A two-year 'synodal' process is taking place in the Catholic Church from October 2021 that culminates in the final Synod Gathering of Bishops in Rome in October 2023. The overall theme is "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission".
An Invitation from Bishop Declan
Austen Ivereigh, on Pope Francis' vision for a synodal church
It’s an invitation for us, as Catholics, to ‘walk together’ and every member of the Church has the right to speak, and the obligation to allow those charged with the work of discernment the freedom to do so.
For the first time, the Synod Office in Rome has produced a comprehensive process which encompasses the stated aim of the Holy Father that the Church in today’s world should have a vision of missionary communion orientated to evangelisation.
The process begins in the Particular (or Local) Church and then moves to the level of the Bishops’ Conference. From there, discernment takes place in the Regional Area – for England and Wales, it would be steered by the European Council of Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) – before moving to the Universal Church with the final Synod Gathering of Bishops in 2023, sub et cum Petro.
Every member of the Church has the right to speak, and the obligation to allow those charged with the work of discernment the freedom to do so. Pope Francis in his book Let us Dream says “we need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas”.
This is at the heart of the process. Each diocese will form its own means of running this listening process so that it reaches as broad a scope of people as possible
No, it involves everyone. Schools, young people, hospital chaplaincies, university chaplaincies, prison chaplaincies, the religious and consecrated communities, the societies of apostolic life, those with a distinctive charism in the church all have a voice that speaks into the conversation. Catholic organisations and charities also have a role to play in this work.
Echoing the experience of the Second Vatican Council, Ecumenical and Interreligious engagement is also encouraged, and this is best facilitated at the local level. This is an important voice from outside the Church that offers an insight into the collaboration for the good of all.
Pope Francis says “what is under discussion at synodal gatherings are not the traditional truths of Christian doctrine. The Synod is concerned mainly with how teaching can be lived and applied in the changing contexts of our time.”
Therefore all topics can be raised but it is important to realise that not all will form part of the ongoing discussion.
The Synodal Process is not about a democratic debate. It is place of respectful mutual listening and experiencing the call of the Holy Spirit to move in new ways. Again the Pope is clear on this:
“Another temptation that so often confuses people is treating the Synod as a kind of parliament underpinned by a ‘political battle’ in which in order to govern one side must defeat the other…this goes against the spirit of the synod as a protected space of community discernment.”
What it will do is embed at all levels of the Church a new way of listening and hearing, of discernment and action which remains faithful to the truths received but expresses them in the context of a particular time.
The whole Synodal Process is a prayerful process, rooted in the encounter with Jesus in the prayerful reading of the Sacred Scriptures and through the liturgical life of the Church and inspired by an openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Listening to each other is very important. Pope Francis says of the Synod of Bishops gathering itself: “we listen, we discuss in groups but above all we pay attention to what the Spirit has to say to us.”
This discernment is not an activity done in isolation. Mutual listening and reflection are vital, as what is proposed grows from the unity and conviction that comes from the lived practice of faith within the community.
The process of spiritual discernment is incumbent on everyone’s part; truly being open to the Spirit and seeing where the local Church is being led in its own context, with the bishops listening carefully to the views of the faithful, and the faithful respecting the authentic role of the bishop as one who governs the local Church and promotes communion.5
Discernment is always orientated towards the mission of the universal Church which continually moves towards Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life who calls his people into a unity of purpose.
The role of the Bishops’ Conference in this process is twofold. First, its Secretariat will act as an administrative point of contact for the dioceses to liaise with for the production of the documentation for the bishops, as a whole, to consider. However, and more importantly, the bishops acting together, effect a common discernment of the points raised in the particular Churches for the whole of the territory.
The bishops, whilst remaining the authentic pastors of their particular Churches and speaking on behalf of them, also work collectively to summarise the “links of culture, tradition and common history, as well as the interconnection of social relations among citizens of the same nation.”
Pope Francis has called this moment in human history as “a time of reckoning.”
The Synodal Process is for the whole Church not just in England and Wales and the themes from the title of the Synod can help in understanding why now is the right time to consider this:
a. Communion – bringing the people together as communities in the local Church begins this prayerful insight into the ways of the Holy Spirit. When the Church gathers for the Eucharist, and what flows from it, is when the necessary self-understanding of the mission of the Church is best understood. Thus the dialogue at this level is rooted in the life of the ecclesial communities and parishes.
b. Participation – the reflections that the local Churches and communities are undertaking regarding the past 15 months of pandemic form the context of how the Catholic Church in England and Wales looks forward, not backwards, to revitalising its mission of bringing the Good News to all. The gentle call of invitation to the full practice of Catholic life, with the Eucharist at the centre of all the Church does, is an integral part of the “walking together.”
c. Mission – understanding the local situation will feed necessarily into an overview of the mission in the whole diocese. Like the tesserae of a mosaic, the picture is built up of the needs for renewal so that mission to all people is firmly rooted in the life of the local community who gather, by gentle invitation by the Lord, to worship him, to be sanctified by him and to exercise both an individual and collective prophetic voice.
The Synodal Process is a pilgrimage of the whole People of God in discerning the way the Church needs to be in its localities and worldwide at this moment in time. Anyone who has been on a pilgrimage knows that the journey there is not just travelling, but an integral part of the whole. The Synod in 2023 will be an important moment in the pilgrimage but not an end point. All who commit this process to prayer, open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and speak with confidence and engage in mutual listening will assist the Church like a pilgrim “… [to go] out from herself, open(s) herself to a new horizon, and when she comes home, she is no longer the same, so her home won’t be the same.”
The Synod, which presents itself as a real “synodal time”, will be opened by Pope Francis on 9-10 October 2021 and subsequently in the individual dioceses by the respective bishops, on 17 October.As highlighted above, the synodal journey will then be marked by three phases:
Diocesan Phase (Local)
October 2021 – April 2022
During which each individual faithful can participate in the diocesan consultation. This phase will end locally with a pre-synodal assembly: the culminating moment of diocesan discernment.
A period of discernment will begin for bishops gathered in an assembly (Episcopal Conference). They will listen to what the Spirit has inspired in the churches entrusted to them. A ‘synthesis’ will be drafted and in due course sent to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops along with the contributions of each of the local churches (before April 2022).
September 2022 – March 2023
Which will have the task of discussing the text of the first Instrumentum Laboris.
Synod of Bishops (Rome)
Finally, the synodal journey will culminate with the celebration of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. #Synod2023
So that we can all fully understand what Pope Francis is asking for our participation in the Synod, the Diocese are offering information sessions to give everyone an opportunity to find out more and so be able to fully engage with the process. The dates of the information sessions are:
6 November, 10am-12noon: St John’s Centre, Trowbridge - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/trowbridge-synod-information-sessions-tickets-190920838367
6 November, 2.30pm-4.30pm: St Patrick, Brockworth - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brockworth-synod-information-sessions-tickets-190970737617
13 November, 10am-12noon: Emmaus House, Bristol - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bristol-synod-information-sessions-tickets-190972171907
13 November, 2pm-4pm: St Joseph, Bridgwater - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bridgwater-synod-information-sessions-tickets-190973525957
If parishioners plan to attend one of the sessions around the diocese, please let us know through the Eventbrite link above.
Also we are holding two online Teams sessions on 8 & 9 November at 7pm. If parishioners intend to participate in one of the online Teams sessions.
Please let us know at the [email protected] email address so that we can send a Teams invite a few days before the event.