Let the dialogue begin! Within our church walls, outside our church walls, in our families, our circle of friends and among groups small and large outside of our comfort zones. We need to talk, to listen, and to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading our Church. We must dare to reach out to others who feel alienated or excluded.
This is the work of Synod 2021-2023, a universal journey of faith beginning in every diocese in the world.
This is our opportunity to take “the same path as the Word made flesh: following in his footsteps, listening to his word and the words of others, discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us with fresh paths and new ways of speaking,” Pope Francis “tweeted.”
Bishop Thomas Zinkula opened our Diocesan Synod 2021-2023 with Mass on Oct. 17 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport on a sun-drenched Sunday morning. That afternoon, around 85 persons gathered virtually from parishes throughout the diocese to learn the history of the synodal process, where to access resources and materials (https://tinyurl.com/vupeh575), hear the bishop’s visions and hopes for the synodal process, and ask questions.
In essence, “synod,” means walking a path together. It echoes the early name for the Jesus movement: simply, “The Way,” as diocesan liturgist Deacon Frank Agnoli noted in a historical perspective during the opening session. The U.S. Church played an instrumental role in recovering the notion of synodality at Vatican II, he said.
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) contained one of the most important affirmations of the entire council: that the Church was the people of God. That the gifts of the Holy Spirit come to the community through all the faithful. These recovered insights provided the grounding vision for a synodal church.
Pope Francis has long had a heart for a more synodal church, Deacon Agnoli said, seeing the synodal path inaugurated at Vatican II as a work in progress. Evidence of that is contained in the final document of the fifth Latin American Episcopal Conference at Aparecida in 2007. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio chaired the committee charged with drafting it. He has spoken of this path as that “which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,” Deacon Agnoli said. Synodality is so important to the Holy Father that he delayed the regularly scheduled meeting of the World Synod of Bishops from 2022 to 2023 to give the whole Church time to take part in this synodal journey.
Patrick Schmadeke, diocesan director of Evangelization, fleshed out the three pillars of Synod 2021-2023: Communion, Participation, and Mission. Communion refers to the role we all play in discerning and living out God’s call to his people. Participation is about creating a space for all to hear the Holy Spirit. Mission is evangelization. We always turn outward, witnessing to the love of God in the concrete reality of daily life, especially to those on the margins. November is a time of preparation for dialogue, with listening sessions to follow from December through February. Synodality does not end there, however. It is an ongoing process of listening and doing.
The “Vademecum,” or Vatican handbook on Synod 2021-2023, offers suggestions about groups that could lead the synodal process and groups who are to be listened to. In our diocese, leaders of listening range from pastoral councils, Catholic schools, religious congregations, charitable organizations and campus ministry to Catholic charitable organizations, communities representing people with disabilities and social justice groups.
Through the synodal process we are also called to go beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church. We need to listen humbly to other Christians, with whom we share a common baptism. We also need to listen to Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other religious persons as well as atheists, agnostics and persons of no faith. Community college students, the elderly and homebound. Youths in religious education, Catholic schools, homeschools and group homes. Healthcare workers and first responders; immigrants; business owners, including minority business owners; persons with disabilities; people living in poverty; adult and youth inmates, among others.
We listen humbly to one another to help us to recognize the Holy Spirit in our midst, present and active in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to ask ourselves, “How do I experience the Holy Spirit in my life? How do I see the Holy Spirit active in the lives of others?” Expect the work of dialogue to be messy at times because we are, after all, imperfect human beings striving to be more like Christ.
We must be willing to change our opinions based on what we have heard from others. We are called to overcome attitudes of complacency and comfort that lead us to make decisions based on how things were done in the past. As Pope Francis reminds us, we are all in the same boat. This a journey we take together, at the service of one another.
Let the dialogue begin, even now, in our homes and among the people with whom we interact on a daily basis. Call it preparation for far-reaching encounters with our fellow sojourners on this journey called life. We’ll keep you posted with Diocesan Synod 2021-2023 developments along the way.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor