“Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission.”

“…the temptation to treat the Synod as a kind of a parliament. This confuses synodality with a ‘political battle’ in which, in order to govern, one side must defeat the other” (Handbook for the Synod on Synodality). 

On Sunday, October 10, 2021, Pope Francis launched the Synod of the Catholic Church with the theme, “Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission.” In communion with Jesus Christ, disciples participate together in a journey of listening to the Holy Spirit and each other. The intended consequence is the ability to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church and the world on her mission. The listening to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit will happen in dioceses, regions such as the Antilles Episcopal Conference and culminates with a gathering of bishops in October 2023. Pope Francis has invited all baptized persons, ecumenical and interreligious groups, the society, and persons on the margins of the Church to participate – to speak openly and listen. The purpose of the Synod is, “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to be nourished, 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” (Preparatory Document, 32). To avoid the synod adopting a parliament like spirit, the process will be guided by communal prayer, reflections on the word of God, and questions related to themes such as listening, speaking out, sharing responsibility for our common mission, dialogue in church and society.

This synodal journey and Pope Francis in particular have encountered criticism. In an article published in the Jesuit magazine, ‘America’ (September 12, 2019), Victor Cordina, S.J., notes that  Francis’ opposition stems from the fact that he is not a theologian but someone from the Global South, Argentina. According to this view, his deficiency in theology explains his dangerous position on God’s mercy in the 2015 papal bull Misericordiae Vultus”. Further, his focus on Divine Mercy is also considered scandalous because, “it lessens the grace and cross of Jesus.”  Cordina’s rebuts this view noting that Pope Francis studied and taught pastoral theology at San Miguel de Buenos Aires in Argentina, and does not aspire “to fulfil this role as a theologian but as a pastor . . .” What truly disturbed the detractors, he points out, is that “his theology stems from . . .  the reality of injustice, poverty and the destruction of nature, and from the reality of ecclesial clericalism.” For this reason, there is a focus on discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit as the Church traverses and mission in today’s world.

Pope Francis dreams of an inclusive synodal journey that returns to the spirit of consultation and discernment reflected at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 10). At this council, three groups of persons were offered opportunities to speak and listen – Paul and Barnabas, Peter, and the members of the Pharisee party before a decision was made on the matter of circumstances of Gentiles converts.

In mission of the Church, the synod aims to make, not the parliamentary method the modus vivendi et operandi (a way of living and working). Rather, it aims to place listening to discern at the heart of the Church’s missionary journey. 

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