Pope Francis leads a meeting with representatives of bishops' conferences from around the world at the Vatican Oct. 9, 2021. Also pictured is Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Participation essential to living synodality

By 
  • September 28, 2022

Communion, Participation and Mission are the three key words the Vatican has outlined for the synodal process. My last column was the first of a three-part series that tells the tale of living synodality through these three key words. The tale continues this month — moving on to the key word  “participation.”

The compendium of the social doctrine of the Church says that participation “is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good.” It is the “characteristic implication” of the Catholic social teaching principle of subsidiarity. Everyone must participate in the life of the Church and her various organizations if the Church is to be healthy. The Vademecum (i.e., guidebook) for the upcoming synod says that authentic participation “creates space for us to hear the Holy Spirit together, and guides our aspirations for the Church of the Third Millennium.”   

Develpment and Peace-Caritas Canada wanted to ensure  we were creating space to listen for the Holy Spirit in developing our Orientation Assembly. Although the in-person assembly was in June, the process began in fall 2021. We held a webinar attended by over 150 people across Canada that launched a three-phase consultation for members (including clergy), staff and global south and north partners. The three-phase process was designed to cast a wide net that would gradually be drawn in and distill where the Holy Spirit was calling us.

In the first phase, where the net was cast wide, we created a simple survey with two questions, 1) What do you see as “the signs of the times,” and 2) what do those signs of the times mean for the direction we must go as an organization in the next five years?

For the Church, the signs of the times are not simply sociological phenomena. In his keynote address, Cardinal Michael Czerny told us “a sign of the times names a need, a poverty, an empty space, where Christ is absent but wants and needs to be present. So for us, a sign of the times is an invitation and an opportunity to help Christ become incarnate and risen within that absence and place of need.”

Over 500 people responded to the survey — identifying the places where we are called to help Christ become incarnate. The survey results were shared through the second and third phases which featured small group discussions at the diocesan level with partners and staff. The second and third phase allowed us to deepen our reflection and draw the net in closer still.

Some felt there was almost too much consultation. The idea, though, was to really ensure we were listening to one another as best we could. We did not want it to be a process where people would complete a survey and never hear another word. Participation means more than completing surveys.

Delegates then received a 30+ page summary of all the consultations. As an international solidarity organization dedicated to integral human development and combatting global poverty and inequality, it was especially important that our brothers and sisters in the global south participate in the process. The sharing circles that brought them together with members and staff were especially fruitful.

The final piece of participation was the Orientation Assembly itself. There were delegates from every diocese, bishops, staff, Church partners, ecumenical partners and global south partners. We were blessed to have Czerny model the call to participation. He could have come, given his address and left. Instead, he was an active participant throughout.   

Delegates were presented a working document outlining the three major strategic orientations discerned through the consultation process. They heard presentations related to these different orientations, and took time to discuss the document’s content.  It was not a perfect process, but we did our best. We were as inclusive as possible, and it felt like an authentic attempt as the People of God to participate in discerning the direction the Holy Spirit was calling us to. Those directions will form the last column in this series: “mission.”

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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