By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
When Pope Francis opened the Synod on Synodality in October 2021, Bishop Thomas Zinkula could not have imagined his role in helping shape the framework to open “horizons of hope for the fulfillment of the Church’s mission” (“Document for the Continental Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality”).
The Holy Father called the dioceses of the world to participate in the Synod, which is a Greek word that means, basically, “walk with,” or “journey together.” From each stage —diocesan, regional, national and now continental — Bishop Zinkula has been involved in synthesizing the heartfelt thoughts of the people of God regarding the Catholic Church.
Last month, Bishop Zinkula participated in a weeklong retreat in Florida as a member of the North American Synod Team — eight bishops, two priests, two women religious, three lay women and two lay men from the United States and Canada. The Catholic Church in Mexico participated in the Synod with the Latin American bishops’ council (CELAM).
During their retreat, the North American Synod team prayed, discerned and synthesized the insights and contributions heard during the “North American Continental Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The team continues to work on that draft from their respective dioceses and must submit the “Final Document for the Continental Stage” by March 31. Their document, along with those from six other continental assemblies, will form a working document called an “instrumentum laboris” that the Holy See will release June 23.
In preparation for the retreat, Bishop Zinkula said he participated in as many as possible of the 12 virtual sessions of the North American Continental Stage assemblies. In total, 931 delegates and 146 bishops from Canada and the United States participated, the USCCB reported. Among the delegates were 391 lay women, 235 lay men, 158 priests, 77 sisters, 66 deacons and four brothers.
Bishop Zinkula read the 60 pages of notes generated by the assemblies and also re-read the “Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) of the 2021-2024 Synod: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” He charted the main ideas and themes that surfaced in his study of the thoughts, concerns and ideas of the faithful about the Church in the U.S. and Canada.
The bishop and his fellow team members submitted a list of themes that emerged from their study of the documents. Those themes were distilled for further discussion and reflection during the
retreat. “Some of the themes clearly fit together, sometimes there were different nuances,” Bishop Zinkula said.
Reaching consensus came naturally with the team, the bishop said. “One thing is very clear. We all agreed that there was a lot of joy around this synodal process and that people felt listened to. They were appreciative that the Church would listen to them and they want to continue to be given the opportunity to be heard.” While some of the faithful “had their agendas, they were respectful about them.”
Bishop Daniel Flores, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, noted, “… a deep love for Jesus Christ and the Church animated the continental assemblies.” The “participants expressed a great desire to pray and work for a more synodal style in the Church going forward,” said the bishop, who has been leading the synodal process in the U.S. He sees the synodal way as focusing more attention on the baptismal dignity and mission of Christ’s members. It has “brought greater hope that we can, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, strengthen our communion with one another and with the Lord” (Our Sunday Visitor, Feb. 21).
Bishop Raymond Poisson, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed gratitude for a renewed sense of mission and kinship among the Church in North America. “Deepening the relationships between the Church in Canada and the U.S. is invaluable for the ongoing synodal path,” he said (OSV).
While the faithful desire to continue the synodal process, “they still wonder where it’s going and seek a better understanding of and education about the term ‘synodality,’” Bishop Zinkula said. Among their concerns, “there are tensions in our Church. People want to know how we, as a Church, will address these tensions. Some people are expecting big doctrinal changes. We don’t want to lead them on. This is not what the synodal process is about,” the bishop added.
Meanwhile, the journey — and the drafting — continues. “I think everyone left the retreat feeling it was a good week, that we did a good job with the first draft of the document. We represented the people from our two countries the best we could.”