The Synod on Synodality Explained
What is a Synod?
A Synod is an assembly or meeting – literally a ‘coming together’ of people to talk. Pope Francis called for a synod that included all the baptised faithful who make up the body of the Catholic Church. Ordinary men and woman, like you and me, were invited to express their opinion about the Church and its future. Previously, synodal conversations only involved Cardinals and Bishops. This sense of inclusion has already had a huge impact on the Catholic Church, and the process is ongoing. The Synod on Synodality began in 2021, and is due to end in October 2024. It marks exciting times for the Catholic Church. For some, this is an area of anxiety, but for others it is exhilarating and long overdue.
What does the Synod look like?
First, synodal conversations happened in parishes and within faith communities such as Catholic Schools and church groups. Facilitators reported the opinions expressed by the people present to the diocese synodal committee, who then collated the findings.
Then, the conversations happened at a Diocesan level, so people were invited to large gatherings in each diocese of New Zealand. Delegates would split into small groups for a discussion, followed by a large assembly where many could voice their opinions about different aspects of the Church, and what it is like to be part of it. The findings were sent for collation by a committee appointed by the Bishops. These meetings were actually occurring all over the world.
The conversations grew wider and reached further. The next stage for New Zealand delegates was to visit Synodal talks in Fiji, as we are part of the Oceania region.
Finally, the Synod on Synodality reaches its climax in two meetings in Rome. One has just been and gone, and the other, the final Synod, will take place in October of 2024.
Synodal Meetings are structured very differently to other meetings. A significant amount of time is spent in prayer throughout, and people have to listen to each other carefully, and consider what has been said within prayer time. The Holy Spirit is called upon to be present and part of the process. Delegates are asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in their thinking and in their response, as they work towards a conclusion that is the will of God’s, and not necessarily their own. The greater good is prioritised before ego in a synodal conversation, and is always grounded in faith.
Conversations have included the role of women in the Church, how we treat the LGBTQ+ community, and how we move forward within a safe church having experienced the horror of abuse scandals all over the world.
The people who were selected to go to Rome were varied and diverse. The New Zealand Bishops put forward a number of men and women for selection to attend. From these, Manuel Beazley, who is the Vicar for Māori in Auckland, and Fr. Dennis Narcoda from the Archdiocese of Wellington, were selected to accompany Archbishop Paul Martin to the Synod in Rome.
Manuel Beazley said of his experience, “We didn’t always agree, but there was always a sense of peace and calm within the conversations. There was a lot of listening to each other and praying together.” He also spoke about long days, “Some days the talking started at 7am and didn’t finish until 7.30 at night. It was hard work.”
Some of the Catholics in attendance are very well known. For example, Bishop Robert Barron, who is famous for his evangelical media organisation Word on Fire. There was also Fr. James Martin, who is known for having very liberal views about the LGBTQ+ community, and on the other extreme, Cardinal Mueller who is very traditional about this issue. There were plenty of opportunities for factions and schisms, but according to Manuel, they just didn’t happen. The presence of the Holy Spirit may account for this.
What does the Synod mean for ordinary Catholics?
Most Catholics feel that the Synod, as inclusive and expansive as it is, can only be a force of good within the Church, and newcomers and those returning to faith can rest assured that the Church has already benefitted from the Synod. Parishes and Diocese are giving women a more interesting role in Church life, as Pope Francis is modelling in the structures of management in the Vatican. We are listening to each other more than ever. We are discussing where we need to change in order to better represent our Lord and welcome those who are new to faith. We are asking how we entice Catholics who no longer attend Mass, to return.
In his newsletter, Archbishop Paul said of his experience, “Being with so many people from around the world was a reminder that the Church is much bigger than just our country or diocese, that the challenges we face are not the same as those for other places and yet we are all united in this one Church. This was an opportunity to see how we as a Church can be more authentic in our living of the Gospel and how our structures can help us to do this in the age in which we live. There were differences of opinions about matters but there was a positive sense of wanting to work through these and a willingness to talk about them, which is not to be taken for granted.”
For further reading, an English translation of the most recent document to come from the Synod, the Synthesis Report 2023, is available in several formats here. The official Synod website is here. Bishop Robert Barron's experience is here.