust and fears that destroys the community. When priests do not want to listen, making excuses, such as in the large number of activities, or when questions go unanswered, a sense of sadness and estrangement arises in the hearts of the lay faithful. Without listening, answers to the faithfuls’ difficulties are taken out of context and do not address the essence of the problems they are experiencing, becoming empty moralism. The laity feel that the flight from sincere listening stems from the fear of having to engage pastorally. A similar feeling grows when bishops do not have time to speak and listen to the faithful.”

34. At the same time, the reports are sensitive to the loneliness and isolation of many members of the clergy, who do not feel listened to, supported and appreciated: perhaps one of the least evident voices in the reports is that of priests and bishops, speaking for themselves and of their experience of walking together. A particularly attentive listening must be offered to enable ordained ministers to negotiate the many dimensions of their emotional and sexual life. The need to ensure appropriate forms of welcome and protection for the women and eventual children of priests who have broken the vow of celibacy, who are otherwise at risk of suffering serious injustice and discrimination, is also noted. An option for young people, people with disabilities and the defence of life

35. There is universal concern regarding the meagre presence of the voice of young people in the synod process, as well as increasingly in the life of the Church. A renewed focus on young people, their formation and accompaniment is an urgent need, also as a way to implement the conclusions of the previous Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” (2018). On that occasion, it was precisely young people who brought out the need for a more synodal Church in view of the transmission of the faith today. The “Digital Synod” initiative is a significant attempt to listen to young people and offers new insights for the proclamation of the Gospel. Antilles’ report states, “Since our young people experience a high degree of alienation, we need to make a preferential option for the young.”

36. Numerous reports point to the lack of appropriate structures and ways of accompanying persons with disabilities, and call for new ways of welcoming their contribution and promoting their participation: in spite of its own teachings, the Church is in danger of imitating the way society casts them aside. “The forms of discrimination listed – the lack of listening, the violation of the right to choose where and with whom to live, the denial of the sacraments, the accusation of witchcraft, abuse – and others, describe the culture of rejection towards persons with disabilities. They do not arise by chance, but have in common the same root: the idea that the lives of persons with disabilities are worth less than others” (Report of the special synodal consultation of persons with disabilities by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life).

37. Equally prominent is the commitment of the People of God to the defence of fragile and threatened life at all its stages. For example, for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, it is part of synodality to “study the phenomenon of female migration and offer support to women of different age groups; to pay special attention to women who decide to have an abortion due to fear of material poverty and rejection by their families in Ukraine; to carry out educational work among women who are called upon to make a responsible choice when going through a difficult time in their lives, with the aim of preserving and protecting the lives of unborn children and preventing abortion; to care for women with post-abortion syndrome.”

Listening to Those who Feel Neglected and Excluded
38. The reports clearly show that many communities have already understood synodality as an invitation to listen to those who feel exiled from the Church. The groups who feel a sense of exile are diverse, beginning with many women and young people who do not feel their gifts and abilities are recognised. Within these groups, that among themselves are highly heterogeneous, many feel denigrated, neglected, misunderstood. Longing for a home also characterises those who, following the liturgical developments of the Second Vatican Council, do not feel at ease. For many, the experience of being seriously listened to is transformative and a first step towards feeling included. On the other hand, it was a source of sadness that some felt that their participation in the synod process was unwelcome: this is a feeling that requires understanding and dialogue.

39. Among those who ask for a more meaningful dialogue and a more welcoming space we also find those who, for various reasons, feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships, such as: remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, LGBTQ people, etc. Reports show how this demand for welcome challenges many local Churches: “People ask that the Church be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people wherever they are, to walk with them rather than judge them, and to build real relationships through caring and authenticity, not a purpose of superiority” (EC USA). They also reveal uncertainties about how to respond and express the need for discernment on the part of the universal Church: “There is a new phenomenon in the Church that is absolutely new in Lesotho: same-sex relationships. […] This novelty is disturbing for Catholics and for those who consider it a sin. Surprisingly, there are Catholics in Lesotho who have started practising this behaviour and expect the Church to accept them and their way of behaving. […]
This is a problematic challenge for the Church because these people feel excluded” (EC Lesotho). Those who left ordained ministry and married, too, ask for a more welcoming Church, with greater willingness to dialogue.

40. Despite the cultural differences, there are remarkable similarities between the various continents regarding those who are perceived as excluded, in society and also in the Christian community. In many cases their voice has been absent from the synod process, and they appear in reports only because others speak about them, lamenting their exclusion: “As the Bolivian Church, we are saddened that we have not been able to effectively reach out to the poor on the peripheries and in the most remote places” (EC Bolivia). Among the most frequently mentioned excluded groups are: the poorest, the lonely elderly, indigenous peoples, migrants without any affiliation and who lead a precarious existence, street children, alcoholics and drug addicts, those who have fallen into the plots of criminality and those for whom prostitution seems their only chance of survival, victims of trafficking, survivors of abuse (in the Church and beyond), prisoners, groups who suffer discrimination and violence because of race, ethnicity, gender,
culture and sexuality. In the reports, all of them appear as people with faces
and names, calling for solidarity, dialogue, accompaniment and welcome.

3.2 Sisters and brothers for mission
41. The Church is the bearer of a proclamation of fullness of life: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn10:10). The Gospels present the fullness of life and the fullness of the Kingdom of God not as separate realities or spheres of action, but always as dynamically intertwined movements. The Church’s mission is to make Christ present in the midst of His People through reading the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and through all actions that care for the wounded and suffering. “It is necessary for all of us in the Church to enter into a process of conversion in order to respond to this need, which would imply proposing the kerygma as the fundamental proclamation and listening to Christ crucified and risen for us. […] Hence the importance of returning to the essence of Christian life and of our first love, and returning to our roots as the first communities; that is to say, where all things were held in common” (EC Costa Rica).

