The document for the Continental Stage is a text of about 43 pages. After the table of contents, the introduction (n. 1-14) is followed by four chapters: 1) The experience of the synodal process (n. 15-24); 2) Listening to the Scriptures (n. 25-28); 3) Towards a missionary synodal Church (n. 29-97) – the largest chapter, which is in turn divided into sub-chapters: 3.1) Listening that becomes welcoming (n. 32-40); 3.2) Sisters and brothers for the mission (n. 41-56); 3.3) Communion, participation and co-responsibility (n. 57-70); 3.4) Synodality takes shape (n. 71-87); 3.5) Synodal life and liturgy (n. 88-97); 4) Next steps (n. 98-109)
Introduction (n. 1-14): The introduction aims to offer key ideas for a correct understanding of what the Document for the Continental Stage is and what it is not.
As an example, note the following: “The DCS will be understandable and useful only if it is read with the eyes of the disciple, who recognizes it as a testimony to the path of conversion toward a synodal Church. This means a Church that learns from listening how to renew its evangelizing mission in the light of the signs of the times, to continue offering humanity a way of being and living in which all can feel included as protagonists”.
The “Introduction” concludes with a prayer of praise for “the joy experienced by those who decided to set out” and a plea to “enter these pages as on ‘holy ground'”.
Chapter One (n. 15-24): The first chapter offers, in the light of faith, a narrative – not a chronicle – of the experience of synodality lived so far in the consultation of the People of God in the local Churches along with the discernment of the Pastors in the Bishops’ Conferences: it traces the outline of this discernment, presents the difficulties encountered as well as the most significant fruits gathered, identifying the cornerstones of that which constitutes an authentic collective experience of the Christian faith.
Although it does not provide a definition of synodality in the strict sense, it expresses the shared sense of the experience of synodality lived by those who took part in it. What emerges is a profound re-appropriation of the common dignity of all the baptised, the authentic pillar of a synodal Church and the theological foundation of that unity which is able to resist the tendency towards homogenisation in order to continue to enhance the diversity of vocations and charisms that the Spirit pours out on the faithful with unpredictable abundance.
Chapter Two (n. 25-28): The second chapter presents a biblical image: that of the tent with which Isaiah Chapter 54 (v. 2-3) opens: “Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly; lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; Your descendants shall dispossess the nations and shall people the desolate cities.”.
The image of the tent offers an interpretive key for the contents of the DCS in light of the Word, placing these contents in the arc of God’s promise that becomes a vocation for his People and his Church: “Enlarge the space of your tent!”
*The graphics of the paginated DCS are intended to refer to the image of the prophet Isaiah’s Tent.
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Chapter Three (n. 29-97)
While in chapter two the image of the tent is the space for communion, a place for participation and a basis for mission, chapter three articulates the main expressions of the synodal journey together with the fruits of listening to the People of God. It does so by grouping them around five generative tensions that intertwine with one another:
1) listening as openness to welcome beginning with a desire for radical inclusion — no one excluded! — to be understood in a perspective of communion with our sisters and brothers and with our common Father. Listening appears here not as merely an instrumentalising action, but as an action capable of assuming the basic attitude of God who listens to his people; as an action capable of following the Lord whom the Gospels constantly present as listening to those he meets along the roads of the Holy Land. In in this sense listening is already missional and a proclamation;
2) the outgoing impetus towards mission. This is a mission that Catholics recognise must be carried out in the company of their brothers and sisters of other confessions and in dialogue with believers of other religions, transforming human actions of care into authentically spiritual experiences that proclaim the face of a God who loves to the point of giving his own life so that we may have it in abundance;
3) the taking on of a style based on the participation — which also means a shared responsibility — of all the baptised, stemming from our common baptismal dignity, in the commitment to carry out the Church’s one mission;
4) the construction of concrete possibilities for living communion, participation and mission through structures and institutions inhabited by people adequately formed and sustained by a vibrant spirituality;
5) the liturgy, in particular the Eucharistic liturgy, source and summit of Christian life, which brings the community together, making communion tangible, allows the exercise of participation and nourishes with the Word and the Sacraments the impetus towards mission.
