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 is currently in Rome for the global launch of the Synod and while there, will offer us an exclusive insider’s look at what’s happening on the ground. Read her latest letter from Rome below.

There are few sights more awe-inspiring than the interior of St Peter’s Basilica. My husband and I were there for midnight Mass about 20 years ago at Christmas – an unforgettable experience. There was comparable grandeur at the Mass to celebrate the formal opening of the Synod on Synodality on Sunday 10 October.

As well as being the Eucharist for the Synod opening for the Universal Church, it was also the Mass for the opening of the Diocese of Rome. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and he celebrated both events simultaneously.

I was asked to be part of the procession of the laity as the only person at the Synod Opening from Oceania (Australia and the Pacific). This meant being at St Peter’s by 8.30am and passing through the security and COVID checks in a designated side entrance. There is always heavy security around the Vatican – many Carabinieri (police) and soldiers with automatic guns and fortified vehicles. Visitors to events are channelled into a limited number of entrances where the security checks are similar to an airport. Patience is required in the long queues!

For me, the requirement to arrive early meant having the extra time before the liturgy to capture some images of the interior and to sit and listen to the choir practising. The Basilica slowly filled, and the marshals, dressed in impressive morning suits, led the laity in the procession back to the doors of the Basilica to process in. We were followed soon after by a procession of the visiting (and local) bishops and cardinals. All of this was accompanied by beautiful singing from the choir.

The Pope then arrived from the rear of the Basilica. He walked slowly and used the altar for support as he walked around it. He is known to suffer pain from sciatica. However, this did not diminish his full engagement in the celebration of the Eucharist, and in delivering a spirited homily on the theme of synodality. The Mass was said in Italian however a range of languages were used in the first readings, and in the prayers of the faithful (including Mandarin, Filipino and Arabic). The inclusion of other languages recognised that the Mass was for the Universal Church as well as the local diocese of Rome.

There was time for a short break after the Mass, then the afternoon was spent in planning meetings with a particular focus on the Synod Opening in dioceses around the world next Sunday 17 October. While the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum (Guide) have been provided, they are not templates, and it is hoped that individual dioceses will be creative in how they launch the synodal process in their diocese. A launch in Bogota is likely to be different to a launch in Bunbury or Barcelona!

The social media supports to accompany the diocesan phase are due to be launched, the website is being finalised, and plans are underway to invite people involved in implementing the synodal process into networks to share their practice and learn from one another. It was noted that there is a vast array of virtual and actual networks already in existence in the Church and that these can spread the word. In addition, parts of the Church such as Catholic Education, or some of the lay movements may well conduct their own listening processes and feed their contribution into the diocesan synthesis.

I walked back to my lodgings in the evening light and felt a great sense of hope for this synodal process to reanimate the involvement of all Catholics in their Church.