42. Fulfilling our mission we grow to the measure of our Christian vocation. ‘Enlarging our tent’ is at the heart of this missionary activity. Therefore, a Church that practises synodality offers a potent Gospel witness to the world: “The Holy Spirit is pushing for the renewal of our strategies, commitments, dedication and motivation so that we can walk together
and reach those who are farhest away: by spreading the Word of God with enthusiasm and joy, by putting our talents, gifts and skill to use, by accepting the new challenges and by producing cultural changes in the light of the Gospel and the life of the Church” (EC Venezuela). Contained in the reports is the dream of such a Church: one deeply involved with the world’s challenges, and capable of responding to these through concrete transformations. “The world needs a ‘Church that goes forth’, that rejects the division between believers and non-believers, that looks at humanity and offers it more than a doctrine or a strategy, an experience of salvation, a ‘coup of gift’ that responds to the cry of humanity and nature” (EC Portugal).

The Church’s mission in today’s world.
43. Synodality is a call from God to walk together with the whole human family. In many places, Christians live in the midst of people of other faiths or non-believers and are engaged in a dialogue formed in the exchanges of everyday life and common living: “A social climate of dialogue is cultivated with those who practice traditional African religion, too, and with every other person or community, whatever religious denomination they belong to” (EC Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau). However, the reports indicate that there is still a long way to go in terms of social, cultural, spiritual and intellectual exchange and collaboration.

44. The wounds of the Church are intimately connected to those of the world. The reports speak of the challenges of tribalism, sectarianism, racism, poverty, and gender inequality within the life of the Church, as well as the world. Uganda echoes many other countries in noting that in the structures of the Church “the rich and the educated are listened to more than others”. The Philippines report notes that “many of the underprivileged and those who were marginalised in society felt that they are also left out in the Church”. Other reports note the influence that ethnic discrimination and a culture based on tribalism has on the life of ecclesial communities. These realities form not just the background context of our mission but also define its focus and purpose: the message of the Gospel that the Church is charged to proclaim must also convert the structures of sin that hold humanity and creation captive.

45. The People of God express a deep desire to hear the cry of the poor and that of the earth. In particular, the reports invite us to recognize the interconnectedness of social and environmental challenges and to respond to them by collaborating and forming alliances with other Christian confessions, believers of other religions and all people of good will. This call for renewed ecumenism and interfaith engagement is particularly strong in regions marked by greater vulnerability to socio-environmental damage and more pronounced inequalities. For example, many African and Pacific Rim reports call on Churches around the world to recognize that addressing socio-environmental challenges is no longer optional: “It is our desire to protect this part of God’s creation, as the wellbeing of our people depends on the ocean in so many ways. In some of our countries the major threat is the ocean as changes in climate have drastic outcomes for the actual survival of these countries” (EC Pacific).

46. Some reports also noted the importance of the role of the Church in the public sphere, particularly in relation to processes of peace-building and reconciliation. In heavily divided societies this is often seen as a crucial part of mission. Other reports called for the Church to be more confident in contributing to debate and action for justice in the public sphere. The desire was for greater formation in the Church’s social teaching. “[O]ur Church is not called to confrontation, but to dialogue and cooperation on all levels […].Our dialogue cannot be an apologetic dialogue with useless arguments, but a dialogue of life and solidarity” (Catholic Armenian Church).

47. A further theme common to many reports is the weakness of deep ecumenical engagement and the desire to learn how to breathe new life into the ecumenical journey, starting with concrete, daily collaboration on common concerns for social and environmental justice. A more united witness among Christians and between faith communities is expressed as an ardent desire.

Walking together with all Christians.
48. The call to ecumenism is not, however, merely aimed at common social engagement. Many reports emphasize that there is no complete synodality without unity among Christians. This begins with the call for closer communion between Churches of different rites. Since the Second Vatican Council, ecumenical dialogue has made progress: “In the real life of the Central African Republic, ‘living together’ between Christians of different confessions is self-evident. Our neighbourhoods, our families, our mortuary places, our workplaces are real places of ecumenism” (EC Republic of Central Africa). However, many ecumenical issues related to synodal structures and ministries in the Church are still not well-articulated. The reports also note that there is an ‘ecumenism of martydom’ where persecution continues to unite Christians. The reports request greater attention to divisive realities, for example the question of sharing the Eucharist.

49. The reports also point to the sensitive phenomenon of the growth in the number of inter-church and interfaith families, with their specific needs in terms of accompaniment. Revitalizing the commitment to dialogue and accompaniment as a witness in a fragmented world requires targeted formation that increases confidence, capacity and motivation for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue among bishops, priests, consecrated women and men, lay men and women. “Although the Catholic Church in India has attempted to foster ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, there is a feeling that the mission in this realm is minimal. The dialogue efforts drew only a handful of elites and remained mostly as cerebral exercises limited to the realm of ideas and concepts rather than becoming a movement of the
masses and becoming also a dialogue of life, love and action at the base, by getting people of various faiths and ideologies to discern, plan and work together for common causes” (EC India).

Cultural contexts
50. Numerous reports highlight the importance of recognizing that the Church fulfills its mission of proclaiming the Gospel within specific cultural contexts, and is influenced by profound and rapid social changes. The factors vary, but create significant challenges for participation and shape the reality of the Church’s mission. Legacies of sectarianism, tribalism, ethno-nationalisms – differently expressed and experienced in diverse places -share the same characteristic threat: to narrow the Church’s expression of its catholicity.

51. Many local Churches express concern about the impact of a lack of trust and credibility resulting from the abuse crises. Others point to individualism and consumerism as critical cultural factors: “Every day we can feel that even in our country the proclamation of the Gospel is challenged by growing secularization, individualism and indifference to the institutional forms of religion” (EC Hungary). Malta’s report, like many others, underscores how historical entanglements between Church and political power continue to have an effect on the mission context. Many Churches feel they face all these cultural challenges simultaneously, but wish to grow more and more confidentin proclaiming the Gospel in “a
consumerist society that has failed to ensure sustainability, equity or life satisfaction” (EC Ireland). Others experience a pluralism of positions within themselves: “Southern Africa is also impacted by the international trends of secularisation, individualisation, and relativism. Issues such as the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and remarriage, Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ were raised up across the Dioceses both rural an urban. There were of course differing views on these and it is not possible to give a definitive community stance on any of these issues” (EC South Africa). Many reports express particular regret and concern for the pressures experienced by families and the resulting impact on intergenerational relationships and faith transmission. Many Asian reports ask for better accompaniment and formation for families, as they negotiate changing cultural conditions.

