A global tragedy such as the Covid-19 pandemic has made the already existing inequalities and inequities gain momentum almost exponentially. Humanity seems increasingly shaken by processes of massification and fragmentation. The tragic condition faced by migrants in all regions of the world shows how high and strong the barriers dividing the single human family still are. Indeed, the Encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti document the depth of the fault lines that run through humanity, and we can refer to these analyses to start listening to the cry of the poor and of the earth and to recognize the seeds of hope and of the future that the Spirit continues to sow even in our time. We are and can continue ‘journeying together with the Spirit’.
“The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (LS, no. 13).
In the Preparatory Document for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” (7th September 2021) Pope Francis writes:
We are continually challenged “as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit.” For too long the cry of the victims has been a cry that the Church has not been able to hear sufficiently. These are deep wounds that are difficult to heal, for which forgiveness can never be asked for enough and which constitute obstacles, sometimes imposing ones, to advancing in the direction of “journeying together.”
The whole Church is called to deal with the weight of a culture imbued with clericalism that she inherits from her history, and with those forms of exercising authority on which the different types of abuse (power, economic, conscience, sexual) are grafted. It is impossible to think of “a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People:”(#6)
A Synod on Synodality
The solemn opening of the Synod will take place in Rome on October 9-10, and in the particular Churches on October 17; and will conclude in the Vatican in 2023 with the assembly of bishops from around the world. The Preparatory Document, released on Tuesday, 7th September is intended above all to be an instrument facilitating the first phase of listening and consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches, which will take place from October 2021 to April 2022. See Preparatory Document for The Synod on Synodality (2021 to 2023).
In spite of everything that we face, we know that the Spirit continues to act in our lives, and to show his life-giving power. The preparatory document states that it is precisely in the furrows dug by the sufferings of every kind endured by the human family, and by the People of God, that new languages of faith and new paths are flourishing, capable not only of interpreting events from a theological point of view but also of finding in trials the reasons for re-founding the path of Christian and ecclesial life.
It is a 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 desire of young people to be protagonists within the Church and the request for a greater appreciation of women and spaces for participation in the mission of the Church, already signalled by the Synodal Assemblies of 2018 and 2019, are also confirmed. The recent institution of the lay ministry of Catechist and the opening of access to those of Lector and Acolyte to women also move in this direction. (#8)
And in section #9:
It is in this context, that synodality represents the main road for the Church, called to renew herself under the action of the Spirit and by listening to the Word. The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received, depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue, and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute.
At the same time, the decision to “journey together” is a prophetic sign for the human family, which needs a shared project capable of pursuing the good of all. A Church capable of communion and fraternity, of participation and subsidiarity, in fidelity to what she proclaims, will be able to stand beside the poor and the least and lend them her own voice.
In order to “journey together,” we need to let ourselves be educated by the Spirit to a truly synodal mentality, entering with courage and freedom of heart into a conversion process that is indispensable for the “continual reformation of which [the Church] always has need, in so far as she is a human institution” (UR, no. 6; cf. EG, no. 26)*.
Synodality is much more than the celebration of ecclesial meetings and Bishops’ assemblies, or a matter of simple internal administration within the Church; it is “the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission.” [FRANCIS, Letter to the People of God (20 August 2018), introduction. ]
The title of the Synod proposes: communion, participation, and mission. In the first millennium, “journeying together”—that is, practicing synodality—was the ordinary way in which the Church, understood as “People united in the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. St. John Chrysostom was able to say that “Church and Synod are synonymous.
The fundamental question for this Synod
The fundamental question that guides this consultation of the People of God, as mentioned at the beginning, is the following:
- A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together”. How is this “journeying together” happening today in your particular Church?
- What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
In order to respond, we are invited to:
a) ask yourselves what experiences in your particular Church the fundamental question calls to mind?
b) reread these experiences in greater depth: What joys did they provoke? What difficulties and obstacles have they encountered? What wounds have they brought to light? What insights have they elicited?
c) gather the fruits to share: Where, in these experiences, does the voice of the Spirit resound? What is he asking of us? What are the points to be confirmed, the prospects for change, the steps to be taken? Where do we register a consensus? What paths are opening up for our particular Church?
A new Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland
On 10 March 2021, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced a new Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland leading to the holding of a National Synodal Assembly within the next five years. The Bishops are mindful of the challenges and opportunities that provide a context for a synodal pathway leading to a National Synod at this pivotal time for the Church on our island, by listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in an Ireland faced with rapid transformation. A synodal pathway leading to a National Synod is inviting us to journey together in discernment of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland at this time. See Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference | Background
Synodal Pathway – Timeline
The initial two-year phase of embarking on the synodal pathway and leading, in time, to a National Synod, helpfully coincides with preparation for the 2022 Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops in Rome entitled, For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission. It will also include discussion and debate via related information sessions and educational programmes on the meaning and processes of synodality. Best practice in listening and synodal processes and assemblies at home and around the world will be researched.
