Pope Francis celebrates a Mass to open the process that will lead up to the assembly of the world Synod of Bishops in 2023, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 10, 2021. CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

Editorial: A needed journey

  • October 28, 2021

The word “synod” is not in the average person’s everyday vocabulary, so when we’re confronted by the notion of a “synod on synodality” it’s no surprise many either run to a dictionary or simply roll their eyes. Maybe both.

But let’s get past the semantics for a moment … the planned 2023 gathering of the world’s bishops in Rome could be the most significant development in Church reform since Vatican II — and we all get to have a say over the coming months in what will be discussed. Considering the size of the group of potential participants — some 1.35 billion Catholics worldwide — there’s certainly a risk that this whole process could bog down in endless trips down ideological rabbit holes without resolution.

That’s something Pope Francis was well aware of as he officially launched the synodal process that he hopes will lead to a Church that “journeys together.”

The Pope is pretty clear: This isn’t meant to be an exercise in navel-gazing, which he cautions will only lead to applying “old solutions to new problems … a patch of rough cloth that ends up creating a worse tear.”

“It is important that the synodal process be exactly this: a process of becoming, a process that involves the local churches … in an exciting and engaging effort that can forge a style of communion and participation directed to misson.”

The official theme of this synod (think of it as a conference to set a common path) is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” It will help set the ground rules for how we act as a Church going forward, united in purpose. That’s a pretty broad target, leaving a multitude of topics to discuss, beginning at the parish level over the next six months.

There is a “fundamental question” that the synod’s preparatory documents asks: “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’?”

How this plays out in each parish is anyone’s guess. It opens up the floor to a flood of questions and comment about how the Church conducts business; how each parish connects (or doesn’t) with its parishioners, its youth, its community, the marginalized,  other religions … the list can go on.

There are some who worry that the process could open up a crack in Church teaching on controversial topics like women’s ordination and the blessing of same-sex marriages. Instead of a united Church, there is a fear that divisions could widen. None of this has altered the Pope’s view that this synod is critical for the Church to move forward.

Yes, there are risks, yet possibly many more rewards. “Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey?” the Pope asks. “Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: ‘It’s useless’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way’?”

Ultimately, it is a journey the Church — all of us — needs to take.

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