52. In some contexts, the witness of the faith is lived to the point of martyrdom. There are countries where Christians, especially young people, face the challenge of systematic forced conversion to other religions. There are many reports that emphasize the insecurity and violence with which persecuted Christian minorities must contend. In such cases, walking together with people of other faiths, instead of retreating behind the wall of separation, requires the courage of prophecy.

Cultures, religions and dialogue
53. An essential element of a synodal Church, one which still needs significant deepening and better understanding, is the call to a more meaningful inter-cultural approach. This approach begins by walking together with others, appreciating cultural differences, understanding those particularities as elements which help us to grow: “The encounter between the Catholic Church in Cambodia and the Buddhist Monks and lay Cambodian Buddhists ‘creates a new culture.’ All our activities affect each other and affect the whole world. We may differ in religion, but we all seek the common good” (EC Laos and Cambodia). It is the Churches that represent a small minority in the context in which they live that experience this most intensely: “For example [there is] what we might call the ‘porosity’ of our Churches, whose line of demarcation with civil society is paradoxically less marked than elsewhere […]. There is no problem of doing things ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the Church. We are an outgoing Church by definition, because we are always ‘in the home of others’ and this has taught us listening, flexibility, and creativity in forms, language, and practices” (EC North African Region- CERNA).

54. However, even when we come to acceptance or even appreciation of the other, the journey is still incomplete. The Church’s intercultural approach aims at the horizon to which Christ calls us: the Kingdom of God. In the embrace of an enriching diversity, we can find our deeper unity and the opportunity to cooperate with God’s grace: “We should also take heed of the thoughts and ideas of the extended family and companions in the journey; non-Catholics, Politicians and non-believers. These are voices in our neighbourhood we cannot afford to avoid lest we miss out God’s whispers through them!” (EC Zimbabwe). This constitutes a witness within a world that struggles to see diversity in unity as a true vocation: “The community[…] must take greater account of diversity, aspirations, needs and ways of living the faith. The universal Church must remain the guarantor of unity, but Dioceses can inculturate the faith locally: decentralization is necessary” (Archdiocese of Luxembourg).

55. In a good number of reports, there is a call to better recognize, engage, integrate, and respond to the richness of local cultures, many of which have worldviews and styles of action that are synodal. People express a desire to promote (and in some cases recover and deepen) local culture, to integrate it with faith, and to incorporate it into the liturgy. “In this context, Christians are called to offer their own contribution starting from their own vision of faith in order to enculturate it in the new cultural contexts […]. This diversity of approaches should be seen as the implementation of a model of interculturality, where the different proposals complement and enrich each other, going beyond that of multiculturality, which consists in the simple juxtaposition of cultures, closed within their perimeters” (Contribution of
the Pontifical Council for Culture).

56. In many cases, the reports call especially for attention to the situation of indigenous peoples. Their spirituality, wisdom, and culture have much to teach. We need to reread history together with these peoples, to draw inspiration from those situations in which the Church’s action has been at the service of their integral human development, and to ask forgiveness for the times when it has instead been complicit in their oppression. At the same time, some reports highlight the need to reconcile the apparent contradictions that exist between cultural practices or traditional beliefs and the teachings of the Church. On a more general level, the practice of synodality – communion, participation and mission – needs to be articulated within local cultures and contexts, in a tension that promotes discernment and generativity.

3.3 Communion, participation, and co-responsibility
57. The mission of the Church is realized through the lives of all the baptised. The reports express a deep desire to recognise and reaffirm this common dignity as the basis for the renewal of life and ministries in the Church. They affirm the value of all vocations in the Church, and above all, invite us to follow Jesus, returning to his style and way of exercising power and authority as a means of offering healing, reconciliation and liberation.
“It is important to build a synodal institutional model as an ecclesial paradigm of deconstructing pyramidal power that privileges unipersonal managements. The only legitimate authority in the Church must be that of love and service, following the example of the Lord” (CE Argentina).

Beyond clericalism
58. The tone of the reports is not anti-clerical (against priests or the ministerial priesthood). Many express deep appreciation and affection for faithful and dedicated priests, and concerns about the many demands that they face. They also voice the desire for better formed, better accompanied and less isolated priests. They signal the importance of ridding the Church of clericalism so that all its members, including priests and laity, can fulfil a common mission. Clericalism is seen as a form of spiritual impoverishment, a deprivation of the true goods of ordained ministry, and a culture that isolates clergy and harms the laity. This culture separates us from the living experience of God and damages the kinship relations of the baptised, producing rigidity, attachment to legalistic power and an exercise of authority that is power rather than service. Clericalism can be as much a temptation for lay people as clergy., as the report from the Central African Republic underlines: “some parish priests behave like ‘order-givers’, imposing their will without listening to anyone. Lay Christians do not feel they are members of the People of God. Initiatives that are too ‘clericalistic’ should be deplored. Some pastoral workers, clerics and lay, sometimes prefer to surround themselves with those who share their opinions and stay away from those whose convictions are hostile and in disagreement with them.”

59. Although frank in their diagnosis of the problem, the reports are not hopeless. They express a deep and energetic desire for renewed forms of leadership – priestly, episcopal, religious and lay – that are relational and collaborative, and forms of authority capable of generating solidarity and co-responsibility: “The tasks of the authorities include encouraging, involving, leading and facilitating participation in the life of the Church […] and delegating part of the responsibilities” (EC Slovakia). Lay people, religious and clerics desire to put their talents and abilities at the disposal of the Church, and to do so they call for an exercise of leadership that enables them to be free. The reports express gratitude for those leaders who already exercise their role in these ways.

Rethinking women’s participation
60. The call for a conversion of the Church’s culture, for the salvation of the world, is linked in concrete terms to the possibility of establishing a new culture, with new practices and structures. A critical and urgent area in this regard concerns the role of women and their vocation, rooted in our common baptismal dignity, to participate fully in the life of the Church. A growing awareness and sensitivity towards this issue is registered all over the world.

