by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
A refresher seems to be in order at this significant point in Pope Francis’ monumental initiative, the Synod on Synodality.
Here in schematic form is an overview of this revolutionary process of consultation with every dimension of the Catholic Church about how it can best to live into this modern era.
Stage 1, October 2021 – August 15, 2022
Worldwide opening of the Synodal process. Diocesan (local Church) consultations. Submission of syntheses to the Vatican.
Stage 2, October 2022
Dialogue within the churches of every continent. Publication of the document for the continental stage.
January – March 2023
Seven continental synodal consultations (Africa, Oceana, Asia, Middle East, Latin America, Europe, North America.)
Stage 3, March 2023
Deadline for submission of documents from continental synodal consultations.
October 4-29, 2023
First session of XVI General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Second session of XVI General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Church implements Synodal results.
A measure of the uniqueness of Pope Francis’ “magnum opus” has been the appointment of a woman, Sister Nathalie Becquart, as Undersecretary at the Synod Office in the Vatican. This Office might be called the heartbeat of the world-wide consultation. It is monitoring – guiding – the enormous amount of material resulting from this world-wide consultation of the People of God.
French-born Sister Becquart is a member of the Congregation of Xavieres, a relatively new congregation of mostly young sisters who live in small communities inserted in neighborhoods spread over 20 countries. She is the first woman to have a vote in a Synod of Bishops, a breakthrough for that formerly prelates-only deliberative body. More recently Pope Francis drew headlines with his announcement that several other women will also participate as voting members in the upcoming Synod.
The myriad of local consultation from the First Stage produced a lengthy synthesis (“Instrumentum Laboris”) as a guide for the second stage, the seven continental consultations. This past March 31 was the deadline for reports from this stage. We will expect another “Instrumentum Laboris” to guide the 18-month run-up to the General Assembly of the Synod this October. That gathering in turn will prepare the way for the conclusion of the Synod of Synodality in October 2024.
This continental stage will be the most important, based on reports from every region of the
Catholic Church world-wide. The Synod of the Latin American Church after Vatican Council II
offers a look at the rich possibilities of continental consultations.
In August 1968 bishops, clergy, vowed religious and laity from the Church in South and Central America and the Caribbean, gathered in Medellin, Colombia for the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops. (A somewhat inconsequential First General Conference had taken place 13 years before in Rio de Janeiro.)
Guided by the inspiration of Pope John XXIII’s Council, Medellin turned the Church in Latin America completely around. From a position of religious and secular privilege it had blessed systems and structures of generalized inequality for the impoverished masses there. This conversion had to have been of the Holy Spirit. The Church as institution confessed its complicity in “institutionalized sin” and called itself to a “preferential option for the poor.” (Significantly, this is the Church in which Jorge Mario Bergoglio grew up.)
One can expect nothing less from a strengthened African church, from an Asian church in
dialogue with older and inspired religious traditions and from the weakened churches in
Europe and North America. It will be fascinating to watch the global Catholic Church
incorporate these diverse inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
A final question: will this bold initiative of Pope Francis endure after his death?
Sister Nathalie Becquart offers a definitive answer: “There is no going back on synodality…. This is the hour of the women. Even the pope said recently how much women are bringing to leadership in the Church.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.