Blessings of the boats at Orange Valley feast day celebrations
August 2, 2023
Embracing Faith and Community: The Inspiring Journey of Nichell Richardson-Austin
August 2, 2023

Defining synodality and a synodal Church

Q: Archbishop J, could you explain the new document on the synod?

The Instrumentum Laboris (IL) is the working document for the synod in Rome October 2023. We began with dioceses around the world listening to their people. This ended with a synod synthesis for each local church. Then the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) of bishops gathered and did a synthesis of all the individual documents, and this was sent to Rome in August 2021.

All the syntheses of all the bishops’ conferences around the world were collected and a new document was issued: Working Document for the Continental Stage. This document was discussed in each diocese and feedback was given to the AEC bishops. There were continental gatherings to discuss it. Ours was in Santo Domingo for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Finally, all the fruit of these continental gatherings were collected and from it a new document was written— The Instrumentum Laboris.

The IL focuses on defining synodality and a synodal Church as a reminder for us. Then it focuses on the key themes that have emerged and the last part focuses on 15 worksheets that focus on the “matters for discernment” that the synod fathers will use to do “conversations in the spirit”.

The fruit of these conversations will lead us to the 2024 sitting where the results of this major initiative will be gleaned. The IL #30 states: “As we listen attentively to each other’s lived experiences, we grow in mutual respect and begin to discern the movements of God’s Spirit in the lives of others and in our own.”

I asked Chat GPT to do a summary of the IL for me. It did a pretty good job. This is its summary:

In this document, we delve into the concept of synodality, a journey that calls us to enter the mystery of Christ and be transformed by the way He lived the relationship between love and truth. A synodal Church is marked by its ability to manage tensions, deepening the understanding of communion, mission, and participation. Through synodality, the Church finds unity, healing wounds, and embodying its vocation as a sign of union with God and humanity.

Communion lies at the core of the synodal Church. It is not a mere sociological gathering, but a divine gift and a constant task of building the unity of the People of God.

Communion intertwines the vertical dimension of union with God and the horizontal dimension of unity with all humanity, fostering an eschatological dynamism. The liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, is a glimpse of radical unity amidst diverse languages and rites, an essential element of synodality.

Mission is the dynamic horizon from which we envision the synodal Church. It is not about marketing religious ideas but about forming a community where relationships manifest God’s love, becoming a powerful proclamation.

Each member’s unique contribution is indispensable, requiring recognition and appreciation of diverse charisms and vocations. This dynamic interplay between communion and mission renders synodality an essential aspect of the Church’s life.

Co-responsibility in mission calls us to value and integrate each person’s gifts and roles. Mission is a collective effort, and each member plays a significant role in discerning the signs of the times.

Walking together with those on the margins and the excluded is vital, respecting their protagonism and learning from them. Allowing each baptised individual to contribute fosters a true sense of communion and empowers the Church’s mission.

Participation is the anthropological embodiment of synodality. It upholds human dignity and nurtures relationships, preventing the absorption of the individual into an indistinct collective.

Authority in the synodal Church is rooted in service rather than control, mirroring Christ’s example of washing the disciples’ feet. The manner in which authority is exercised and how structures and institutions are imbued with a missionary synodal spirit are crucial aspects to consider.

Formation becomes indispensable for cultivating a synodal Church. It goes beyond mere content updating and encompasses all aspects of a person’s abilities and disposition.

Formation nurtures a synodal culture, spirituality, and conversion. It is essential for all members, especially those in leadership roles like bishops, priests, deacons, and consecrated individuals. Language renewal is equally vital to make the Gospel accessible and appealing to the contemporary world.

Conversation in the Spirit, also known as “synodal method,” is a special way of talking and sharing within the Church. It’s not just about exchanging ideas but involves a dynamic process where we listen to each other attentively and let the Holy Spirit guide us.

This form of conversation helps us grow in communion with one another and with God. By speaking and listening in a prayerful and respectful manner, we discern the movements of the Spirit and make decisions together. It’s a way for the Church to come together, experience unity, and be a powerful sign for the world.

We conclude with a mention of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Church. As we embark on this synodal journey, we seek her guidance and intercession. Her exemplary role in embracing the mystery of Christ and surrendering to God’s will serves as an inspiration for the entire Church.

In summary, synodality calls us to deepen our relationship with Christ, fostering communion, mission, and participation in the Church’s life. It necessitates co-responsibility, a humble exercise of authority, and comprehensive formation for all members.

This journey towards a synodal Church is an invitation to embrace diversity, heal divisions, and manifest God’s love to the world, with the Blessed Virgin Mary as our guiding light.

The second half of the document outlines 15 areas for discernment. These areas have come from the listening in the first and second round. In the document each topic is spelt out looking at it from different perspectives.

As you read them reflect upon each area and how it will make the Church more loving, caring, and hospitable.

B 1. A Communion that radiates

How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity?

B 1.1 How does the service of charity and commitment to justice and care for our common home nourish communion in a synodal Church?

B 1.2 How can a synodal Church make credible the promise that “love and truth will meet” (Ps 85:11)?

B 1.3 How can a dynamic relationship of gift exchange between the Churches grow?

B 1.4 How can a synodal Church fulfil its mission through a renewed ecumenical commitment?

B 1.5 How can we recognise and gather the richness of cultures and develop dialogue amongst religions in the light of the Gospel?

B 2. Co-responsibility in Mission

How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?

B 2.1 How can we walk together towards a shared awareness of the meaning and content of mission?

B 2.2 What should be done so a synodal Church is also an ‘all ministerial’ missionary Church?

B 2.3 How can the Church of our time better fulfil its mission through greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women?

B 2.4 How can we properly value ordained Ministry in its relationship with baptismal Ministries in a missionary perspective?

B 2.5 How can we renew and promote the Bishop’s ministry from a missionary synodal perspective?

B 3. Participation, governance, and authority

What processes, structures and institutions are needed in a missionary synodal Church?

B 3.1 How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synodal Church?

B 3.2 How can we develop discernment practices and decision-making processes in an authentically synodal manner, that respects the protagonism of the Spirit?

B 3.3 What structures can be developed to strengthen a missionary synodal Church?

B 3.4 How can we give structure to instances of synodality and collegiality that involve groupings of local churches?

B 3.5 How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?