By Fr Tom Renshaw SJ, Rector, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview
Over the last two years the Church has been preparing for a Synod on Synodality within the Church. It is officially taking place within the context of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The first assembly of the Synod on Synodality began in Rome on 4 October and will run until 29 October, while the second will be held in October 2024.
In convoking this Synod, Pope Francis invited all the baptised to participate in a process that took place within each diocese last year. Pope Francis asked that special care be taken to involve people who risked being excluded by traditional Church structures, including women, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people living in poverty and Catholics who rarely or never practise their faith.
There are three key themes to the Synod: Communion, Participation and Mission. Our call and experience of Communion flow from the love and unity of the Trinity. Each of us has a role in discerning and responding to God’s call for the Church currently.
The gift of participation flows from the gift of our baptism. While each of us has differing levels of theological understanding and expertise, all of us have various and different gifts and talents given to us by God. All of us are called to share these gifts for the benefit of the Church and the world. In a synodal Church, the whole community is called together to pray, listen, analyse, dialogue, discern and offer advice so that pastoral decisions can be made that most closely reflect God’s will and dream for us. This is because at the heart of the Christian life is our mission to give witness to the love of God and each other.
A synodal Church provides “space in which our common baptismal dignity and co-responsibility for mission are not only affirmed, but exercised and practised.” In this space, the exercise of authority in the Church is seen as service, “following the model of Jesus, who stooped to wash the feet of his disciples.”
Over the last two years the synodal process began with the consultation and listening phases at the local level of dioceses, followed by discernment from local bishops’ conferences. Following this, the bishops’ conferences for each continent met, prayed, and discerned their response to the process and submitted their reports to the Holy See in March 2023. This has resulted in a document called Instrumentum Laboris being published. It is the fruit of the discernment that has taken place at the local levels of the Church. It will guide the discernment and discussion of the participants at the upcoming Synod. If you would like to know more about this document, a series of FAQ’s can be found here.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the Synod is that it is the first time that lay people will be full voting delegates at a synod. Previously, only bishops and priests had voting rights. There are 363 people who will have the ability to vote at the Synod. There are representatives selected by bishops’ conferences around the world, including representatives from the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Maronite Catholics, as well as 120 delegates personally selected by Pope Francis. Encouragingly, 54 of the delegates who have voting rights are women. While this is a far cry from 50:50 representation, it is a significant and positive shift within the life of the Church, recognising and celebrating the gift of talented, dedicated and faith-filled women within our Church.
In addition to the 363 delegates there will be 75 other participants who have been invited to act as facilitators, experts, or spiritual assistants. One of these participants is Br Ian Cribb SJ, the Provincial Assistant for Spirituality within Australia. Br Ian is also a member of our College Board and helped facilitate our recent day of discernment regarding the qualities we are seeking in our new principal. We thank Br Ian for his service to the universal Church and wish him well for his participation in the Synod.
This article was originally published in a recent edition of the ‘Viewpoint’ newsletter for Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview.