On October 9-10, 2021, Pope Francis launched the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Don’t let the name fool you, though – this Synod is going to be anything but ordinary.
The Synod of Bishops is an advisory group for the Pope, made up of bishops from all regions of the world. Since 1967, the group has met regularly to discuss topics such as the Christian family, the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, and young people, faith and vocational discernment.
The topic Pope Francis has chosen for the next Synod is “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. The Pope has defined a “synodal Church” as “a listening Church, aware that listening is more than hearing… a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn”. In calling this Synod, Pope Francis is asking for a discussion on how all members of the Church - laity, priests, bishops and religious - may use their own unique gifts, guided by the Holy Spirit, to help the Church make decisions.
In keeping with the spirit of the topic, this Synod will happen differently than in the past. Rather than a single meeting of bishops in Rome, this Synod will be a two-year process which is intended to involve as many people around the world as possible. In the first phase of the process, each diocese in the world is asked to hold discussions on the questions and themes of the Synod. Each episcopal conference – like the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops here in Canada – will combine these diocesan-level responses into a single document. In the second phase, episcopal conferences will join together into continental groupings to compare their results and create a continent-wide response. Finally, in the third phase, the Synod of Bishops will meet in Rome to consider all the collected responses.
Rome has issued a handbook to help dioceses with the first phase of the Synod. In it, the writers assure us that “the purpose of this synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be, to make people's hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission.”
Here in the Diocese of Victoria, Bishop Gary informally launched the first phase of the Synod on Sunday, October 17th at St. Mary’s Church in Port McNeill (you can watch a recording of the livestream online). The Diocesan Synod Planning Committee has started planning ways for the people of our Diocese to participate in the Synod; these opportunities will begin in early 2022.
More information about the Synod is available online. As we prepare to embark on this synodal journey, let us invite the Holy Spirit to operate within with the words of the Adsumus Sancte Spritus:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son,
forever and ever.