61. From all continents comes an appeal for Catholic women to be valued first and foremost as baptised and equal members of the People of God. There is almost unanimous affirmation that women love the Church deeply, but many feel sadness because their lives are often not well understood, and their contributions and charisms not always valued. The Holy Land report notes: “Those who were most committed to the synod process were women, who seem to have realised not only that they had more to gain, but also more to offer by being relegated to a prophetic edge, from which they observe what happens in the life of the Church;” and continues: “In a Church where almost all decision-makers are men, there are few spaces where women can make their voices heard. Yet they are the backbone of Church communities, both because they represent the majority of the practising members and because they are among the most active members of the Church.” The Korean report confirms: “Despite the great participation of women in various Church activities, they are often excluded from key decision-making processes. Therefore, the Church needs to improve its awareness and institutional aspects of their activities” (EC Korea). The Church faces two related challenges: women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life.

62. In every area of their lives, women ask the Church to be their ally. This includes addressing the social realities of impoverishment, violence and diminishment faced by women across the globe. They call for a Church at their side, and grater understanding and support in combating these forces of destruction and exclusion. Women participating in the synodal processes desire both Church and society to be a place of flourishing, active participation and healthy belonging. Some reports note that the cultures of their countries have made progress in the inclusion and participation of women, progress that could serve as a model for the Church. “This lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world” (EC New Zealand).

63. In different forms, the problem is present across cultural contexts and concerns the participation and recognition of laywomen as well as women religious. The report from Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life notes: “Sexism in decision-making and Church language is prevalent in the Church… As a result, women are excluded from meaningful roles in the life of the Church, discriminated against by not receiving a fair wage for their ministries and services. Women religious are often regarded as cheap labour. There is a tendency – in some Churches – to exclude women and to
entrust ecclesial functions to permanent deacons; and even to undervalue religious life without the habit, without regard for the fundamental equality and dignity of all baptised Christian faithful, women and men” (USG/UISG).

64. Almost all reports raise the issue of full and equal participation of women: “The growing recognition of the importance of women in the life of the Church opens up possibilities for greater, albeit limited, participation in Church structures and decision-making spheres” (EC Brazil). However, the reports do not agree on a single or complete response to the question of the vocation, inclusion and flourishing of women in Church and society. After careful listening, many reports ask that the Church continue its discernment in relation to a range of specific questions: the active role of women in the governing structures of Church bodies, the possibility for women with adequate training to preach in parish settings, and a female diaconate. Much greater diversity of opinion was expressed on the subject of priestly ordination for women, which some reports call for, while others consider a closed issue.

65. A key element of this process concerns the recognition of the ways in which women, especially women religious, are already at the forefront of synodal practices in some of the most challenging social situations we face. The contribution submitted by the Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General notes: “There are seeds of synodality where we break new ground in solidarity: securing a future of racial and ethnic justice and peace for black, brown, Asian and Native American brothers and sisters (United States); connecting in depth with indigenous and native sisters and brothers (Americas); opening new avenues of presence of religious sisters in diverse movements; alliance with like-minded groups to address key social issues (such as climate change, refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness), or issues of specific nations.” In these contexts, women seek collaborators and can be teachers of synodality within wider Church processes.

Charisms, vocations and ministries
66. Responsibility for the synodal life of the Church cannot be delegated, but must be shared by all in response to the gifts the Spirit bestows on the faithful. “One group in Lae Diocese commented about the synodality in their parish: ‘In our parish pastoral council meeting, we see that we take the opinion/suggestion of all the people and also of woman before taking decision which will affect the life of all people in our parish.’ Another parish commented: ‘When we want to do anything in our parish, we meet together, take the suggestions of everyone in the community, decide together and carry out the decisions together’” (EC Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands). However, there is no shortage of expressions
of difficulty in actually practicing co-responsibility: “As bishops we recognize that the ‘baptismal theology’ promoted by the Second Vatican Council, the basis of co-responsibility in mission, has not been sufficiently developed, and therefore the majority of the baptized do not feel a full identification with the Church and even less a missionary co-responsibility. Moreover, the leadership of current pastoral structures, as well as the mentality of many priests, do not foster this co-responsibility. Likewise, religious men and women, as well as lay apostolic movements, often remain subtly or openly on the margins of diocesan dynamics. Thus, the so-called ‘committed laity’ in parishes (who are the least numerous) end up being overburdened with intra-ecclesial responsibilities that exceed their strength and exhaust their time” (EC Mexico).

67. This desire for co-responsibility becomes grounded first of all in the key of service to the common mission, that is, with the language of ministeriality. As the Italian report says, “The experience made […] has helped to rediscover the co-responsibility that comes from baptismal dignity and has let emerge the possibility of overcoming a vision of Church built around ordained ministry in order to move toward a Church that is ‘all ministerial,’ which is a communion of different charisms and ministries.” The theme of ministry as central to the life of the Church, and the need to articulate the unity of mission with the plurality of ministries, emerges from the consultation of the People of God. Recognizing and promoting it “is not here an end in itself, but an enhancement in the service of mission: different actors, equal in dignity, complementary to be a sign, to make credible a Church that is sacrament of the Kingdom” (EC Belgium).

68. Many reports refer to practices for the recognition and promotion of ministries, which enable an effective entrustment by the community: “The promotion of lay ministries and the assumption of responsibilities takes place through the election or appointment of the faithful who are considered to possess the requisites laid down” (EC Mozambique). In this way, each ministry becomes a structural and structuring element of community life: “The assumption of responsibility is guaranteed by the mandate received and the principle of subsidiarity. Catechists are instituted and have a special status in the Church Family of God. […] Some of them are ‘instituted’ as Community Leaders, especially in rural areas where the presence of priests is rare” (EC RD Congo). There is no shortage of questions regarding spaces for the possible exercise of lay ministry: “Many groups would like to see greater participation of the laity, but the margins for maneuver are unclear: what concrete tasks can the laity perform? How is the responsibility of the baptized articulated with that of the parish priest?” (EC Belgium).

69. In some contexts, there is a need to consider the variety of charisms and ministries that emerge in an organized form within associations, lay movements and new religious communities. Attention is needed to their specificities, and also to safeguarding the harmony within each local Church. When it enters into the concrete life of the Church, the theme of ministeriality inevitably meets with the question of its institutionalization. This raises the question of the structures through which the life of the Christian community unfolds.

