PROVIDENCE — Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to formally open the process that will lead up to the 16th ordinary assembly of the World Synod of Bishops in 2023.
With a theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” known colloquially as the “Synod on Synodality,” this two-year synodal process will be unlike any held previously.
In the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis is calling for the direct participation of the people of God at all levels, especially the laypeople, so that they may listen, share and reflect on ways to renew the faith and make it more accessible.
The Holy Father’s goal in convening the synod is to invite the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission, one that will broaden participation through evangelization.
The diocesan listening phase, which will focus on listening to and consulting the people of God, will run through April 2022. This will be followed by a continental phase from September 2022 to March 23, and finally a “universal church phase,” which will culminate in the traditional assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.
In his homily Sunday the Holy Father stressed the importance of spiritual discernment.
“Celebrating a synod means walking on the same road, together,” Pope Francis said in his homily during the Oct. 10 Mass, which was attended by about 3,000 people, including 270 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople who participated in a day of reflection in the Vatican Synod Hall the day before.
The pope said that the encounters and dialogue exchanged in the synodal process must lead to discernment and change.
“Whenever we enter into dialogue, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on a journey,” he said. “And in the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin will open the synodal process in the Diocese of Providence on Sunday, Oct. 17, as he celebrates Holy Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul at 10 a.m.
“While we are urged to be a ‘listening Church,’ it’s a good time to recall that Jesus commissioned us first of all to be a preaching, teaching Church. We discern the signs of the times, and then we preach and teach the unchanging truth of Christ the world always needs to hear,” Bishop Tobin posted in a message on Monday, in advance of the opening of the synod in the diocese this coming weekend.
Edward Trendowski, Ph.D., the director of the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation, and his staff will be working for the next six months of the diocesan phase with a committee of about a dozen individuals who will be commissioned at the Oct. 17 Mass.
The committee, which will be composed of priests, religious, and at least one deacon, along with members of the lay faithful, will meet through April 2022 to discern ways to better serve God’s people in the diocese. They will produce a 10-page document of their findings that will be presented to Bishop Tobin.
Once accepted, the document will then be sent onward toward the Holy See as part of the next phases of the synod.
“Ultimately we believe we’re being drawn together by the Holy Spirit, and I think that Pope Francis is inviting the Church to discern how we can be a synodal Church together,” Trendowski said.
While synods, in the ancient church leading up to today, were traditionally gatherings of bishops to discuss doctrinal issues in order to make clarifications and to promote orthodoxy, Trendowski said this synod is different due to its invitation to lay people around the world to fully participate in the process.
“I think the Holy Father sees this synodal path in the sense that the Church is a listening Church and listens to what people have to say,” he said.
“The one thing that can be confusing about that in our modern culture is that when people hear the word ‘listen’ it often means that you’re going to do what I’m telling you. The Holy Father is not approaching this as a way to change doctrine.”
The task before the committee, and others like it in dioceses around the world, will be to determine how the Church can better listen to Catholics, as well as non-Catholics as well, and invite them to recognize the call of the Holy Spirit, who is calling them to conversion and into a deeper relationship with Christ.
In the committee’s first meeting Trendowski will review the two documents the Holy See has produced to promulgate the objectives of the synod: the 20-page Preparatory Document and the accompanying 60-page Vademecum, the Official Handbook for Listening and Discernment in Local Churches.
“If the synod is to be successful — and I truly hope and pray it will be — the process has to be simple, clear and accessible,” he said.