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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

November 6, 2023: Synodality: We learn by doing

November 6, 2023: Synodality: We learn by doing

The Synod on Synodality ended last week with Francis saying:

"Dear friends, the general assembly of the synod has now concluded,". "Today we do not see the full fruit of this process, but with farsightedness we look to the horizon opening up before us."

"The Lord will guide us and help us to be a more synodal and missionary church, a church that adores God and serves the women and men of our time, going forth to bring to everyone the consoling joy of the Gospel," he said.

As the church concludes this stage of its journey, he said, "it is important to look at the 'principle and foundation' from which everything begins ever anew: love.

"Loving God with our whole life and loving our neighbors as ourselves," he said, is "the heart of everything."

Throughout the month, both bishops and lay members have attested that it's very often the laity who are better versed in the practice of synodality — something Cardinal Mario Grech, who runs the Vatican's synod office, told me earlier this year had been his experience with the process to date.

"Synodality is ingrained in the nature of the people of God," he said. "In the laity, I felt we are not bringing something new. To the contrary, we were harping a chord in their heart and they were ready to sing and to dance to this music."

And on Oct. 25, multiple synod members confirmed that Grech spoke directly to all the delegates at that morning's session to underscore that the assembly has the full authority of a synod. By including lay members for the first time, Grech said, the synod had expanded its scope in hopes of integrating the entire church.

But for those unaccustomed to this process, and all that it entails, boot camp has been difficult.

As the month has grinded along, there have been multiple reports of synod delegates complaining that the emphasis on listening — where every roundtable member is expected to offer their views and several minutes of forced silence requiring delegates to sit with their words before responding — has been a tiresome process.

Sharing a different perspective, another bishop told me that unlike past synods, where delegates could sit in the Vatican's synod hall, with stadium style seating, this synod requires an active listening where participants must look at each other face to face and respond to what is being shared.

Another delegate recalled an incident at their roundtable where a priest was watching a bishop — who was serving as the roundtable's secretary — take notes to later report back to the full assembly. The bishop, apparently irritated that a priest was looking over his shoulder, snapped that if he refused to stop monitoring him, he would throw him out.

"The bishop didn't seem to understand that in this environment, he didn't have the authority to do that," the delegate said.

On another occasion, a synod participant described to me what they described as the "tyranny of the articulate" — those more accustomed to speaking in public forums — could either inadvertently or intentionally intimidate participants with less experience speaking in such an environment.

Across the board, it seems, this month's bootcamp has echoed what Vatican II expert and Canadian synod delegate Catherine Clifford said "While the practice of synodality has deep roots in the Catholic tradition, over time the church's synodal muscles "were allowed to atrophy."

Francis, said Clifford, has "taken a wager that we will learn to do this, in the doing. We learn by doing."

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