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Quality of the conversations on the synod journey

By Fr Donald Chambers

Pope Francis has invited all parishes, small Christian communities, lay movements, religious communities, and other forms of communion to embark on a journey of listening to one another to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

This journeying together is called a synod, and the theme guiding it is For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. The theme captures the fundamental reason for this journey, that is, a community of the baptised participating in a process of speaking and listening to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in the mission of the Church.

The synod journey comprises three stages or phases – the diocesan, regional, and universal. The office with responsibility for organising this journey has published a road map called Vademecum, a handbook to guide the Church on the journey.

The participation or conversation is characterised by the interrelated actions of speaking and listening. Considering this, I would like to utilise insights on Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) to shed light on the quality of conversation of which Pope Francis dreams.

According to the Creating WE Institute, “Conversational Intelligence® is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations, we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow, and build partnership with each other to create and transform our societies.”

There are three levels of conversations. Level I is called Transactional Conversation which is distinguished by the exchange of information. The intention at this level is to confirm what I know. It is an I-centred conversation in which the participants simply exchange information to validate what they know.

Level II conversation is called Positional Conversation characterised by an exchange of power where the participants simply defend what they know. Consequently, the participants at this level of conversation attempt to persuade and influence others to agree with their point of view; it is an opportunity to seek a win-win solution.

Level III conversation is called Transformational Conversation involving exchange of energy. At this level, participants aim to discover what they don’t know. It’s a “Share-Discover” dynamic. It’s a WE-centred conversation.

The mindset of participants is to “hold a neutral space to explore uncharted territory. Ask questions for which we have no answers and listen to connect.”


WE-centred mindset

Pope Francis desires the Church to participate in the synod journey utilising the mindset of Level III type of conversation. The handbook states that “Fostering participation leads us out of ourselves to involve others who hold different views than we do. Listening to those who have the same views as we do bear no fruit. Dialogue involves coming together across diverse opinions. . .. make a special effort to listen to those we may be tempted to see as unimportant and those who force us to consider new points of view that may change our way of thinking.”

It is an invitation to enter the process with a WE-centred mindset, thinking of the common good, and not individual pursuit through debate, arguing, or lobbying.

To participate meaningfully at a Level III conversation surely requires mutual trust. The handbook states that, “It is especially important that this listening process happens in a spiritual setting that supports openness in sharing as well as hearing. . . In this way, our journey of listening to one another can be an authentic experience of discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit”.

“Authentic discernment is made possible where there is time for deep reflection and a spirit of mutual trust, common faith, and a shared purpose” (1.1).

Those who are enemies of mutual trust are referred to as the resistors, the skeptics, the wait and see, and the experimenters. For this reason, the handbook invites us to (1) leave behind prejudices and stereotypes, (2) cure the virus of self-sufficiency and (3) overcome ideologies.

I believe that Pope Francis dreams of participants becoming what the Creating WE Institute refers to as co-creators. They have the mindset to build new meaning. Their inner disposition asks, “How can we create new possibilities together?” and their outer actions demonstrate a willingness to transform reality with others in a “WE-centric” way.

The characteristic of co-creators corresponds closely to some attitudes that the synod committee desires for participants on the synod journey. These are humility in listening and courage in speaking, willingness to change our opinions based on what we have heard, and conversion and change: to abandon attitudes of complacency and comfort that lead us to make decisions purely based on how things have been done in the past.

As local dioceses begin the first stage of the journey with the aim to seek a “broad consultation in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality”, I invite you to read and reflect on the following scripture passages that demonstrate synodality in action – Acts 15:1–21 (Council of Jerusalem), Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:30–44, Luke 9:10–17 and John 6:30–44 (Miracle of the loaves).


Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference. His weblog is https://belovedreflections.org/