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.

Mid-November is mid-Autumn in Europe. The nights get cooler and you can feel the chill in the air. I was reminded of how cold the nights can get as I walked back to my temporary “home” around 7.30pm yesterday evening. There were already about 15 homeless people huddled in the most sheltered spot they could find in the portico beside St Peter’s.

One of the reasons there are so many of them is that the Pope has organised shower facilities for them, and they can access food at the San Egidio Community. The contrast of the grandeur of the Basilica dominating the skyline, and these people settling in for the night on the stone does hit you.

I was even more struck this morning when I went for a walk before 7am and the homeless people had all gone. The street cleaners clean the portico as part of their pre-dawn (and pre-crowd) routine each day, so the homeless people were “washed away”, metaphorically speaking. I did reflect on the lesson for synodality in this small vignette. We can’t wash away the marginalised, the hurt, the excluded and those experiencing vulnerability.

The Pope has personally modelled ways to draw them in. To emphasise the point, he has installed a huge sculpture of refugees and migrants right in St Peter’s Square – an enduring reminder of the Church’s commitment toward a “preferential option for the poor”. For those organising their local synodal experience, this moving and confronting art installation can also be a reminder of the need to make every effort to ensure all the voices are invited and heard.

Synod SP11
“Angels Unaware” (sculpture) by Timothy P. Schmalz Supplied

Today was a full day of meetings within the Methodology Commission, and then with the Spirituality Commission. I mentioned in the first blog that there are four Commissions (or working groups) organising the two-year long process for the Synod on Synodality: they are the Commissions on Theology, Spirituality, Communications and Methodology. This is the first opportunity we have had to work face to face and it has been a delight to get to know colleagues and work more intensively with them.

We met in the premises of the International Union of Superiors General – an impressive complex where the religious orders collaborate on an international level. The rooms are fitted with videoconferencing equipment and interpretation facilities (which we needed given the international composition of our groups). We were working on the development of more support materials for the diocesan phase (including prayer, Scripture and liturgy) and the process for synthesising the summaries from episcopal conferences.

It will be quite a challenge summarising the ideas from 3,000 dioceses. It was enough of a challenge for the Plenary Council in Australia to summarise the 17,500 submissions they received! Multiply that by 3,000!

The way it will work is that dioceses will summarise all the ideas and issues from the sessions they convene, and then these summaries will be aggregated at the level of the Bishops Conference in each country, before being sent to the Vatican for synthesising. The syntheses will be the material used by the members of the Theology Commission drafting the first Instrumentum Laboris (working document) which will be sent to regions for consideration by the Bishops in that area. The summaries of their deliberations will then be sent to the Vatican, and once again an Instrumentum Laboris will be created, this time to be the working document for the Assembly of Bishops in October 2023.

The significant difference between this Synod, and others, is the grassroots foundation. The syntheses and working documents will be generated from the ideas, issues and concerns generated by all Catholics who accept the invitation to participate. This is an opportunity not to be missed!

Our work today was thinking through plans and processes so that there is as much support as possible for the local phase. Tomorrow we meet together as all four commissions, to make sure we integrate our work and have good communication across commissions and with local Churches. I walked “home” once again in the early evening, this time across the bridge of Castel St Angelo. It was another opportunity to drink in the history and beauty of Rome – and a lovely sunset.