70. In the Catholic Church, the charismatic gifts freely bestowed by the Holy Spirit, which help ‘rejuvenate’ the Church, are inseparable from the hierarchical gifts which are linked to the Sacrament of Orders in its various degrees. A great challenge of synodality that emerged during the first year is the harmonisation of these gifts, without pitting them against each other, under the guidance of the pastors, and thus without opposing the Church’s charismatic and institutional dimensions.

3.4 Synodality takes shape
71. The synodal journey has brought out a number of tensions, made explicit in the preceding paragraphs. We should not be afraid of them, but articulate them in a process of constant communal discernment, so as to harness them as a source of energy without them becoming destructive: only in this way will it be possible to continue walking together, rather than each going their own way. This is why the Church also needs to give a synodal form and way of proceeding to its own institutions and structures, particularly with regard to governance. Canon law will need to accompany this process of structural renewal creating the necessary changes to the arrangements currently in place.

72. However, to function in a truly synodal way, structures will need to be inhabited by people who are well-formed, in terms of vision and skills: “The entire synodal exercise was one of active participation at diverse levels. For this process to continue, a change of mindset and a renewal of existing structures are needed” (EC India). This new vision will need to be supported by a spirituality that will sustain the practice of synodality, avoiding reducing this reality to technical-organizational issues. Living this vision, as a common mission, can only happen through encounter with the Lord and listening to the Spirit. For there to be synodality, the presence of the Spirit is necessary, and there is no Spirit without prayer.

Structures and institutions
73. In terms of global-local tension– which in ecclesial language refers to the relationships of local Churches among themselves and with the universal Church – the dynamic of the synodal process places before us a novelty that is constituted precisely by the Continental Stage that we are currently living. Apart from a few regions characterized by a particular historical dynamic, so far the Church lacks established synodal practices at the continental level. The introduction of a specific Continental Stage in the process of the Synod does not constitute a mere organizational ploy, but corresponds to the dynamics of the incarnation of the Gospel which, taking root in areas characterised by a certain cultural cohesion and homogeneity, produces ecclesial communities with particular features, linked to the traits of each culture. In the context of a world that is both globalised and fragmented, each continent, because of its common historical roots, its tendency towards socio-cultural commonality and the fact that it presents the same challenges for the mission of evangelisation, constitutes a privileged sphere for stirring up a synodal dynamic that strengthens links between the Churches, encourages the sharing of experiences and the exchange of gifts, and helps to imagine new pastoral options.

74. Moreover, the dynamic of synodality challenges the Roman Curia itself: “It is necessary to recall the collaboration with the other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, with which we consult regularly […]. It is felt, however, that in this area more means should be found to encourage the growth of a more synodal practice and spirit to be implemented in the Roman Curia, as desired by the Holy Father with the new Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium” (Contribution of the Secretariat of State – Section for Relations with States and International Organisations).

75. Episcopal Conferences are also questioning what synodality means for them: “The bishops too have prayed and debated the question: ‘How to make an Episcopal Conference more synodal? And how to live it in a more synodal way?’” (EC Paraguay). For example, “While maintaining their collegiality and freedom of decision-making that is devoid of any kind of pressure, the Episcopal Conferences should include representatives of the clergy and laity of the various dioceses in their debates and meetings, in the name of synodality” (Contribution of the Secretariat of State – Section for the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See).

76. During the Continental Stage, Episcopal Conferences will be able to experience a new role, related not only to the promotion of communion within themselves, but also of dialogue between Churches linked by geographical and cultural proximity. In addition, the Continental Stage, through the proposed ecclesial and episcopal assemblies, will offer the opportunity to work out in grounded and practical terms how to articulate ecclesial synodality and episcopal collegiality. It will also offer the chance to reflect on ways to improve the harmony between the ordinary ways of exercising episcopal ministry and the assumption of a fully synodal style, a point on which some reports register a certain lack of energy. Revisiting the experience gained during the Continental Stage will help discern how to proceed more smoothly.

77. Far more than the Latin Church, the Oriental Churches offer a wealth of synodal structures, which are called to renewal today: “The ancient synodal structures and ecclesial processes existing in the Syro- Malabar Church (Prathinidhiyogam, Palliyogam and Desayogam) express the synodal nature of the Church at the local, regional and universal levels, and are useful for forming us to synodality. They are at the service of the parishes and communities, which discover collaborative exercise of the pastoral ministries to move forward by listening to the Holy Spirit. Moreover, there are some new initiatives and attempts which try to empower the synodal structures of the Church” (Syro-Malabar Catholic Church).

78. The dynamic of co-responsibility, with a view to and in service of the common mission and not as an organizational way of allocating roles and powers, runs through all levels of Church life. At the local level, it calls into question the bodies of participation already envisaged at the various levels and with the specificities proper to the various rites, and those that may possibly be appropriate to set up in service to a strengthened synodal dynamic: “it was discussed to have structure and organization which sincerely reflects the spirit of synodality” (EC Korea). These are first and foremost
pastoral councils, called to be increasingly institutional places of inclusion, dialogue, transparency, discernment, evaluation and empowerment of all. In our time they are indispensable. Economic, diocesan and parish councils should then be added, taking note also of the episcopal and presbyteral councils around the bishop. Many reports show the need for these bodies to be not only consultative, but places where decisions are made on the basis of processes of communal discernment rather than on the majority principle used in democratic regimes.

79. In different parts of the world, transparency is seen as an essential practice for a Church growing into a more authentic synodality: “The Catholic Church needs to become more open and transparent, everything is done in secret. Parish Council agendas and minutes are never published, financial committee decisions never discussed or balance sheets shared” (individual observation from UK). Transparency will propel toward true accountability of all decision-making processes, including the criteria used for discernment. A style of leadership anchored in a synodal way of proceeding will produce trust and credibility: “On some issues, the exercise of authority is effectively collegial, through consultation with the bodies embedded in the various structures of administration, management and pastoral animation […]. But it is sometimes sad to note that in our Catholic Church there are bishops, priests, catechists, community leaders …, who are very authoritarian. […] Instead of serving the community, some serve themselves with unilateral decisions, and this hinders our synodal journey” (EC Chad). In addition, many reports note the need to involve people with adequate professional competence in the management of economic and governance issues.

