The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the name of Francis of Assisi, as the 266th Pope in 2013, stirred the Catholic Church as never before in its recent history. His speeches, actions, Apostolic Letters and Encyclicals were the beginning of a new era in the Church. He has now stimulated the Church by opening a synod process which has been described a unique initiative for the Church’s renewal.
Inaugurated on October 10, the “Synod on Synodality” with the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” will offer a roadmap for the Church’s future with each diocese holding a synod – listening to the voice of the faithful from the parish-level -- something that has rarely happened.
Traditionally, synod is a gathering of bishops from across the world. But this time around, Pope Francis has projected a synod of the entire Church, an exercise involving everyone in the Church. The result of this long process will give input for a national and continental-wide process.
Finally, in October 2023, which incidentally coincides with the 10th year of Pope Francis assuming charge in Holy See, the process will culminate with a three-week gathering in Rome. Hence the process starts at the parish level and ends in Vatican during which everyone in the Church will get a chance to speak their mind out.
The emphasis of the Synod is on listening rather than preaching. The Church realizes that there is no alternative to listening. It is aware that unless people are allowed to speak without conditions, control or fear – as was the practice in the early Church – it will lead to a much bigger crisis than it faces now.
In fact, for many centuries in the early Christian period, the Church was run on the basis of deliberation among the faithful and approval from them. The voice of the faithful is the voice of the people of God. Jesus is the model in this regard.
The Gospels speak of several occasions when Jesus wanted to have ‘feedback’ from the people, besides his own disciples. We see Him in conversation with people, keenly listening to them. This is the ‘synodal path’ the Church should follow not only during the coming two years, but beyond that. Listening enriches the listeners with a flow of new thoughts and novel ideas.
Listening to people will be meaningful when every voice is heard. It doesn’t matter whether one speaks what is pleasing to the ear of the authorities or something critical of their actions. The Church should lend an ear to both. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach in synodality.
In the end, the whole approach will bear fruits only if those who execute it at the ground level do it honestly and take the feedback truthfully to the higher level. It is easy to say that the Church listens to the voice of the faithful, simultaneously turning a deaf ear to them. In fact, a ‘synodality approach’ does exist in the Church with the presence of bodies like parish councils, pastoral councils and the like. But the moot point is: How effective are they in communicating the voice of the faithful to the authorities. Hopefully, the unique synod will help the laity, priests and prelates to ‘journey together’.