ROME – Pope Francis Sunday announced that his ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality will be extended for an additional year to allow, as he put it, more time for discernment and a greater understanding of the concept as a key dimension of church life.
As things now stand, bishops and other participants will gather for an initial meeting of the synod Oct. 4-29, 2023, in Rome, to be followed by a year of reflection with another culminating meeting set for October 2024.
Though notoriously difficult to define, “synodality” is generally understood to refer to a collaborative and consultative style of management in which all members, clerical and lay, participate in making decisions about the church’s life and mission.
Speaking to pilgrims following his Oct. 16 Angelus address, Pope Francis noted that the first stage of the synod, “For a synodal Church: Communion, participation, mission,” opened last October. Since then, the process has been moving forward “in the particular churches, with listening and discernment.”
The pope voiced confidence that this decision will “foster understanding of synodality as a constitutive dimension of the church, and help everyone to live it in a journey of brothers and sisters who bear witness to the joy of the Gospel.”
Formally opened by Pope Francis with an Oct. 10, 2021, Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the synod, typically a month-long meeting of bishops at the Vatican, has been reconceived in this instance as a multi-stage process beginning with a local consultation carried out among pastors and faithful around the world.
The diocesan phase lasted from October 2021 to April 2022, and was designed as a consultative process that took place according to certain guidelines issued by the Synod of Bishops. A second, continental phase, began in September and will last through March 2023, when continental bishops’ conferences will coordinate and evaluate the results of the diocesan consultations.
For the United States, which does not belong to a continental conference of the bishops, that second phase will consist of a meeting between American and Canadian bishops.
A final, universal phase was set to conclude the process during next year’s Oct. 4-29 gathering in Rome, but with Pope Francis’s announcement Sunday, that universal phase is now extended to 2024.
The Synod of Bishops was launched by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council in 1965 as an attempt to broaden the involvement of bishops from around the world in the governance of the church.
Since then, ordinary synods have taken place every three to four years in Rome, gathering the world’s shepherds to discuss a topic of particular relevance. In addition, “extraordinary” or “special” synods can be and have also been called prior to the ordinary gathering, when a pope determines a certain topic merits particular attention and discussion.
Pope Francis has called five synods to date. The first were his back-to-back synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, followed by his 2018 ordinary synod on youth and his 2019 special synod on the Amazon.
The current process marks his fifth synod, which instead of being concentrated during a three-week stretch in Rome, is unfolding over a four-year period throughout the global church.
In addition, the pope has also urged local dioceses and bishops’ conferences to launch similar initiatives at both the local, national, and continental scale. The bishops of both Germany and Italy are currently knee-deep in their own synod processes, launched with the pope’s request and inspiration.
In a statement released following the pope’s Oct. 16 announcement, the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops said the pope’s decision to extend the Synod on Synodality for a year “stems from the desire that the theme of a synodal church, because of its breadth and importance, might be the subject of prolonged discernment not only by the members of the synodal assembly, but by the whole church.”
This choice is in step with the ongoing synod process, they said, insisting that the synod is “not an event but a process in which the whole People of God is called to walk together toward what the Holy Spirit helps it to discern as being the Lord’s will for his church.”
Calling the ordinary synod gathering “a journey within the journey,” the statement said the extended version will aim “to foster more mature reflection for the greater good of the church.”
The Synod of Bishops said they will better define the practical aspects of the 2023 and 2024 gatherings, and the time in between, in the coming weeks, and will communicate the information “in due time.”
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