Chapter Four (n. 98-109)
Lastly, the fourth chapter looks toward the future by drawing on two perspectives, both of which are indispensable to our proceeding along the way: a spiritual perspective, which envisages the horizon of synodal missionary conversion, and a methodological perspective that offers next steps for the Continental Stage, that is, the restitution of the text to the entire People of God, the involvement of the particular Churches through their bishops, and the involvement
of the Episcopal Conferences in view of the celebration of the Continental Assemblies.
Brief Talking-Points / Messages
The basic message could be taken from the Biblical image in chapter 2: How might we be a Church that enlarges its space
• The message of the Synod is simple: we are learning to walk together and to sit with one another to break the one bread, so that everyone can find their place. Everyone is called to take part in this journey, no one is excluded. We feel called to this so that we can credibly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to all peoples. This is the road we seek to continue along on the Continental Stage as well.
• The meetings and dialogues experienced give a sense of the synodal journey, the purpose of which is not to produce documents, but to open horizons of hope for the fulfilment of the Church’s mission.
• Reading the summaries tells us that for those who participated: 1) synodality has ceased to be an abstract concept and has taken on the face of a concrete experience; they have savoured the taste of it and want to continue to do so; 2) the experience of listening to each other starting from listening to the Word of God has reawakened in the lay faithful the idea, and the desire, to involve themselves in the life of the Church, in its engagement in the contemporary world and in its pastoral action in the field; 3) many communities have already understood synodality as an invitation to listen to those who feel exiled from the Church. People are asking for the Church to be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect; 4) Many emphasised that this was the first time the Church had asked for their opinion and they wish to continue this journey;
• On a global level, participation exceeded all expectations. Despite the fact that not all the faithful, not even all those attending Sunday Mass, participated in the first phase of the synod process, we are witnessing an involvement of the faithful, groups and dioceses that is unprecedented in the history of the Church. It is a historical fact without equal.
• It is important to remember that the time of listening and discernment is not yet over. Listening and discernment are still at the heart of the Continental Stage. • One key to understanding the synodal process as a whole, and in particular the Continental Stage and the DCS that constitutes its working document, is the relationship of ‘interdependence’ that exists between the Universal Church and the Particular Church (the individual Christian communities of a circumscribed territory, led by a bishop, and “in which and from which subsists the one and only Catholic Church” (CIC 368; Communionis Notio n.7). This Continental Stage was inserted precisely to emphasise the dialogical movement between the universal Church and the particular Churches, through an act of RESTITUTION to the People of God of their discernment.
• The vision of a Church capable of radical inclusion. Widening the tent requires welcoming others into it, making room for their diversity. It therefore entails a readiness to die to self out of love, finding oneself in and through relationship with Christ and one’s neighbour.
• The synod path has brought out a series of tensions (global-local, truth of faith and that of mercy, co-responsibility in governance and structures of participation, transparency, formation). We must not be afraid of these tensions, but articulate them in a process of
constant communal discernment, thus harnessing them as a source of energy so that they do not become destructive.
• With respect to governance: one is invited to follow Jesus, returning to his style and way of exercising power and authority as a means of offering healing, reconciliation and liberation. The experience […] has helped to rediscover the co-responsibility that comes from baptismal dignity and has revealed the possibility of overcoming a vision of the Church built around the ordained ministry in order to move towards a Church that is ‘all ministerial’, which is a communion of different charisms and ministries“.
• Regarding the priest-laity relationship: The tone of the summaries is not anticlerical. Many express deep appreciation and affection for priests. They give voice to the desire for better trained, better accompanied and less isolated priests. They also point to the importance of ridding the Church of clericalism, seen as a form of spiritual impoverishment, which affects ordained ministers and laity alike.
• A synodal church does not subsist without ‘synodal spirituality’, i.e. without special attention to the interiority and formation of the consciences of its faithful.