This weekend, the Church in Melbourne joins the rest of the world in the diocesan launch of the Synod on Synodality. It marks the beginning of an intentional process of mutual listening that will span two years and engage the people of God in a journey of communion, participation and mission.
The theme of the Synod is "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission" and the two-year process of consultation begins at the local level (dioceses) and culminates in the Synod of Bishops gathering in Rome in October 2023. Pope Francis formally launched the Synod on Sunday 10 October at a Mass attended by clergy and laypeople from around the world. In his homily, the Pope said that the synodal process is one of 'spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment', and one that 'unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God'.
In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue, the Pope is calling the whole Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. As the vademecum (handbook) for the Synod states: 'This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium.'
Planning for the Synod has been underway for some time, and earlier this year Melbourne Catholic Susan Pascoe was appointed to one of four commissions supporting the work of the Synod on Synodality. Susan attended the global launch of the Synod last weekend and is assisting the Secretariat on how to synthesise the responses which will come from 3,000 dioceses around the world. As Susan shared in her blog, one of the meetings with the Secretariat included a virtual presentation by Australians Lana Turvey-Collins and Dr Trudy Dantis on the approach taken in organising and synthesising input from Australian Catholics over the last two years.
'It was an impressive presentation, and generated a lot of positive discussion amongst participants,' Susan said. 'The Australian Catholic Church has a lot to be proud of in the Plenary Council process to date.'
'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.'
And as Austen Ivereigh recently wrote, this synod is part of Pope Francis' desire to proceed "gently, but firmly and tenaciously" towards a synodal Church:
The object of the next two years is not a one-off process but a permanent conversion, one that involves the transformation and extension versus populum of the existing synod institution revived by the Second Vatican Council.'
A dedicated page has been set up on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website to host content for the Synod. It includes links to the preparatory document and vademecum for the Synod as well as the Synod of Bishops prayer and a notice for bulletins and websites. Given the significant interest in the Synod of Bishops and its relationship with the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, information is also available about the anticipated timelines and milestones for both of these important journeys.
The Church in Australia will invite the People of God to make submissions via an online portal that will open on 17 October. Those submissions will help the Bishops develop a national report, as part of the global process leading to an international gathering in 2023. Further information will soon be available on the local consultation for the Church in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
As we embrace this Synodal Process, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in us so that we may be a community and a people of grace.
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son,
forever and ever.
Susan Pascoe AM13 October 2021
Susan Pascoe AM12 October 2021