Continental synod summary getting clearer

The final document from the continental USA/Canada phase of the Synod on Synodality has been released.

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register (with files from Paul Schratz, The B.C. Catholic)

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Ten Americans and seven Canadians have less than 30 days to sum up the life of the Church in North America — everything the baptized know and love and dream and hope for.

The North American writing team for the continental stage of the global Synod on Synodality met in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 13 to 17 to begin a process of coming up with the North American contribution to a working document for the first of two sessions in Rome Oct. 4-29, to be followed by a second gathering in Rome in October of 2024.

“It was a lot of work,” Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon told The Catholic Register after the Orlando sessions. “But we found ourselves drawing closer together in terms of our deliberations as we were practising synodality ourselves — being good listeners to God, listening to one another and working towards this goal.”

Such continental assemblies to prepare for a synod are not new. Pope St. John Paul II initiated pre-synod “special assemblies” organized by continent 40 years ago, though they were held in Rome with contributions and guidance from the Roman curia. In the present case, the continental stage of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality began Oct. 27 last year when the Working Document for the Continental Stage was released by the General Secretariat of the Synod.

Since then there have been 12 online meetings — two in French, three in Spanish and seven in English — that involved over 900 delegates from 236 Canadian and American dioceses. Each diocese was able to select up to five delegates to participate in the virtual meetings held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 25.

The writing team in Orlando was tasked with reading and reflecting on the results of those online sessions. Before the team assembled, the Synod of Bishops General Secretary Cardinal Mario Grech sent them a video message to explain how the Synod is “an ecclesial exercise of discernment.”

“Do not be afraid to speak. Do not be afraid to listen, to make an effort to welcome and understand others,” Grech said. “Also, do not be afraid to change your mind based on what you hear. Above all others, listen to the Holy Spirit, the true protagonist of the synodal journey.”

Related: Synod delegate from Vancouver helping to paint the Church in all its colours

Related: Canadian national Synod synthesis by the CCCB – ENGLISH  /  FRENCH

Related: Regional Synod synthesis by the Association of Western Catholic Bishops – ENGLISH  /  FRENCH

Related: Diocesan Synod synthesis for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – PDF

Gagnon came away from the team’s retreat convinced that the entire process is deepening the Church’s sense of mission — not calling for a revolution.

“You know the old saying, to thy own self be true? If you’re going to be the Church, if you’re going to be the communion of the baptized, then we always want to go back to the meaning of that baptism and what it means to be in communion,” he said. “Really, if we are to allow the rubber to hit the road in terms of trying to live our faith the way the good Lord intended, then yes, we need to move along this way.”

Barb Dowding, special assistant to Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, joined Gagnon on the writing team. Having seen what everyday Catholics had to say, she agreed that revolution is not in the air.

“My personal take is that most of the people who participated in the listening sessions truly love their Church,” said Dowding. “They want it to be better, to be inclusive and open to all. But I did not see an overwhelming desire for drastic doctrinal changes.”

The potential issues — contentious topics like women’s ordination — the team received were no surprise, said Dowding.

“They were all things we’ve heard before,” she said. “What we heard mostly was the desire for the Church to find ways to include everyone.”

Gagnon acknowledged there’s been resistance to the entire synod process.

“Certain people, certain segments of the Church could feel somewhat threatened by it, because you are moving out of accepted ways of decision-making, accepted ways of behaving within the Church — going into an area where you actually have to listen to other people more intensely and listen to where the Holy Spirit is calling us,” he said.

Synodality is nothing new, Gagnon said.

“Throughout the 2,000 years there have been many indications of synodality, and also many indications of not being synodal,” he said. “Pope Francis is trying to raise up that which already exists within the Church and live it more fully. Sure, for many people it may seem new. Maybe because they’re not quite aware of this factor in the Church’s life.”

Gagnon is one of two Canadian bishops on the writing team, along with Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme-Mont-Laurier. Theologians on the team include Dowding, Fr. Gilles Routhier, Patrick Fletcher, Sr. Chantal Desmarais and CCCB general secretary Jean Vézina.