Path toward October 2023 Synod

Let us pray for the universal church as we walk together along the path - Photo:istock.comLet us pray for the universal church as we walk together along the path - Photo:istock.com

On the 9th – 10th of October in Rome, Pope Francis will solemnly open the path toward the October 2023 Synod of Bishops. The path is entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. The Pope has asked that the path be formerly opened in each diocese on October 17th with the celebration of Eucharist.

The first section of the path, known as the diocesan synod process, will take place between October this year and April next year. This process engages the People of God “walking together” by way of synodal discernment and consultation within their own dioceses and local churches. In order to assist the local churches in walking this path together the Vatican has formulated a preparatory document (see below) and handbook. This period of discernment and consultation will assist the preparations leading up to for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.  This particular Synod is commonly known as the “synod on synodality”. 

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.”

We continue to pray for the members of the Plenary Council as they discern together “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” Furthermore, let us pray for the universal church as we walk together along the path toward the 2023 Synod on synodality.

The purpose of the synod, and therefore of the pre-synodal discernment and 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, and give strength to hands”.

The word Synod means “walking together”. In this walking together along the path of synodality the preparatory document articulates the theme of the 2023 Synod - “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” thus: “We ask the Spirit to help us discover how communion, which brings together in unity the variety of gifts, charism, and ministries, is for the mission: a synodal Church is a Church ‘going forth,” a missionary Church ‘whose doors are open’ (EG, no. 46).” “This includes the call to deepen relationships with other Churches and Christian communities,” and “how the People of God journeys together with the entire human family”. Thus the preparatory document says: “Our gaze will focus on the state of relations, dialogue, and possible common initiatives with believers of other religions, with people who are distant from their faith, as well as with specific social environments and groups, with their institutions”. Finally the document says: “It will be of fundamental importance that the voice of the poor and excluded also find a place” in the pre-synodal discernment taking place in each diocese across the world.

The handbook prepared by the Vatican says that the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over this multiple 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?’”

The preparatory document states: “It is reason for great hope that more than a few Churches have already begun more or less structured meetings and consultation processes with the People of God. Where they have been marked by a synodal style, the sense of Church has flourished and the participation of all has given new impetus to ecclesial life”. The Australian Church, with our Plenary Council, can be counted as one among those “few Churches”. The first Assembly of the Plenary Council is taking place at this time (October 3-10). The second Assembly will take place in July next year.

We give thanks to God for gracing us with open hearts to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit during the consultation phase leading up to the Plenary Council. We continue to pray for the members of the Plenary Council as they discern together “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” Furthermore, let us pray for the universal church as we walk together along the path toward the 2023 Synod on synodality.

Columban Fr Kevin O'Neill is a member of the Peace, Ecology and Justice office at the Columban Mission Center, Essendon.

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