The Holy Father has called for the Synodal Process to begin in the Dioceses of the world on 17th October 2021. It’s not a novelty! It was the way our Holy Mother Church worked throughout the centuries. The word ‘synod’ comes from two Greek words ‘sun’ meaning together and ‘hodos’ meaning way. The English word synod therefore mean making our way tougher, journeying together along the way, united in Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Now a new synodal process is about to begin, a journey in which the whole Church is engaged around the theme:

“For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

Communion is about bringing the people together as communities in the local Church. Participation theme comes from the reflections that the local Churches and communities are undertaking regarding the past 15 months of pandemic form the context of how the Church in England and Wales looks forward, not backwards, to revitalising its mission of bringing the Good News to all and the gentle call of invitation to the full practice of Catholic life, with the Eucharist at the centre of all the Church. Mission is about the understanding of the local situation, both on parish and diocesan level. 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.

These three phases will take place between October 2021 and October 2023, when a dynamism of mutual listening carried out at all levels of the Church, involving all the People of God will guide us through the necessary discernment. So the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops must listen to one another, the priests must listen to one another, the Religious must listen to one another, the laity must listen to one another and then, all inter-listening to one another; to talk to one another and to listen to one another once again.

It’s not about gathering opinions, no. This is not a survey, but about listening to the Holy Spirit… 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.

Someone asked me recently, “Will this make the Church more democratic, like other churches?” Well, 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.” Other words, it is all about how do we live the Gospel in our times, rather than to change it!

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The synod process is one of “journeying together” towards Christ – the Way, the Truth and the Life – who calls his people into a unity of purpose and mutual listening between people and pastors. This journeying arrives at the Synod of Bishops gathering itself, which is presided over by the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as “pastor and teacher of all Christians” as the supreme witness to the faith of the Church. The bishops are linked to the Bishop of Rome through the bond of episcopal communion and at the same time, are subject to him as head of the College of Bishops. The process therefore can be considered as an exercise of listening all-many-one; that is, the voice of the people of God in the particular church (all), must be heard, listened to and discerned by their bishops as the authentic pastors (many), who then gather with the Successor of Peter (one) who acts as a point of unity for the Universal Church. The ultimate discernment is for the Pope who will offer a Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation based on what is presented to him throughout the process of mutual listening, in which the fruits of this discernment are published in a manner that reflects the life of the Church as always changing within its own context in the world, yet ever faithful to that which it has received.

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”.

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 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.