By Courtney Mares
Catholic News Agency
September 7, 2021
VATICAN— The Vatican released Tuesday a preparatory document and handbook for the 2023 synod on synodality to be reviewed by all Catholic dioceses in the world over the next six months.
“It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,” the new document states, quoting Pope Francis.
“This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s ‘renewal’ proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task.”
The Vatican published on Sept. 7 the 22-page preparatory document, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and the 42-page vademecum, or handbook, for the diocesan phase of the synod.
The handbook includes prayers, a description of synodality, the objectives of the synodal process, and the main questions to which the local Catholic communities are asked to give feedback. It underlines that dioceses should focus on “maximum inclusion and participation” among baptized Catholics in the diocesan synod process.
The preparatory document has been released for a period of “pre-synodal discernment” that will influence a second draft of the text to be published before June 2023.
According to the Vatican, the preparatory document is “a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the People of God in the particular Churches” for the diocesan phase of the synod.
The diocesan phase
During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from Oct. 17, 2021, to April 2022.
The handbook says that dioceses should organize local gatherings for “synodal consultation,” and also enable individuals to give their feedback directly to the diocese.
It recommends that multiple parishes come together for these “synodal consultation meetings” so that “a range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups” take part.
The preparatory document, handbook, and questionnaire are to be reviewed by dioceses, as well as superior generals, unions, and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, and Catholic universities during this phase.
The diocesan synod process should “tap into the richness of the lived experience of the Church in their local context,” the handbook says.
Main questions to be considered
Questions are included at the end of handbook, which says that the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over this multi-year process is as follows:
“A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”
In considering this, dioceses will receive and report feedback on the following:
- What are difficulties, obstacles, and wounds in the local Church?
- What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?
- In our local Church, who are those who “walk together”? Who are those who seem further apart?
- How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore? How are the laity listened to, especially women and young people? What facilitates or inhibits our listening?
- How does the relationship with the local media work (not only Catholic media)? Who speaks on behalf of the Christian community, and how are they chosen?
- How do prayer and liturgical celebrations actually inspire and guide our common life and mission in our community?
- What hinders the baptized from being active in mission? What areas of mission are we neglecting?
- To what extent do diverse peoples in our community come together for dialogue? What are the places and means of dialogue within our local Church?
- How are divergences of vision, or conflicts and difficulties addressed? What particular issues in the Church and society do we need to pay more attention to?
- What relationships does our Church community have with members of other Christian traditions and denominations?
- How does our Church community identify the goals to be pursued, the way to reach them, and the steps to be taken? How is authority or governance exercised within our local Church?
- How do we promote participation in decision-making within hierarchical structures? Do our decision-making methods help us to listen to the whole People of God?
What is synodality?
The preparatory document describes synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.”
“The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment,” the handbook says.
The handbook describes the synodal journey as an experience of “authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”
The synod on synodality will 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.
Pope Francis will “inaugurate the synodal path” over the weekend of Oct. 9-10 with an opening session and a Mass. All dioceses are invited also to offer an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17.
One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”
“The purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the pastors and the faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels,” the preparatory document says.
“We recall that the purpose of the synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but ‘to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands,’” it says, quoting from Pope Francis’ address at the opening of the youth synod in October 2018.