By Fionnuala Frances
“Enlarge the space of your tent, extend the curtains of your home, do not hold back! Lengthen your ropes, make your tent pegs firm“(Isaiah 54:2)
The WORKING DOCUMENT for the Continental Stage (DCS) of the Synod on Synodality was published in October 2022. The colourful 56 page document is available on-line and/or copies are available from your parish or from the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. A two page Summary Document will also be available soon. As one parishioner said, ‘I have returned to read it a number of times and find something remarkable and interesting each time’.
It is a remarkable document. If you don’t know what this is all about, and are puzzled by the word ‘synodality’, here’s a quick recap:
‘Synod’ is another word for ‘meeting’. Synods have happened in the Catholic Church since the beginning, although changing in nature and format over time. Vatican ll introduced the Synod of Bishops, to act as advisors to the Pope. Pope Francis has called a Synod on Synodality for 2024; at this, Bishops from across the world will gather to pray and discern the direction for the Church, reading and reflecting on the signs of the times.
For the first time ever, this synod is asking for the views of all the people of God to add to the discernment. This is what the synod process which you may have responded to in March was about. We published the summary of responses from the diocese then Bishop Ralph and the other bishops of England and Wales looked at all the responses from all the dioceses and produced a Synthesis document which went to the Synod Office at the Vatican.
Synthesis documents were also received from other Bishop Conferences throughout the world. These in turn were used to produce the Document for the Continental Stage which has now been returned to us so we can check that our voices were heard. and which we are now being asked to pray and reflect on, and talk to each other in the sort of synodal conversations we have begun to learn about and experience since the beginning of this synodal journey.
Pope Francis is continuing to encourage us in the implementation of the insights of Vatican ll, and in particular to develop our discernment about how to be a synodal Church in the 3rd Millennium. Theologians reflecting on this challenge identify 3 aspects to attend to:
- Changing the way the people of God relate to each other.
- Changing the ways of communicating to becoming more outward looking and the vocations and common dignity of all the baptised are recognised.
- Changing the structures of the institutional church to embrace synodality, for example, Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Councils, so all the people of God have ways to participate, to be heard and be involved in decision-making and helping the Church to grow.
The passage from Isaiah and the DCS were reflected on by the participants at the synodal meeting held at the Pastoral Centre on 1 December. Fruits of the reflections were to acknowledge the joy and excitement of having the opportunity to continue to be heard on the ongoing synodal journey, welcoming the honesty and breadth of the DCS document, and the resonances between the themes of the Hallam synthesis and those of dioceses across the world as well as from other faiths. Acknowledging once again the desire to find ways of being a welcoming church to which all can belong, anxiety was also expressed about the tensions around different understandings of tradition, revelation and expectations of the synod, and how these tensions could be fruitful and not destructive.
The task of all to pray, learn, and build community was blessed by Bishop Ralph in closing the meeting and he will carry what he heard to the discernment meetings at Bishops Conference for carrying onward to the Continental meeting in Prague in February.
A summary of our discussions will be made available on the website and do please tell us of your ongoing synodal journey in parishes or groups. Holy Spirit, continue to be with your people in Hallam as journey onwards together. Amen.