Earlier this year, Melbourne Catholic Susan Pascoe was appointed to one of four commissions supporting the work of the Synod on Synodality. The Synod’s theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”. Susan has been in Rome this past week for the global launch of the Synod and to assist the Secretariat in how to synthesise the responses which will come from 3,000 dioceses around the world. Read her final letter from Rome below.

Melburnians in lockdown have not been able to celebrate the Eucharist as a community for months. I have made the most of the opportunity to do so while I’ve been in Rome – Mass at Domus Australia on my first morning, at St Peter’s on Sunday, and today in the beautiful Santo Spirito in Sassia.

Cardinal Grech (General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops) concelebrated with Cardinal Hollerich (who will oversee the writing of the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod) and a number of other clergy working on the Synod. There was a beautiful choir singing behind the altar in four-part harmony, and a range of languages used in the liturgy in recognition of the many countries from which delegates had travelled.

Synod SP19
Interior of Santa Spirito in Sassia Supplied

After Mass we moved quickly into the Jesuit Conference Centre next door, which is a beautifully appointed hall with an elliptical shaped interior to enable a communal approach to gatherings. It has translation services to accommodate international gatherings and video-conferencing facilities. We had people joining us from all over the world staying online for the day to participate virtually in the discussion – for some this meant participating through the night! Clearly they wanted to be part of the dialogue.

I presented with a fellow member of the Methodology Commission, Fr Olivier Poquillon OP, from Iraq. We presented ideas for synthesising the data which will come from 3,000 dioceses (and some other sources) involved in the first phase of listening and discernment. There were a number of online presentations that followed, including from Australia.

Lana Turvey-Collins and Dr Trudy Dantis spoke on the approach taken in the Plenary Council to organising input from Australian Catholics (and other interested people), and then to synthesising the material which emerged from this process of engagement. It was an impressive presentation, and generated a lot of positive discussion amongst participants. The Australian Catholic Church has a lot to be proud of in the Plenary Council process to date.

The formal presentations were followed by a lively discussion on theological issues including the foundation of synodality in the early Church and Vatican II; the growth in the theology of synodality in the past 20 years (which has not been well communicated); and the need to support people who have had little experience of synodality in their local Church. These issues were picked up in a presentation on how the Secretariat of the Synod can support the local Churches – particularly those contact people appointed at the diocesan level. You can soon expect to see a new website, a social media toolkit, resources on liturgy and spirituality, and ideas for convening groups.

The day finished with a reflection from Cardinal Grech and some of the participants leaving for the airport. My flight has been cancelled, so I was not rushing anywhere.

In reflecting on the past few days, I’m struck by the extraordinary opportunity this Synod offers the Church for renewal. The cynics have called it a meeting about meetings, but that misses the point that, like the Plenary Council, this is an open exercise of prayer, reflection, listening to one another, creating space for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and discerning together. The Pope uses the imagery from Vatican II of a pilgrim people journeying together – people and pastors together.

There is a challenge for the Church in Australia as we are in the closing stretch of the Plenary Council. However, we could turn this to our advantage with creative ways of gathering people, especially those who are often left out. I’m hoping the contribution from Australia is energised, creative, inclusive and optimistic.