By Fr Donald Chambers
The synodal journey was launched by Pope Francis on October 10, 2021. The journey consists of the diocesan and continental phases, climaxing with the meeting of bishops in October 2023. We have completed the diocesan phase that culminated with a regional synthesis.
Cardinal Grech, the Synod president, reported in August 2022 that the secretariat had received 103 syntheses from 114 episcopal conferences. The continental phase begins in October 2022.
We (the AEC) belong to the continental group of Latin America and the Caribbean and to the sub-group of the Caribbean (which includes Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico).
The dialogue at the continental level will be guided by the various syntheses from the Continent. At the end of that dialogue, a synthesis from our continental phase will be submitted along with syntheses from the remaining five continents of North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
What’s the meaning of words such as ‘synod’ and ‘synodal’?
Synod is an old tradition of the Church. It indicates the journey along which the People of God (laity, clergy, and bishops) walk together in its mission. It also refers to Jesus Christ who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6), and disciples of Jesus are followers of the Way of Jesus (Acts 9:2).
The origin of the word ‘synod’ is sun – ‘together’, + hodos – ‘way’. In essence, a synod is not just a meeting or event. Synod refers to the People of God journeying in communion with Christ, listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and participating together in the mission of the Church.
What’s the relevance of the synod journey to me?
By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to participate fully in the life and mission of the Church. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations. . .” (Mt 28:19).
While the Good News of Jesus Christ remains constant, the way in which the Church packages the message changes depending on historical circumstances and cultures. This is referred to as the “signs of the times”.
To read and discern the “signs of the times”, we listen to each other and to the Word of God to respond to the question: ‘How is the Holy Spirit guiding and directing the Church’s mission today?’.
Why is my voice essential in the synodal journey?
Picture for a moment a field of mango trees. The usefulness of the fruit depends on the growing and harvesting of several trees together that are nourished by unseen nutrients in the soil. Faith is this unseen nutrient that allows each person to respond to God’s Word. In communion, faith allows us to bear an abundance of fruits. Everyone’s active faith is essential to produce a rich harvest.
Why is the Church speaking about a synodal journey now?
Through ongoing examination of conscience, the Church is aware of its own mismanagement of the mission of Jesus Christ especially towards the weak and vulnerable, such as the victims of the sex abuse.
At the core of this failure is the historical dominance of the Church’s top-down model of governance. This model rears its head in a clerical and authoritarian mentality in which power and decision-making rests solely in the hands of priests and bishops.
This mentality is an obstacle to discovering the Gospel especially in the lives of the weak and vulnerable who, according to this model, are voiceless persons at the lower end of the hierarchical ladder.
Consequently, Pope Francis calls for a return to the model of the “People of God” journeying together and new governance structures which involves the People of God listening, discerning, and decision-making together.
What’s the fundamental obstacle towards becoming a synodal Church?
Imagine for a moment there are two landmasses separated by a deep gorge. Using Freudian insights, one of the landmasses is the ‘Id’, humans’ basic instinct, and the other is the ‘Superego’ – our morality. The bridge needed to connect the two is the ‘Ego’ – the reality.
So, the ‘Id’ remarks, “I am accustomed to making my own decision, I can’t depend on others.” The ‘Superego’ responds, “But, your decisions neglect our needs. We need to be listened to.”
In this circumstance, a mature ‘Ego’ bridge needs to be built by becoming aware of the current leadership instinct (Id) and the moral voice (Superego) that says, “This leadership instinct is unaligned to the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
To construct this ecclesial ego bridge, the People of God need to develop deeper awareness and listening and, identify the spiritual and emotional materials needed to build this bridge.
Building this bridge, in religious language, is conversion. Conversion is a fruit of synodal journeying.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. . .” (Phil 2:4).
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.