Pope Francis prays in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall at the beginning of a working session of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 6, 2023. CNS photo/Lola Gomez

Canada has strong presence at Synod

  • October 11, 2023

Relative to its population, Canada is punching above its weight at the Synod on Synodality, currently in its second week in Rome.

Of the 70 non-bishop delegates, four of them are from Canada — comprising nearly half the North American lay delegation.

Pope Francis announced in the spring that, for the first time since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965, non-bishop delegates will have a vote.  In practical terms, this means a vote on the final Synod document that will be produced this time next year, following the second and final session of the Synod in October 2024.

Of the 450 participants there are 364 voting delegates. Of the 70 non-bishop voting delegates, the majority are women. 

Who are the four Canadian lay delegates? All are connected professionally to the education sector, and are from either Quebec or Ontario. Two are university professors.

Sami Aoun is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Applied Policy at Sherbrooke University in Quebec. Aoun was the co-founder of the UNESCO Chair in the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Extremism, a position at Sherbrooke University held in collaboration with UQAM and Concordia. Aoun co-authored a 2021 study entitled, New Age of extremes?: Western democracies, radicalization and violent extremism. Aoun is a Maronite and is engaged with the issues affecting Christians in the Middle East.

Catherine Clifford is a professor of systematic and historical theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her research interests are deeply embedded in modern ecclesiology and the topic of synodality. Clifford has been the Director of the Research Centre for Vatican II and 21st century Catholicism at Saint Paul since 2011.

In an interview with The Toronto Star that followed the announcement of Benedict XVI stepping down, Clifford expressed her hopes for the election of a pope who would exercise a different kind of leadership, “One far more consultative, with more space for the voices and experiences of Catholics from different regions of the world,” said Clifford.

Clifford said it was not just papal leadership that should change, but the entire governance structure of the Church.

Sr. Chantal Desmarais is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Sainte-Marie who is active in catechesis and evangelization in Quebec’s Diocese of Joliette.  Desmarais participated in the local synodal consultation. 

Desmarais had a hand in the drafting of synodal documents, both the Canadian National Synthesis and the North American Final Document.

Linda Staudt is a retired Catholic educator from the Diocese of London. She is currently director for Safe Environment Services for the diocese.

Staudt was nominated as a Synod delegate by Bishop Ronald Fabbro for her “leadership and participation in the diocesan synodality discussions and as chairwoman and lead writer of the Synod Synthesis Team for the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Ontario.”

The four bishop delegates are Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., Calgary Bishop William McGrattan, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Marc Pelchat of the Archdiocese of Quebec, and Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme-Mont-Lauriers.