80. All Church institutions, as fully participatory bodies, are called to consider how they might integrate the call to synodality into the ways in which they exercise their functions and their mission, renewing their structures and procedures. A special case in point is represented by universities and academic institutions, which will be able to develop research addressing questions of synodality, helping to innovate in the design of educational and formation programmes. In particular, theological faculties will be able to deepen the ecclesiological, Christological and Pneumatological insights that synodal experiences and practices bring.

81. The adoption of an authentically synodal style also challenges consecrated life, beginning precisely with those practices that already emphasize the importance of the participation of all members in the life of the community to which they belong: “Synodality in consecrated life affects discernment and decision-making. Although communal discernment has been practised in our Institutes, there is room for improvement. Membership in a body requires participation. […] A shared desire is the establishment – both in the life of the Church and in the consecrated life – of a circular (participative) and less hierarchical and pyramidal style of governance” (USG/UISG).

Formation
82. The overwhelming majority of reports indicate the need to provide for formation in synodality. Structures alone are not enough: there is a need for ongoing formation to support a widespread synodal culture. This formation must articulate itself in relationship to the local context so as to facilitate synodal conversion in the way participation, authority and leadership are exercised in view of more effectively fulfiling the common mission. It is not simply a matter of providing specific technical or methodological skills. Formation for synodality intersects all dimensions of Christian life and can only be “an integral formation that includes personal, spiritual, theological, social and practical dimensions. For this, a community of reference is essential, because one principle of ‘walking together’ is the formation of the heart, which transcends concrete knowledge and embraces the whole of life. It is necessary to incorporate in the Christian life
a continuous and permanent formation to put synodality into practice, to mature and grow in faith, to participate in public life, to increase the love and participation of the faithful in the Eucharist, to assume stable ministries, to exercise real co-responsibility in the governance of the Church, to dialogue with other Churches and with society in order to bring those who are far away closer in a spirit of fraternity” (EC Spain). This training will have to be addressed to all members of the People of God: “For the realization of the said elements of synodality, there is an urgent need for the education and
formation programmes for clergy and lay people for developing a shared understanding of synodality that is so vital for journeying together in the local Churches” (EC Myanmar). In this way, the perspective of synodality will converge with catechesis and pastoral care, helping to keep them anchored in a mission perspective.

83. However, the need for more specific formation in listening and dialogue is also emphasised, for example through the establishment of synodality agents and teams. Many reports point to the need to ensure formation in synodality for those who will be called to assume leadership roles, especially priests: “Though long, seminary formation is geared toward preparing the clergy for a priestly lifestyle and devoid of forming them for pastoral coordination. The formation and training on working together, listening to one another and participation in the mission together is essential in priestly formation” (EC Sri Lanka).

Spirituality
84. A culture of synodality, which is indispensable for animating structures and institutions, requires adequate formation, and, above all, needs to be nurtured by familiarity with the Lord and the capacity to listen to the voice of the Spirit: “spiritual discernment must accompany strategic planning and decision-making, so that each project is welcomed and accompanied by the Holy Spirit” (Greek Melkite Catholic Church). For this we must grow in a synodal spirituality that is based on attention to interiority and conscience. “In personal spirituality and in the message of the Church, the joy of the risen Christ must prevail and not the fear of a God who punishes” (EC Czech Republic).

85. As has already been stressed many times, a synodal Church first of all needs to deal with the many tensions that emerge from encountering diversity. Therefore, a synodal spirituality can only be one that welcomes differences and promotes harmony, and draws from the tensions the energies to continue on the journey. To achieve this, it will have to move from accentuating the individual dimension to the collective dimension: a spirituality of “we,” which can enhance the contributions of each person.

86. The first year of the synodal journey has already offered stimulating experiences in this direction, through the proposed method of spiritual conversation. This method has enabled the People of God to savor the flavor of an interpersonal encounter around the Word of God and the varied resonances it arouses in the heart of each person. In addition to making it an ordinary practice in the life of the Church, as is demanded by many, this method must evolve in the direction of communal discernment, particularly within the bodies of participation. This entails a greater effort to integrate the spiritual dimension within the ordinary life of ecclesial institutions and of their governance structures, articulating discernment within decision- making processes. Prayer and silence cannot remain extraneous to these processes, as if it were a preamble or an appendix.

87. Christian spirituality is expressed in different ways, related both to the multiplicity of traditions between East and West and to the variety of charisms in consecrated life and ecclesial movements. A synodal Church is built around diversity, and the encounter between different spiritual traditions can be a formative “gymnasium” insofar as it is capable of promoting communion and harmony, contributing to overcoming the polarizations that many Churches experience.

3.5 Synodal life and liturgy
88. The reports emphasise in many ways the deep link between synodality and liturgy: “In ‘walking together’, prayer, devotion to Mary as a missionary disciple listening to the Word, lectio divina and liturgical celebration inspire the purpose of belonging” (EC Colombia). Roots that reach deep

89. The Eucharist is already, in itself, the ‘source and summit’ of the Church’s synodal dynamism. “Liturgical celebration and prayer are experienced as a force for uniting and mobilizing human and spiritual energies.The prevailing opinion is that prayer fosters joy of life and a purpose of community, because it is seen as a point of reference, a place of strength and an oasis of peace. […] the contributions underscore two modalities to be developed in view of a synodal journey: the unity of the community and the joy of life. This journey would pass through the great liturgical gatherings (pilgrimages…), to nourish popular piety, renew faith, nourish the feeling of belonging, and thus better accompany Christians so that they witness to the Gospel of charity in the face of communitarianism and ‘identity withdrawal’ which are more and more visible and aggressive” (EC Burkina Faso e Niger).

90. In countries in diverse areas of the world “the bond of many baptised people with the Church passes above all through the phenomenon of popular religiosity. […] Many people consider it a sign of belonging to the Church; for this reason, we must promote and evangelise [it], with a view to a more intense participation and a conscious incorporation into Christian life” (EC Panama).

