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What is the synod on synodality?

Julian Paparella

Monday, October 4, 2021

The square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is dominated by curving rows of columns which famously represent the maternal arms of the Church reaching out to embrace all the faithful. The two-year synod on synodality which officially begins this weekend comes with an invitation for all the baptized to participate. (Photo by Millie Greaves on Unsplash)
This October, the entire Church will enter into a synod.
Pope Francis will open the synod in Rome on the weekend of October 9-10, and every diocese across the whole world is called to celebrate the opening of the synod on the local level the following Sunday, October 17. The theme for this synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”.
Wait, there’s a synod starting in October?!
Yes! And this synod is going to be unlike any other!! From 2021 to 2023, it will be a journey of sharing, reflecting, and listening at all levels across the entire Church!
Hold on, what exactly is a synod?
A synod is a gathering, traditionally of bishops, that helps the Church to walk forward together in the same direction. The word “synod” comes from the Greek syn-hodos, meaning “the same way” or “the same path.” Synods were common in the first centuries of Christianity, giving bishops the opportunities to meet and discuss issues of importance for the life of the Church. In 1965, Pope Paul VI instituted the Synod of Bishops at the universal level of the Church. He wanted a way of continuing the fraternal, collegial exchange that had been experienced at the Second Vatican Council, where bishops from across the globe had gathered together between 1962 and 1965. Since then, synods have been organized every two or three years, bringing together bishops, experts, and various delegates to discuss topics like the Eucharist, the Word of God, the Middle East, the new evangelization, the family, young people, and the Amazon. In each case, bishops vote on a Final Document, then the pope writes his own text – called an “apostolic exhortation” – to open new pathways and shed new light on what was discussed at the synod, so that it can radiate across the entire Church.
What’s unique about this synod on synodality?
Unlike past synods, this one isn’t about addressing a particular issue but about becoming who God calls us to be as a Church, all of us together, amidst the reality of today’s world! The Synod starting in October 2021 is totally unprecedented, for at least three reasons.
  1. It is no longer only a one-month Synod of Bishops but a two-year synodal process for the entire People of God, all the baptized! All are invited and no one is to be left behind or excluded!
  2. It is a synod that aims on giving the entire Church a lived experience of synodality. It's not just about filling in a questionnaire, but gathering the fruits of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us here and now.
  3. The aim of the synod is not just to talk about synodality, but to put synodality into practice from now onwards, in every diocese, parish, and country across the whole world. This calls all of us, at every level of the Church, to renew our way of being and working together moving forward.
So what is synodality anyways?
Fundamentally, synodality is about journeying together. This happens through listening to one another in order to hear what God is saying to all of us. It is realizing that the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone to help us walk forward together on our journey as the People of God.
The point is not that we take two years to understand some new buzzword that will soon fade. Synodality is no passing phase! Rather, "walking together" is at the heart of what the Church is all about, as the People of God on pilgrimage in the midst of the world. In the days of the early Church, Saint John Chrysostom said that for him "Church" and "synod" were synonyms, since the Church is all about walking together. In this sense, synodality is a way of renewing the Church from her deepest roots, in order to be more united with one another and better carry out our mission in the world. Concretely, being "synodal" is a way of being and a way of working that takes a more grassroots, collaborative approach, taking time to discern the path forward together. It highlights the fact that we all have something precious to contribute to the Body of Christ. In this way, a "synodal Church" is a Church that listens: "It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The lay faithful, the bishops, the pope: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what He is saying to the Church" (Pope Francis, Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, October 17, 2015).
This will naturally call us to change our ways of doing things, in order to become more and more who we truly are as a Church: walking together, amidst the entire human family humanity, guided by the Holy Spirit.
So why a synod on synodality?
Yes, a "synod on synodality" may seem kind of like having a movie about movies or a book about books (or a dream within a dream for those who have seen the movie Inception). But don't worry, this isn’t just some complicated mind trick. Rather, it’s an invitation for the whole Church to have our voices heard.
We can only move forward if we work and walk together. No Christian is an island! Every limb and appendage is necessary in the Body of Christ!
Through this synod, the Church is saying: the voice of EVERYONE matters because God can talk though ANYONE -- not only bishops, priests, deacons, brothers, or sisters but ALL OF US! Pope Francis has stated that this collaborative, inclusive approach of synodality is precisely the “the path that God expects of the Church in the third millennium.” This is truly a revolution of the Holy Spirit towards the Church that God is calling us to be for tomorrow, starting today!
Find out what's going on in your diocese and your parish to experience the Synod at a local level. Each diocese is called to facilitate local synodal meetings to involve all the faithful in this journey undertaken by the entire Church.
Of course, synodality is complicated to spell but it is even more challenging to put it into practice. This is the whole point of the two-year synod that the Church begins this October: helping the whole Church to walk forward together, united in the mission we share. This begins by paying attention to those who are often forgotten, excluded, or not listened to – hearing what God has to say to us through those we may ignore. The path to a Church that listens and walks together starts with you and me. Let's walk forward together!
Holy Spirit of God, lead the Church on our pilgrim path as we listen to You speaking through one another. Enkindle Your love in our hearts to walk forward together as a Church that accompanies all of humanity on our common journey to You.

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