The next two years (2021-2023) will be a period of prayer, listening and discernment, involving a nationwide consultative conversation on the theme: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. This will allow individuals and parishes, religious orders and associations as well as groups, movements and organisations, both within the Church and in Irish society at large, to share their insights into the Church in Ireland – past, present and future. Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference | National Synodal Assembly
Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality
This Vademecum is designed as a handbook that accompanies the Preparatory Document at the service of the synodal journey. In fact, the two documents are complementary, and should be read in tandem with one another. In particular, the Vademecum offers practical support to the Diocesan Contact Person(s) (or team), designated by the diocesan Bishop, to prepare and gather the People of God so that they can give voice to their experience in their local Church. This worldwide invitation to all the faithful is the first phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”
In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue on the local level through this Synod, Pope Francis is calling the Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium. See Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality
The inauguration of the Synodal Journey – October 2021
Preparations for the Synod on Synodality to be held in Rome in October 2023 have already begun. The synodal journey will be inaugurated during a solemn ceremony in the Vatican, in the presence of the Pope on 9-10 October. However, the reflection on some essential aspects of the event is already underway. Spirituality is one of the basic themes. Pope Francis recalled this on April 30, receiving in audience an Italian Catholic Action delegation: “We must be precise, when we speak of synodality, of synodal journey, of synodal experience. It is not a parliament (…) Synodality is not only the discussion of problems, of different things that there are in society (…) There cannot be synodality without the Spirit, and there is no Spirit without prayer.” See Sister Becquart: there is no synodality without spirituality – Vatican News
We stand before You, Holy Spirit
Every session of the Second Vatican Council began with the prayer Adsumus Sancte Spiritus, the first word of the original Latin, meaning, “We stand before You, Holy Spirit,” which has been historically used at Councils, Synods and other Church gatherings for hundreds of years, and is attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636). As we embrace this Synodal Process, this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in us so that we may be a community and a people of grace. For the Synodal journey from 2021 to 2023, we propose to the following simplified version,1 so that any group or liturgical assembly can pray it more easily.
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son,
forever and ever.
Note: *UR = UR Vatican Council II, Decree Unitatis redintegratio (21 November 1964) and EG =EG Francis, Ap. Exhort. Evangelii gaudium (24 November 2013).
Sr. Nathalie Becquart, (Congregation of Xavières) was appointed by Pope Francis in February 2021 as one of two Under-Secretaries to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, and has spoken of her delight, saying it is a call to “serve the Universal Church”. Her main task is “to help and lead the preparation of the Synod, then the celebration, then the next stage of the implementation”, she said.
The official logo of the synodal path
A large, majestic tree, full of wisdom and light, reaches for the sky. A sign of deep vitality and hope which expresses the cross of Christ. It carries the Eucharist, which shines like the sun. The horizontal branches, opened like hands or wings, suggest, at the same time, the Holy Spirit.
The people of God are not static: they are on the move, in direct reference to the etymology of the word synod, which means “walking together”. The people are united by the same common dynamic that this Tree of Life breathes into them, from which they begin their walk.
These 15 silhouettes sum up our entire humanity in its diversity of life situations of generations and origins. This aspect is reinforced by the multiplicity of bright colours which are themselves signs of joy. There is no hierarchy between these people who are all on the same footing: young, old, men, women, teenagers, children, lay people, religious, parents, couples, singles, healthy, disabled; the bishop and the nun are not in front of them, but among them. Quite naturally, children and then adolescents open their walk, in reference to these words of Jesus in the Gospel: ” I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children”. (Mt 11:25)
The horizontal baseline: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission” runs from left to right in the direction of this march, underlining and strengthening it, to end with the title “Synod 2021 – 2023”, the high point that synthesizes the whole.
About the Designer
The designer Isabelle de Senilhes is French, she lives in Paris and is a freelance graphic designer and communications officer, with experience as a journalist. Her career to date has been marked by many wonderful encounters in Christian and humanitarian circles: publishing houses, press groups, dioceses, religious orders, associations… It also extends to the wider secular network of companies, services and communication and event agencies, think-tanks… .She is also involved in voluntary work to protect the environment.
Useful links and resources:
Preparatory Document for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (vatican.va)
Download the Vademecum-EN
Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference | National Synodal Assembly
See also Fratelli tutti … – Presentation Sisters Union North East Ireland (presentationsistersne.ie)
And Laudato Si: solidarity with creation – Presentation Sisters Union North East Ireland (presentationsistersne.ie)
Praise to you, my Lord! – Presentation Sisters Union North East Ireland (presentationsistersne.ie)