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Synodality is an honourable moment

Feb 17, 2023

On Thursday, members of the writing team drafting the North American continental response for the synod concluded the work they began on Monday, grateful and enriched by the experience.

By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp – Vatican News Journalist & Special Envoy from Synod’s General Secretariat

The North American Continental Team for the Synod on Synodality has been working together this week to draft a response to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod. Gathered at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center near Orlando, FL, their work began on Monday and ended today.

Identifying the voices from Virtual Assemblies

Eight bishops, three lay women, two priests, two lay men, and two women religious brought their own experience with the synodal process into play as they discerned the many voices they heard during the twelve Virtual Continental Assemblies held in December and January. 931 delegates and 146 bishops had registered for to attend one of these twelve assemblies. These voices included: 

391 lay women
235 lay men
158 priests
77 women religious
66 deacons
4 men religious

Of the 267 Dioceses or Eparchies that exist in the U.S. and Canada, 236 dioceses were represented in the Virtual Assemblies. 56% of the delegates in the Virtual Assemblies are employed by a diocese. The ratio between women and men was 50.2% women to 49.8% men (including priests and bishops). Lastly, 26% of the registered delegates live in Canada, and 74% live in the United States.

The members of the writing group spend Tuesday and Wednesday reflecting on what they had learned in the Virtual Assemblies, choosing key recurring themes, insights that had resonated strongly, substantial tensions or divergences that had emerged. They then began to identify how a response could be organized. These days were punctuated with silent periods for reflection and discernment, as well as morning prayer and evening Mass.

On Thursday, the group began to identify specific material obtained during the Virtual Assemblies that they believe should be included in the response. By the afternoon, they were writing in earnest, hoping to hand in a sizeable amount of material by the end of the day. The draft response will continued to be shaped over the next six weeks before it is sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod by 31 March.

Participant experience

One of the participants acknowledged in one of the moments of sharing that this was the first long-term project that the Church in Canada and the United States had undertaken together. The mood in the group was “familial,” as Barbara Dowding, Special Assistant to Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver spontaneously declared during lunch. “There’s never been animosity between the Church in Canada and the United States. It was kind of like meeting with your cousins.”

Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt, Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford said the “experience has been enriching, both personally and as a minister of the Church. Learning in a closer way the reality of our local Churches both in Canada and the United States. It has affirmed my ministry too, and my willingness to be mindful of the needs of my people not only in the local Church but also in the global Church.”

Synodal structures, formation, conversion…

Some of the topics the group discussed specifically focused on the synodal process and the need to understand what the implications are for the future in terms of ecclesial structures and formation. Another strong insight expressed noted that “tension has nothing to do with baptismal dignity, but relationships within the community. It is a matter of personally conveying our own baptismal dignity while recognizing it in others as well. This entails conversion process because none of us has the right to a certain place.”

Enlarging the space of your tent

The image of the tent resonated with many of the writing retreat members. Patrick Fletcher sees it as a “field hospital. So, enlarging the tent means going out and bringing in the wounded.” Sr Leticia Salazar sees the call to “open myself to the process of conversion, to demolish the walls of prejudice and allow the Holy Spirit to blow the walls down and begin to build bridges.” Bishop Thomas Zinkula says, “Expanding the space of your tent means drawing closer together so there’s more room for others to join us.” Barbara Dowding thinks that to make more room in the tent, “the people have to come out and make room for others who need to come in.” And Bishop Daniel Flores, who has been leading the United States synodal process, states, “The tent grows by the charity of Christ that is lived within in.”

Synodality is messy but Spirit guided

The writing retreat ended with the celebration of the liturgy, presided over by Archbishop Richard Gagnon, of Winnipeg, the Canadian province of Manitoba. He also connected the synod process with the Gospel of the Day (Mk 8:27-33) in which Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah and then turned around and rebuked Him for His prediction of His passion. “The synodality of the Church,” the Archbishop said, “is an action of the Holy Spirit.” Then he asked the question, “Can there be synodality without a mess? True synodality without the experience of messiness, of worry and concern, people oppressed by things. We see this right in the Scriptures. And yet we are called to trust in the Lord. He knows what He is doing and somehow the action of the Holy Spirit is working in this whole process. As bishops and priests, we can make room for the Lord to work in spite of ourselves. That’s always the challenge.”

Synodality is an honourable moment

Archbishop Gagnon then shared an anecdote from a synod listening session he held within a prison. Louey, who had been in prison for thirty years for murder participated in the listening session. When the Archbishop asked the questions, “How are you nourished in your faith? What do you suggest the Church needs to do?”, Louey began to cry. “It was very moving,” Archbishop Gagnon continued. He asked Louey if he had anything to say, at which Louey responded, “No one has ever asked me about my faith”.

Reflecting on that, the Archbishop concluded, “Louey had broken faith with the Church. Louey had done something bad, and for many years he felt separated from the Church. Yet, our faith touches the deepest center of our lives, and when people are asked to share something about their faith, it’s a very important moment. And so, synodality is an honorable moment.”