Managing tensions: renewal and reconciliation
91. Many reports strongly encourage the implementation of a synodal style of liturgical celebration that allows for the active participation of all the faithful in welcoming all differences, valuing all ministries, and recognising all charisms. The synodal listening of the Churches records many issues to be addressed in this direction: from rethinking a liturgy too concentrated on the celebrant, to the modalities of active participation of the laity, to the access of women to ministerial roles. “While being faithful to the tradition, its originality, antiquity, and uniformity, let us try to make the liturgical celebration more alive and participatory of all the community of believers; priests, laity, youth and children, reading the signs of the time with sound discernment. The young people are trying to have a space in the liturgy with songs and it is positive” (EC Ethiopia).

92. The current experience of the Churches, however, records knots of conflict which need to be addressed in a synodal manner, such as discerning the relationship to preconciliar rites: “Division regarding the celebration of the liturgy was reflected in synodal consultations. ‘Sadly, celebration of the Eucharist is also experienced as an area of division within the Church.

The most common issue regarding the liturgy is the celebration of the pre- Conciliar Mass.’ The limited access to the 1962 Missal was lamented; many felt that the differences over how to celebrate the liturgy ‘sometimes reach the level of animosity. People on each side of the issue reported feeling judged by those who differ from them’” (EC USA). The Eucharist, sacramentof unity in love in Christ, cannot become a reason for confrontation, ideology, rift or division. Moreover, with direct impact on the life of many Churches, there are elements of tension specific to the ecumenical sphere, such as the sharing of the Eucharist. Finally, there are problems related to the modalities of faith inculturation and interreligious dialogue, which also affect the forms of celebration and prayer.

93. The reports do not fail to point out the main shortcomings of the actual celebratory praxis, which obscure its synodal effectiveness. In particular, the following are emphasized: the liturgical protagonism of the priest and the risk of the passivity of the wider liturgical community; poor preaching, including the distance between the content of the sermon, the
beauty of faith and the concreteness of life; and the separation between the liturgical life of the assembly and the family network of the community. The quality of homilies is almost unanimously reported as a problem: there is a call for “deeper homilies, centered on the Gospel and the readings of the day, and not on politics, making use of accessible and attractive language that refers to the lives of the faithful” (Maronite Church).

94. A particular source of suffering are those situations in which access to the Eucharist and to the other Sacraments is hindered or prevented by a variety of causes: there is a strong demand to find solutions to these forms of sacramental deprivation. For example, communities living in very remote areas are cited, or the use of charging fees for access to celebrations, which discriminates against the poorest. Many summaries also give voice to the pain of not being able to access the Sacraments experienced by remarried divorcees and those who have entered into polygamous marriages.There is no unanimity on how to deal with these situations: “Access to Holy Communion is denied to the divorced and remarried, and they expressed hurt at this exclusion. Some expressed the view that the Church should be more flexible, but others felt this practice should be upheld” (EC Malaysia).

A synodal style of celebrating
95. At the same time, the synod process represented an opportunity to experience anew the diversity in forms of prayer and celebration, increasing the desire to make it more accessible in the ordinary life of communities. The French report gives voice to three aspirations: “the first […] concerns the diversification of liturgies to the benefit of celebrations of the Word, that is, moments of prayer that place meditation on biblical texts at the centre. The second, less frequent, recalls the importance of pilgrimages and popular piety. The third calls for a renewed liturgical formation, to address a problem reported by many reports, namely the incomprehensibility of the language normally used by the Church” (EC France). Some regions raise the question of the reform of the liturgy, even in the Oriental Churches where it is profoundly linked to the identity of the Church: “In our Church, a liturgical reform is opportune, so as to re-read in the light of the Holy Spirit the action and participation of the People of God in God’s work in our time” (Greek-Melkite Church).

96. Many Churches also emphasise the importance of habitually linking liturgical celebration with the various forms of dialogical sharing and fraternal conviviality. “Conviviality and fraternity were always part of the experience [of synod meetings]. In every meeting, from the initial one to the subsequent consultations in parishes and pastoral structures, there was salu-salo (sharing of food). Many pointed out how the [synodal] meetings positively influenced the celebration of the liturgies” (EC Philippines).

97. The variety of ritual traditions of liturgical prayer, as well as the symbolic forms with which diverse cultures express themselves, is considered by all to be an asset. A renewed love for spirituality, a commitment to care for the beauty and the synodal style of celebration all support the radiance of a missionary Church: “All the contributions received speak of celebrations as spaces that can offer inspiration and help to live the faith in personal, family, professional life, in the neighborhood and in the community itself” (EC Uruguay).

4. The next steps

98. Looking to the future of the synodal process requires

considering two very different time horizons. The first is the long-
term horizon, in which synodality takes the form of a perennial call to

personal conversion and reform of the Church. The second, clearly at
the service of the first, is the one that focuses our attention on the
events of the Continental Stage that we experiencing.
4.1 A journey of conversion and reform
99. In the reports, the People of God express a desire to be
less a Church of maintenance and conservation and more a Church
that goes out in mission. A connection emerges between deepening
communion through synodality on the one hand and strengthening
mission on the other: being synodal leads into renewed mission.
As the Spanish report says: “we believe that communion must lead
us to a permanent state of mission: meeting and listening to each
other, dialogue, reflection, discernment together are all actions with
positive effects in themselves, but they are not understandable if
they are not directed at pushing us to go beyond ourselves and our
communities of reference in order to carry out the mission entrusted
to us as Church.”
100. The People of God have found joy in walking together and
express the desire to continue doing so. How to do this as a truly
global Catholic community is something that still needs to be fully
discovered: “To walk in a synodal way, by listening to one another,
participating in mission, and engaging in dialogue, has possibly an
‘already and not yet’ dimension, it is there, but much more to be
done. The laity are capable, talented and willing to contribute more
and more, provided they are given opportunities. Further surveys
and studies at the parish level can open up more avenues where the
contributions of the laity can be immense and the result would be
more vibrant and flourishing Church, which is the goal of synodality”
(EC Namibia). We are a learning Church, and to be so we need
continuous discernment to help us read the Word of God and the
signs of the times together, so as to move forward in the direction the
Spirit is pointing us.

