The "local consultation phase" (dioceses, episcopal conferences, synods of the Eastern Church) of the synodal process of the universal Church, which will culminate in October 2023 with the "universal phase," has concluded. Beginning this September, the journey continues with the "continental phase", which provides for a new discernment on the text of the first Instrumentum Laboris -prepared by the General Secretariat of the Synod, this time, however, limited to the cultural specificities of each continent.
The phase that has just ended includes the "syntheses" prepared by each of the Bishops' Conferences, which in turn had collected the contributions of the particular Churches. They have been sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod, integrating a truly capillary consultation and immersed in the territory, as was the intention of Pope Francis. It is not by chance that, opening this extensive journey of spiritual and ecclesial discernment, in October 2021 the Pontiff invited to be "pilgrims in love with the Gospel, open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit."without losing "the graced occasions of encounter, of mutual listening, of discernment.".
Proposals from all countries
From the documents sent to Rome, it is possible to get an idea of what was kept in the heart and mind of the "people of God"The Church has offered it the opportunity to be a protagonist and to express itself freely, following a detailed and programmed path. Certainly, we must not absolutize the "answers" and even less the "proposals" which, as the Holy Father himself recalled, referring in particular to the German synodal path, will have to be examined later within the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome in 2023.
Therefore, these syntheses have no "executive" value, but it cannot be ruled out that they represent the true sentiment in the souls of the faithful. They will certainly be a dynamic and a content to be taken into account for the Church's journey in this third millennium.
Without wishing to be exhaustive, let us look at some of the clues that emerge from the contributions sent to the Secretariat of the Synod by the main European Episcopal Conferences: Spain, Italy, France and Germany. Each document includes an introduction on the experience gained, reporting also some figures on the involvement of the working groups of the various ecclesial realities; a list of pre-eminent themes, formally about ten; a concluding part with concrete proposals to continue the path of involvement undertaken.
In the case of the Spanish Church, 14,000 synodal groups involved more than 215,000 people, mostly lay people, but also consecrated persons, religious, priests and bishops. More than 200 cloistered monasteries and 21 secular institutes participated. As in the case of other countries, the participation was of people already committed to the life of the Church, mostly women; there was little participation of young people and families, and of people who were distant or non-believers. There was no lack of doubts or initial uncertainty about this "listening phase", about whether it really served any purpose.
In terms of the ten points highlighted, the first is the role of women, an issue that is seen "as a concern, necessity and opportunity"The presence in the Church's organs of responsibility and decision making is indispensable. Concerns "the low presence and participation of young people in the life of the Church".The family is considered a priority area for evangelization. There is also an awareness of the question of the "family" as a priority area of evangelization.sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience".and the need to institutionalize and strengthen "lay ministries".together with a "qualified presence of the Church in the rural world".The main focus is on popular religiosity, with specific attention to the elderly, the sick, migrants, prisoners and other religious denominations.
"We have been able to listen to each other, we have been free to speak, we have experienced hope, joy, illusion, courage to fulfill our mission, with a strong sense of community to continue on our journey and to do it together. We are deeply grateful for having been able to be protagonists in the process," say the protagonists.
On the Italian front, 50,000 synodal groups were formed for a total participation of half a million people.
"The synodality was not simply talked about, but lived, also taking into account the inevitable fatigue: in the work of the team, in the discreet and solicitous accompaniment of the parishes and the realities involved, in the pastoral creativity put into action, in the ability to plan, verify, collect and return to the community", the Italian synthesis points out, indicating that "the experience was exciting and generative" for those involved.
As for the "ten cores". around which the reflections that emerged from the diocesan syntheses - collected in about 1,500 pages - were organized, a plurality of themes emerged, priorities that for the Church in Italy represent as many as the following "works" to work on in the coming years.
Part of the need to "listen" to all the actors of social life, from the young to the marginalized, "welcoming" The plurality of situations and living conditions that inhabit a territory is thus brought into close proximity. The importance of the "relationships"of a "celebration" the centrality of the "communication"the strong desire to "share" and the inescapability of "dialogue". Every ecclesial community should be lived as a "home" and not as a club, avoiding self-referentiality and closed-mindedness. Finally, it is necessary to be at the side of the people. "in any state of life". All this must be carried out by means of a "method" based on the principles of spiritual conversation, to continue this listening process.
150,000 people participated in the synod process in the national phase in France from October 2021 to April 2022. Once again, their participation was appreciated. In the introduction to the synthesis document, it is stated that the proposals do not have the value of a theological judgment, but are intended to guide subsequent discernment within the Church, with regard to true "challenges that have emerged from this consultation.".
There was no shortage of listening difficulties "the voices of the most fragile, reaching and mobilizing young people". or involve priests in a more capillary way. Given that the work was carried out while the report on sexual abuse by an independent commission was raging in France, which also had a worldwide echo, one of the significant points of the process was to revive "the need to take care of each other".together with the inspiration of "a more fraternal Church"..
Other aspects considered the urgency of putting the Word of God first, as well as the recognition of the equal dignity of all the baptized through the implementation of ministries that are "at the service of the encounter with God and the encounter with people".. Equal dignity must be reserved to men and women, just as the different charisms must be recognized and supported. An important point is dedicated to the liturgy, which should be an expression of "....depth and communion"..
Lastly, Germany, already immersed in a "synodal journey" of its own starting in 2019 and often at the center of more than a few controversies. In this case, the response was much lower and less enthusiastic, probably precisely because it was a "parallel" experience. The document, in fact, recognizes that the number of believers involved did not even reach 10 % and that, in fact, it was impossible to involve people far from the Church or non-believers.
A number of points highlight critical aspects of the synodal process itself, such as the passive participation of the laity, the widespread doubt that the Church is sincere in its desire to truly listen, the lack of spiritual depth and faith, the self-referential language of the very vademecum proposed by the Synod Secretariat....
What emerges from the report, however, is the desire to give meaning back to the Eucharist, possibly through "an interpretation of the rites, a concrete and understandable language that speaks of the reality of the people".. Reference is made to the possibility of highlighting the charism of women through more active participation. With regard to the Church's dialogue with society, Catholics are divided "between those who want to distance themselves from the world and those who, on the other hand, feel a critical-constructive contemporaneity." with today's world. In this context, "there is a need for ever greater cooperation and a common Christian witness also in ecumenism"..