Vatican asks all Catholic dioceses to take part in synod on synodality

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 21, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Friday that the Synod of Bishops on synodality has been postponed to 2023, with a two-year consultative preparatory phase involving Catholic dioceses worldwide.

The synod on synodality will officially open with a “diocesan phase” in October 2021 and conclude with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the general secretary for the Synod of Bishops, said in an interview with Vatican News published May 21 that the synod has been transformed “from an event into a process.”

“The Second Vatican Council teaches that the People of God participate in the prophetic office of Christ. Therefore, we must listen to the People of God, and this means going out to the local churches,” Grech said.

Pope Francis will officially “inaugurate the synodal path” over the weekend of Oct. 9-10 with an opening session and a Mass. All dioceses are invited to also offer an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17.

During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from Oct. 17, 2021, until April 2022.

The Vatican will send dioceses a preparatory document, accompanied by a questionnaire and a vademecum with proposals for consultation. Superior generals, unions and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, and Catholic universities will also be sent this questionnaire and vademecum.

Both bishops and bishops’ conferences can appoint a contact person, and eventually a team, to be a point of reference during this local synodal process, the program explains.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. / Vatican Media.
An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. / Vatican Media.

The Vatican will then release an instrumentum laboris (working document) in September 2022 for a period of “pre-synodal discernment in continental assemblies,” which will influence a second draft of the working document to be published before June 2023.

The entire process will culminate in a meeting of bishops from around the world at the Vatican in October 2023, held according to the established norms outlined in the 2018 apostolic constitution Episcopalis communio.

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

The theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops is “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”

Pope Francis has frequently discussed the concept of “synodality,” particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018.

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.”

The term is generally understood to refer to a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.

The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, who hoped that the synod would encourage close union between the pope and the world’s bishops, and “ensure that direct and real information is provided on questions and situations touching upon the internal action of the Church and its necessary activity in the world of today.”

Ordinary synods happen every three years on issues voted upon by synod delegates elected or appointed from each continent, and from certain Vatican offices. There have been 15 ordinary synods to date. There are also extraordinary synods and special synods.

The synod that took place in October 2019 was a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region. Following that synod, the pope stressed that “synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul that is the Holy Spirit.”

The Vatican first announced the Synod of Bishops on synodality in March 2020.

For this upcoming synod, Cardinal Grech said that the General Secretariat wanted “to allow everyone to make his or her voice heard, that listening is the true ‘pastoral conversion’ of the Church.”

“God willing, one of the fruits of the Synod is that we might all understand that a decision-making process in the Church always begins with listening, because only in this way can we understand how and where the Spirit wants to lead the Church.”


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1 Comment

  1. In a recent posting on population decline in Italy, Murzaku writes that “Pope Francis’ speech focused on three concepts—gift, sustainability, and solidarity—as possible remedies to overcome the demographic winter overwhelming Italy and contemporary society in general.” https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/05/24/first-things-first-pope-francis-overlooked-pro-life-message/

    Four questions for the Synod on Synodality:

    1. How should Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality, now postponed from 2022 until 2023, deal with the DEMOGRAPHICS of post-industrial and other societies?

    The proposed “continental groupings” of bishops—possibly disciplining local aberrations in Germania and Amazonia (?)—could apply a fully intact Catholic Social Teaching on the FAMILY within/against a pattern of demographic winter and other countervailing trendlines.

    (By 2099 Nigeria could surpass China in population; in the Muslim Sub-Sahara families are still having four or five children; in the United States, Australia and Canada declining birth rates are offset by sometimes problematic immigration; but elsewhere across the globe outmigration and the Italian scenario reported by Muzaku are mostly in play [New York Times, Population Bust will Transform the World, May 23, 2021]).

    2. How might the proposed “continental groupings” also look OUTWARD across their frontiers, as with Pope St. John Paul II in his post synodal Apostolic Exhortation “The Church in America” (1999): he identifies five continents—Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe—and the “new evangelization” in America, implicitly as South AND North America together (nn. 5,6).

    3. Might it be useful to also MIX the members from each of the “continental groupings”? Something like the always unified apostles at Pentecost, with diverse geographic groupings of listeners first in Jerusalem and then all over the known world?

    Unlike the Descent of the Holy Spirit from ABOVE, in North America we might still be reminded of the 16th century Hiawatha and the prophet Dekanawidah, who constructed from BELOW a three centuries-long tribal Confederation. This by mixing the original eight warring tribes among five new intertribal groupings—to ensure that the now-mingled family lines would bury the hatchet. Each of the new intertribal tribes now included members from one’s own original tribe.

    For its part, the Church can build upon geography, but also must transcend either national or continental churches, e.g., within the European “continental grouping,” Bishop Batzing’s schismatic “German Catholic Church”.

    4. Looking to the future of the universal Catholic Church, might the participating cardinal-electors for each “continental grouping” be presented by the laity with Edward Pentin’s (ed.), THE NEXT POPE: The Leading Cardinal Candidates (Sophia Institute Press,2020)?

    Prior to the next conclave, this respectful collection of moderate and thorough profiles could better inform Pope Francis’s globally balanced distribution of cardinals from across the Synod’s “continental groupings.”

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