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Synod Update: Careful Listening

by Sinsinawa Synod Team members Sarah Naughton, OP; Maggie Hopkins, OP; and Maureen McDonnell, OP

On Aug. 26, at 6 a.m. (central), Maggie Hopkins, OP, and Sarah Naughton, OP, attended a Vatican press conference with around 140 others from around the world to hear an update on the synod in process and plans for moving to the continental phase of the Synod on Synodality.

The press conference was led by Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary of the synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, general reporter for the next synod. Four additional panel members who participated in giving reports included Msgr. Luis Marin de San Martin, OSA; Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ; Giacomo Costa, SJ; and Susan Pascoe. The event was simultaneously translated into English, Spanish, French, and Italian.

Cardinal Jean-Claude called us to deep discernment. Discernment is essential to hear prophecy. The synodal way calls each person to listen to and share with others the Word, the truth, the message that she/he hears in the prophecies of now. In the joy of the Gospel, we Christians are walking together on this planet. Only through listening to one another can we be the sacrament of unity that Vatican II called us to be. We need dynamic and fruitful conversations. To do this, we need to trust one another. As we move to the continental phase, hoping to move to a deeper level of the Christian message; we need a change of mindset. We are not looking for answers to any questions. We need to hear what each Christian is hearing from the Spirit of Triune God within her/him. Only this kind of sharing will lead us to justice in the synodal process.

Cardinal Mario expressed great appreciation for “the hundreds of thousands” of individuals who participated in the conversations of the first phase of the synod and whose voices were heard in the summary documents received. One estimate was that the 110,000 reports represented close to 20 million individual Christians. The culmination of this communal phase created a feeling of missionary dynamism, the enthusiasm of people inspired by the Word of God. However, the reports also revealed those on the periphery, the edges, those who do not feel “listened to.” He did point out that the reports received from religious congregations of women and men did reveal how they “hold the synodal patrimony” (stories) of the Catholic Christian communities’ lived experiences.

Msgr. Luis reminded us that we are engaged in a spiritual process. We are not just discussing academic ideas. This is different. We each must listen. We each must testify to bring the Christ at the center of our individual life to the world. He quoted Paul’s words to the Corinthians. The image of God is in each person, persons on the periphery and persons at the center. God is asking us to listen for the well-being of the Church, to move us beyond clericalism as we move into the continental phase. Do not be afraid. We will live into a new way of being Church. Quoting John XXIII, he called us to think big and to look high and far.

Nathalie was positive, confident, and grateful for the synodal teams and the documents that were produced. The spirit of the synodal process has taken hold! In spite of the ongoing wars and great difficulties being experienced by baptized Christians and ethnic minorities in various parts of the world, especially Ukraine and Myanmar, this mission of becoming a synodal Church has taken hold. The synodal teams have been great animators of the Spirit of God. “For the first time, we are the Church.” We need to continue the momentum toward being the people of God and eliminate clericalism.

The final presentation was given in two parts by Susan Pascoe, a lay woman from Australia; and Giacomo Costa, a Spanish Jesuit.

We were reminded that it was also winter in Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and several other island states. One of them, Papua New Guinea, has 90 million people who speak 850 different languages. Tribal cultures are many. In spite of those challenges, there has been “enormous enthusiasm” and an appreciation for the circularity of the synod process that is calling all members of their four churches to listen deeply to the Spirit. After the presentation, there was a lengthy period for questions.

We were called to continue this process, conversing with one another. There will be a back and forth rhythm as we work to build consensus. This is not a linear process. We must work differently. Together we are growing. The Vatican Office is not reviewing. They are encouraging groups in the continental phase to continue to collect insights and identify issues to include as we move into 2023. Identify essential elements and articulate the best ways to share. Ask questions. Redefine your own vision. Discuss gender differences. Listen more carefully.

In response to a question suggesting that political interests might hijack the synod, Cardinal Grech stated, “Only the Holy Spirit will hijack the Synod on Synodality.”

Christopher White, the Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter, wrote this: Pope Francis announced on Oct. 16 that he is significantly expanding the timeframe for his ongoing consultation process for the world’s Catholics. The Vatican meeting of the Synod of Bishops, originally planned for next year, will now be held across two sessions: one in October 2023, and another in October 2024. The synod process, which has been underway for more than a year, has involved discussions with Catholics across the world on a range of sensitive topics. The Oct. 16 announcement indicates Francis wants the process, and the discussions, to continue on much longer than formerly planned. “The fruits of the synodal process that has gone ahead are many, but in order for them to bear much fruit, we can’t hurry,” said Pope Francis, adding that the extension was an effort to help make synodality part of the “constitutive nature of the Church.” When the pope officially opened the synod in October 2021, he said it was an effort to help the Christian community reflect the “style of God, who travels the paths of history and shares in the life of humanity.” He then observed that such a process takes time in order to “master the art of encounter.” An official communique from the Vatican’s synod office, which was published after the pope’s Oct. 16 announcement, said 112 out of the 114 episcopal conferences from around the world had participated in the first diocesan phase. The statement said that the addition of a second gathering in Rome in 2024 would be “‘a journey within the journey’ to foster more mature reflection for the greater good of the Church.”

The Sinsinawa Synod Team hopes to deliver a more agile document in the future. We, each member of the people of God, need to develop the inner freedom called for in Vatican II as we journey forward together.

Click for Spectrum November 2022 Index

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