4. The next steps

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101. At the same time, walking together as the People of God
requires us to recognize the need for continual conversion, individual
and communal. On the institutional and pastoral level, this conversion
translates into an equally continuous reform of the Church, its structures
and style, in the wake of the drive for continuous ‘aggiornamento,’
the precious legacy of the Second Vatican Council to which we are
called to look as we celebrate its 60th anniversary.
102. In the journey of conversion and reform, we are supported
by the gifts we have received during the first year of the synodal
journey, beginning with what Jesus shows us in the Gospels. The free
and gratuitous attention to the other, which is the basis of listening,
is not a limited resource to be jealously guarded, but an overflowing
source that does not run out, but grows the more we draw from it.
Listening and dialogue are the way to access the gifts that the Spirit
offers us through the multifaceted variety of the one Church: of
charisms, of vocations, of talents, of skills, of languages and cultures,
of spiritual and theological traditions, of different forms of celebrating
and giving thanks. The reports do not call for uniformity, but ask that
we learn to grow in a sincere harmony that helps the baptised fulfil
their mission in the world by creating the bonds necessary to walk
together joyfully.
103. The message of our synodal way is simple: we are learning
to walk together, and sit together to break the one bread, in such a
way that each is able to find their place. Everyone is called to take
part in this journey, no one is excluded. To this we feel called so that
we can credibly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to all people. This is the
path we seek to continue on in our next Continental Stage.
4.2 Methodology for the Continental Stage
104. This Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) invites us to take
a further step in this spiritual journey “for a synodal Church: communion,
participation and mission” and constitutes its point of reference: “Just as the
experience of the disciples at Emmaus was only the beginning of their new
mission, our synodal process is only a first step” (EC Russian Federation). The
continental level constitutes an opportunity to live synodality, which we are
still learning to grasp and which we are now invited to practise concretely.

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105. The DCS, which gathers and restores to the local Churches,
what the People of God from around the world said in the first year
of the Synod, is meant to guide us and enable us to deepen our
discernment, keeping in mind the basic question that animates the
entire process: “How does this ‘journeying together,’ which takes
place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal
one), allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the
mission entrusted to Her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to
take in order to grow as a synodal Church?” (PD, no. 2).
106. The DCS is thus the privileged instrument through which
the dialogue of the local Churches among themselves and with
the universal Church can take place during the Continental Stage.
To pursue this process of listening, dialogue and discernment, the
reflection will focus on three questions:
– “After having read and prayed with the DCS, which
intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences
and realities of the Church in your continent? Which
experiences are new, or illuminating to you?”
– “After having read and prayed with the DCS, what
substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly
important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently,
what are the questions or issues that should be addressed
and considered in the next steps of the process?”
– “Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions,
what are the priorities, recurring themes and calls to action
that can be shared with other local Churches around the
world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal
Assembly in October 2023?”

Key stages in the process
107. Each Continental Assembly is called to put in place a
discernment process on the DCS that is appropriate to its local
context, and draft a Final Document to account for it. The Final
Documents of the seven Continental Assemblies will be used as the
basis for drafting the Instrumentum Laboris, which will be completed
by June 2023.

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108. The vast majority of Episcopal Conferences that responded
to the consultation sent by the General Secretariat of the Synod want
representatives from the entire People of God to be involved in the
Continental Stage. It is therefore asked that all Assemblies be ecclesial
and not merely episcopal, ensuring that their composition adequately
represents the variety of the People of God: bishops, presbyters,
deacons, consecrated women and men, laymen and women. With
respect to the participants in the Continental Assemblies, it is
important to pay special attention to the presence of women and
young people (laymen and laywomen, consecrated men and women
in formation, seminarians); people living in conditions of poverty or
marginalization, and those who have direct contact with these groups
and persons; fraternal delegates from other Christian denominations;
representatives of other religions and faith traditions; and some
people with no religious affiliation. Furthermore, bishops are invited
to meet at the end of the Continental Assemblies to collegially reread
the lived synodal experience from the perspective of their specific
charism and role. In particular, they are asked to identify appropriate
ways to carry out their task of validating and approving the Final
Document, ensuring that it is the fruit of an authentically synodal
journey, respectful of the process that has taken place and faithful to
the diverse voices of the People of God in each continent.
109. The process leading from the publication of this DCS to the
drafting of the Instrumentum Laboris will be marked by the following
steps:
1. The DCS will be sent to all diocesan bishops; each of them,
together with the diocesan synodal team that coordinated the
first phase, will arrange an ecclesial process of discernment
on the DCS, starting with the three questions indicated above
in no. 106. Each local Church will thus have the opportunity
to listen to the voice of the other Churches, gathered in the
DCS, and to respond to it from its own experience.
2. With the involvement of its synodal team, each Episcopal
Conference has the task of collecting and synthesizing in
the form most appropriate to its own context the reflections
around the three questions coming from the individual
Dioceses.

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3. The reflection and discernment of each Episcopal Conference
will then be shared within the Continental Assembly, according
to the modalities identified by the Continental Task Force.
4. In planning the conduct of each specific Continental Assembly,
it may be useful to reflect on how to use the widespread
and much-appreciated method of “spiritual conversation”
(see Vademecum, Appendix B, no. 8), which can facilitate
the involvement of all in discernment. In particular, its three
phases should be emphasized: the taking of the floor by each
participant, the resonance of listening to others, and the
discernment of the fruits by the group. As already highlighted
in the Methodological Guidelines, it will be important to
ensure the participation in the Continental Assemblies of
bishops, priests, deacons, lay men and women, consecrated
men and women, as well as people capable of expressing the
views of those on the margins.
5. Each Continental Assembly will draft its own Final Document
of a maximum of about twenty pages confronting the three
questions from its own specific context. The Final Documents
are to be submitted by each Continental Task Force to the
Synod Secretariat by March 31, 2023. Based on the Final
Documents of the Continental Assemblies, the Instrumentum
laboris will be drafted by June 2023.

 

Published by the General Secretariat of the Synod
Via della Conciliazione, 34 – Vatican City

October 2022
www.synod.va

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