The 26th Synod of Bishops will soon be held with the theme “Towards a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The process of preparing for the synod is unprecedented since it involves listening not just to the bishops but to the faithful all over the world – at the parish, diocesan and regional levels. It is more inclusive and participative.
The purpose of the consultation and the synod, which is found in the preparatory document (PD 32), is “not to produce documents but to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to be nourished, inspire trust, bind 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 strengths to our hands.” A clearer purpose can be found in PD 1 of the preparatory document:
“Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church Millenium.
This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s renewal proposed by Vatican II is both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on a journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn from her experiences which processes can help to live in communion, to achieve participation, to open herself to mission. Our journeying together is, in fact, what most effectively enacts and manifests the nature of the Church as a pilgrim and missionary People of God.”
Relying solely on the collated report and synthesis of the consultation based on the process of spiritual conversation, and sharing of stories, feelings, and dreams is not enough. A critical assessment and analysis of the current state of the Church (from the local to the universal level) is also needed so that concrete steps can be adopted to make the Synodal Church a reality.
The questions that must ultimately be answered by every local Church and the Synod of Bishops are: what does it mean to be a synodal Church? To what extent are we living the vision of the Synodal Church? What more can we do to become truly a Synodal Church?
This requires reviewing the vision of the Church in Vatican II and its reception in PCP II which is the ecclesiological basis and frame of reference of a Synodal Church. Based on this review of the vision, a critical assessment must be made of how the Church has truly been experienced as communion, participation, and mission. Then proposals are put forward based on the results of the evaluation which can be the basis for pastoral planning.
It is not enough to listen to the voice of the lay faithful coming from the mandated organizations and renewal movements. The voice of the poor and marginalized need to be listened to. The Basic Ecclesial Communities, clergy, religious, and theologians must also be heard. The bishops should listen and share their observation and analysis from a broader perspective. This cannot be done only during a pre-synodal consultation. This is a long, tedious, continuing process that requires wider participation.
The process should involve clarifying and owning the vision of the Church of Vatican II, which has been appropriated by PCP II: The Church as Communion and Pilgrim People of God that participates in Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly (servant mission). This is the ecclesiological vision that is the basis of the Synodal Church.
An assessment has to be made regarding the reality of communion in the Church – the sense of belonging, sharing, and participation among the leaders and members of the Church – with each other and with other Christian denominations. How far and deep is the communitarian dimension experienced in various levels of the Church (BECs, parish, diocese, local, universal, etc.)? What has been achieved so far? What is lacking or leaves much to be desired?
What are the structures of communion and participation that have emerged and how operational are they? (Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Finance Council, Parish Assembly, BECs, diocesan synod or pastoral assembly, parish/diocesan commissions, stewardship program, etc.). How inclusive and participative is the clergy’s style of leadership at the parish and diocesan levels? What is the extent of the laity’s participation in decision-making, planning, and implementation?
Participation is intimately linked with mission – the prophetic, priestly, and kingly/servant mission that is carried out within and beyond the boundaries of the Church – local and universal. The mission is not merely carried out in distant places where the Gospel has not yet been heard and the Church has not yet been implanted.
The Church’s mission is carried out everywhere: in the home, neighborhood, parishes, communities, the workplace, educational institutions, in cyberspace, in pluralistic societies that have become secularized and de-Christianized, in places where the Church membership is aging and shrinking while former colonies and mission territories in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are more vibrant and have become the center of the Church’s gravity and growth.
There is a need to assess the active participation of everyone especially the laity – not just the clergy and the religious – in the prophetic mission – the mission of evangelization, catechesis, in being a conscience in society which involves denouncing sin and evil and calling people to conversion. This involves proclaiming the message of peace, justice, the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and other social and moral teachings of the Church.
The liturgical celebrations should also be evaluated. How meaningful, participative, enculturated, and inclusive are these? Do our liturgies deepen our communion with the triune God and with one another and inspire us to fulfill our prophetic and social mission?
Active participation in the Church’s social mission as kingly/servant people should also be assessed. What are the existing communal processes and concrete actions that address the problems that we face (e.g. poverty, injustice, violence, the destruction of the environment, and climate change, etc.)?
It is important to appreciate the achievements and best practices/processes that have helped in enhancing communion, participation, and mission. At the same time, there must be recognition of the lacks and weaknesses. These can be the basis for pastoral planning at various levels so as to continue the journey as a synodal Church.
Synodality is not just journeying together and listening to each other. It involves acting together in carrying out the Church’s mission as a community. Synodality should be experienced at all levels – in the home, neighborhood, BECs, parish, diocese, national, regional, and universal.
Over sixty years ago, St. John XXIII convened Vatican II to reform and renew the Church. With this synod, Pope Francis is continuing the process of post-conciliar reception and implementation in rapidly changing situations emphasizing the need to make the vision of a renewed Church a reality by being a Synodal Church.
This is the collective task of all members of the Church.
Fr. Amado Picardal is a Redemptorist priest and human rights and peace advocate. He was executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities. He also served as co-executive secretary of the Commission of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General in Rome.