Synod on synodality to be ‘process of spiritual discernment,’ participants say


The Vatican office organizing a major 2023 Vatican summit on synodality held a preparation meeting last week, saying the synod of bishops has already begun.

“This synod was conceived not as an event that will take place in a moment, meaning October 2023: It has already begun, and this awareness has been assumed by all of us taking part in this assembly,” said Colombian layman Oscar Elizalde, spokesman for CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ conference. “We are not preparing for the synod, it has already begun.”

Last week’s general assembly was hosted by a 15-person office known as the Secretariat for the Synod, which until Pope Francis’s highly anticipated reform of the Roman curia was released last month, was known as the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops.

“That is to say, the mission for the secretariat is to promote synodality in all the organisms of the church, and the synods [of bishops] that take place in Rome convoked by the pope are one way to put this synodality in practice,” said Father Carlos Galli, the dean of the theology faculty of Argentina’s pontifical university, and one of Pope Francis’s favorite theologians.

Galli says there are three clear stages in the ongoing synodal process: the preparation stage, which is “centered on consultation and listening, perfecting what was already being done;” the celebration stage, which will be the actual meeting of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in late 2023; and the implementation stage, which will be about the reception in the local churches of what is discussed in the Roman summit.

Officially called “Synod 2021-2023 for a synodal Church, communion, participation and mission,” the process was launched last October by Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Carmen Pena Garcia, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Comillas University in Madrid, said that “all the synods look at the church, but those we have had thus far, look at the church in its action with respect to a concrete reality: The family, the youth, the Amazon.”

“This synod, in a way, is a return to the church itself and to the understanding of the church, truly wanting to implement the Second Vatican Council,” she said, highlighting that there is both continuity and novelty in the process. “The continuity is the development and reception of the Second Vatican Council. The novelty is that much emphasis is being placed on the idea of the ecclesial subject.”

Through this entire process, which includes consultations at a parish, diocesan, national and continental levels, “the baptismal condition is at the center,” Pena said. Baptism is what “unites us and makes us members of the church, co-responsible for its action, without taking away the fact that there are different charisms, different ministries and functions.”

“The hierarchy has its role, which is capital, but it is also very important to point out that it does not detract from the co-responsibility of all the baptized,” she said.

As a canonist, she said she hopes that the entire process will help make the faithful aware of their responsibility and their role within the church when it comes to having an active participation. “And that the bishops will allow them to be so!”

She also wants to see the fullness of the code of canon law be applied, because there are many “channels of participation” that have already been an option for over 40 years, but are not applied. 

Since Pope Francis was elected in 2013, he has convened two “extraordinary” assemblies of a synod of bishops, in addition to those that have traditionally been celebrated every three years. In an attempt to bring the voices of all the church, not only the hierarchy, into the synod hall, there have been consultation processes and pre-synod meetings, but this time around the pope wanted to make sure that all those who want to take part could have their voices heard.

Before Oct. 2023, the synod’s office is expected to produce what thus far has been called a “working document,” a general guideline for the discussions of the three-week summit, though sources have told Crux that among the things discussed last week is a change of the name for this document. This time around, it won’t be about what Rome thinks should be discussed, but a summary of what the seven regional assemblies think should be discussed.

Spanish Marist Brother Emir Turu, Secretary General of the Rome-based Union of Religious Superiors and a member of the synod’s spirituality commission, said that the fact that such a commission exists is a novelty on its own.

“It seems incredible that this is new,” he said. “But we want to give another tone to the discernment the synodal process is supposed to inspire: It is not an intellectual debate on positions already taken. It is about entering together into a process of spiritual discernment. The intention, I believe, is extraordinary. I guess time will tell if we succeed.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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