The 2021-2023 Synod on Synodality

Since early in Christian history, Church leaders have sometimes convened councils called synods. Since 1965, popes have convened more than 25 synods of bishops from around the world for month-long advisory meetings. The topics of these synods have included peace and justice (1971), evangelization (1974), the Church in Africa (1994), and the Church in the Amazon (2019).

Beyond that, from the beginning of his pontificate in 2013, Pope Francis has been promoting the idea that the Church itself should be more synodal, or consultative, in how it operates. Here is how Fr. Rich explained the term in a homily he gave in January 2022:

“The root word of synodality is synod, spelled S-Y-N-O-D. Let’s start with the letters O-D, the same as the first letters of the word odometer, the device that counts the miles someone has traveled in a car. The prefix S-Y-N means to be together, to be in sync. Therefore, synodality is the idea of people sharing their journeys with one another, or traveling together. We need to value the gifts, the insights, and the experiences of all members of Christ’s Body, not just the people who are ordained. To be a responsive Church, we need to be a listening Church.”

In fall 2021, Francis called for two-year Synod on Synodality. The Vatican set out a consultative process, asking people around the world to meet in local parishes to respond to a series of questions. Those responses were then summarized at the local level and passed up to the dioceses, where they again were compiled and summarized and sent to the regional bishops conferences. Those conferences in turn compiled and summarized the responses and sent them to the Vatican for a final compilation. This final compilation document was just completed in the first days of October 2022. It will now be used to guide discussions around the world over the next 12 months as bishops and others prepare for a meeting in October 2023. We wanted to share two reports that have been generated in this process:

1. At the local level, the Pastoral Council led the Paulist Center through 12 gatherings in the spring and summer of 2022 to solicit responses. (Here’s a brief explainer that the Pastoral Council used to define our goals during this process.) Here is a link to the 11-page summary we submitted to the Archdiocese of Boston on July 18, 2022.

2. The US Conference Catholic Bishops’ national synthesis can be found here.

As people around the world will admit, it has been a messy, confusing, last-minute process. The Church has never attempted anything like this before, and the implementation plans have varied from parish to parish, from diocese to diocese, and from region to region. Nevertheless, this is the most consultative process that the Church has attempted in its nearly 2,000-year history. Fr. Rich has expressed hope in seeing people’s pain and concerns expressed so openly in official Church documents. Even 10 years ago, it is hard to believe that this would have happened! Healing begins by acknowledging our wounds. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit guides this process to its completion, and that the implementation of its goals reach fruition!