Vatican prepares for next phase of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality


PROVIDENCE — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has welcomed the Vatican’s release of the document that will guide the next phase of the global Synod called for by Pope Francis.
The Holy See’s General Secretariat of the Synod issued, on Oct. 27, the working document that will guide the Continental Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
“The Document for the Continental Stage” was produced by the Holy See after receiving responses from 112 episcopal conferences around the world, including the USCCB, along with Eastern Catholic Churches, religious congregations, ecclesial associations and movements, the Vatican dicasteries, and individual contributions.
In the first stage of the Synod, listening sessions were held at the local diocesan level across the world. Bishops in each country, along with lay persons, then reflected on these listening sessions and compiled what was heard into a national synthesis and shared with the Holy See.
In the U.S., an estimated 700,000 people participated in the synodal process, out of the estimated 66.8 million Catholic in the nation. This represents an overall level of participation of approximately 1% according to the national synthesis report.
“Technically, not only Catholics participated,” said Ed Trendowski, Ph.D., director of the Diocese of Providence’s Office of Faith Formation, who was selected to assist in compiling the results from regional dioceses that were then assimilated into the national synthesis. “Therefore, it is difficult to say that the vast majority of Catholics feel a certain way about something,” he said.
He noted additionally that if the local synod organizers had the perception that the synodal process was only about collecting criticisms of the Church, they would have organized events, questions, and surveys in that fashion.
Trendowski said that while youth participation has lessened in many places, there are pockets of young people and young adults in high schools, colleges and young adult ministries who show a strong devotion and dedication to their faith.
“The National Synthesis seems to posit that young people themselves voiced a feeling of exclusion and desired to participate more fully as members of the parish community,” he said.
Trendowski said he found it “striking” that the National Synthesis says virtually nothing about Catholics schools, other than just mentioning schools in passing.
He said that in the diocesan synodal process, several participants spoke favorably of their experiences in attending Catholic schools, while others pointed to some of the challenges Catholic schools face.
“One is left wondering: is the state of Catholic education, good or bad, only a concern in the Diocese of Providence and Region One?”
Interestingly, the National Synthesis, citing a regional synthesis, suggests that “several” dioceses entered the synodal process with apprehension or opposition, but then as the process unfolded, dioceses “noted how much agreement participants found when they listened to each other.”
The regional synthesis states in its conclusion: “Despite this delight, some participants and leaders alike expressed skepticism, confusion, or uncertainty at the synodal process. These feelings were partly due to a lack of effective communication, timing, or (in)action from past Church initiatives. Additionally, there were concerns that there would be attempts to make changes to Church teachings or go beyond the scope of what a Synod can do.”
Trendowski told Rhode Island Catholic he found it “praiseworthy” that the national synthesis mentions the concept of discernment, which was by its design a large part of the synodal process at each level.
The synodal sessions should begin in prayer as the foundation for the process of discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading each of us to grow in communion, participation, and mission, he noted.
“Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and the founder of the Jesuits St. Ignatius of Loyola had a spiritual practice he called the discernment of spirits. Good spirits lead to spiritual consolation, while evil spirits lead toward spiritual desolation,” Trendowski said.
“Part of discernment, and I think this is critical for the synod on synodality, is this: we need to discern where the movement or feeling is coming from and where is it leading.”
He noted that the synodal process does not seem to allow for an acknowledgement that some of the feelings that people shared about certain kinds of change they sought to bring about in the Church might be coming at the behest of these evil spirits.
In the next phase of the Synod, the Continental Stage, the Vatican document will serve as a tool for discussion and reflection among conferences according to their continental grouping, according to the USCCB.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, who has been shepherding the synodal process in the United States, welcomed the Vatican’s DCS document.
“The Document for the Continental Stage” is a profound reflection that brings together the hopes and concerns expressed by the geographically diverse communities within the universal Church in the first stage of the Synod,” Bishop Flores said in a USCCB press release.
“As we continue to the next stage, this document will be fundamental in our ongoing discernment.”
For the Continental Stage of the Synod, the USCCB will be joining with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in holding 10 virtual Continental Assemblies, including several in Spanish and French, in late 2022 and early 2023.
Representatives from each diocese in the U.S. and Canada will be attending one of these virtual assemblies to reflect on and discuss the “Document for the Continental Stage.” The result of these discussions will then be compiled in a North American Continental Synthesis and submitted to the Vatican by March 31, 2023.
“The North American Continental Stage will create opportunities to engage the diversity of the People of God in the Church in North America in continued listening and meditation on the content and the reflection questions proposed by the ‘Document for the Continental Stage,’” said Richard Coll, executive director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.
Coll was appointed in June 2021 to coordinate the effort of the U.S. bishops for the Synod.
“The virtual format will allow for greater accessibility, and thus a wider and more diverse participation by the People of God and will also provide more opportunities for the bishops in the United States and Canada to engage in the listening sessions,” Coll said.