Inspired by Pope Francis’s 2015 call to restore the ancient practice of church assemblies and consultations, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires has announced a three-year diocesan synod, with a special emphasis on mission and hearing from all the baptized.
Because it is the pope’s home diocese, the first synod in its 400-year history is likely to be closely observed by bishops elsewhere contemplating doing something similar.
In a lengthy pastoral letter, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, says he was moved to consider a diocesan synod following the pope’s groundbreaking speech in October 2015 on the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops in Rome.
In it, the pope invited the Church to introduce means of collective discernment at all levels that would enable dialogue and consultation with the whole people of God, arguing that “it is precisely this path of synodality that God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”
Poli says he was struck in particular by the pope’s mention of the diocesan synod as the “first level in the exercise of synodality” in which clergy, Religious and lay people alike are called to collaborate with the bishop for the good of the ecclesial community on the ancient church principle captured in the Latin phrase quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet — “what affects all should be discussed by all.”
For many years a church history professor, Poli said in an interview earlier this year that synods had brought great benefits to the Church in the past, not least in the missions of the Spanish American colonial era.
St. Toribius of Mogrovejo, Archbishop of Lima in the early seventeenth century, organized the Church’s missionary activities over a vast territory that included Peru, Ecuador and parts of Colombia and Chile, by means of provincial councils and a total of 14 diocesan synods.
“If in the early seventeenth century he could have so many synods, I think after 400 years we are due one,” he told the Spanish magazine Vida Nueva.
Poli says he sees the three-year synod process beginning this year in Buenos Aires as key to the Church fulfilling Francis’s dream of a Church permanently geared to mission, which he says is the key to the whole process.
“As the Buenos Aires synod wishes to be a renewed evangelizing impulse, Pope Francis has made us realize that all the baptized, that is, both the most committed and even those who have moved away for whatever reason, should be consulted when pastoral actions are being planned,” Poli writes in the pastoral letter.
The synod will be divided into three stages. The remainder of 2017 will be devoted to listening and consultation, paying particular attention to the reasons why people have become alienated from the Church.
Next year, 2018, will be dedicated to study and reflection of the material gathered by groups in the different pastoral areas of the diocese from parishes, movements, religious orders and charitable organizations.
Finally, “we will dedicate 2019 to asking for light to know God’s will for the life and mission of the archdiocese,” writes Poli in his 11-page ‘Pastoral Letter to mark the start of First Synod of the Archdiocese of the Holy Trinity of Buenos Aires, 2017-2020.’
At the end of 2019, the organization responsible for organizing the synod, known as the Equipo de Animación Sinodal (EAS), or Synod Action Team, will put together a series of declarations and decrees drawn from each pastoral area in a concluding document to be published once approved by the archbishop.
The following year, 2020, the diocese will celebrate its 400th anniversary.
The inhabitants of Buenos Aires are famously disputatious, and Poli acknowledges that the diocese’s first experience of a synod is likely to include “passionate discussions and disagreements, which we will need to overcome through the path of dialogue and Christian charity.”
Quoting Evangelii Gaudium, Poli says the important thing is to develop a “communion in diversity” that allows differences held in tension to be transformed into something that goes beyond them.
“We will all emerge edified and content if we seek by means of dialogue the desired consensus, overcoming the discouragement that causes sterile confrontation,” the cardinal notes, adding that a key to the success of the synod will be a “spirituality of communion.”