Synodality is a word that has come into common parlance in the Catholic Church over the past few years. Indeed, it is one of the themes for the Plenary Council in Australia which begins next month and is a theme which is central to the papacy of Pope Francis.

The Pope defined synodality in his address to the bishops commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops in 2015 thus: “What the Lord is asking of us is already in some sense present in the very word “synod”. Journeying together- the laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome is an easy concept to put into words but not so easy to put into practice. He went on to say that: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening is more than simple hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of Truth’, in order to know what he says to the churches.”

And now the Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will open a GLOBAL synod in Rome on 9-10th October 2021, marking the beginning of what some theologians have described as the most ambitious project for church renewal since the Second Vatican Council. This synod will be different to the traditional synod process which brings together bishops in Rome, because it will begin at the diocesan level across the world from October 2021 to April 2022 and will culminate with a meeting of bishops in October 2023. A preparatory document and handbook have been released by the Vatican as guidelines to help facilitate the global synodal process, emphasising that the synod is a journey for all the faithful in which every local church has an integral part to play.

The preparatory document sets out the purpose of the synod, stressing it is designed to ensure Church decision making is informed by the Holy Spirit and includes the voices of ordinary Catholics, particularly those on the margins of society, as well as Christians and non-Christians. Listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit which characterises the synodal approach of Pope Francis, mean an openness to change and learning. The preparatory document goes on to say that the synod is “intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be.” Let us be inspired to do just that.

21 September 2021