The Vatican

October synod outlines themes and challenges with Instrumentum Laboris

The presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris of the second part of the Synod concretizes themes and actions of the Church in this time.

Andrea Acali-July 9, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes

Cardinal Grech during his speech

A long document, consisting of 112 points divided into two sections, plus an introduction and conclusions. This is the outline of the Instrumentum Laboris which will serve as a guide for the second session of the synodal assembly next October "How to be a missionary synodal Church". 

Nuevos ministerios bautismales, como el de la escucha, el papel de la mujer en los procesos de decisión de la Iglesia, incluida la cuestión del diaconado, nuevas formas de ejercer el ministerio petrino y la revitalización de los Consejos pastorales son algunos de los aspectos que se desprenden del documento que servirá de base para los trabajos de la Asamblea.

Several listening levels

Cardinal Grech, Secretary General of the Synod, explained how "during the period between the First and Second Sessions, the Synod's journey continued to be characterized by a profound exercise of listening, a listening carried out at various levels. 

It was thus confirmed that the Synod is, above all, a formidable gymnasium of listening. A listening that involves "the sense of faith of the People of God, the voice of the pastors and the charism of theologians". Grech recalled that "after the celebration of the First Session, the Synod 'returned' - so to speak - to the local Churches". 

A second consultation that led, "despite time constraints", to the General Secretariat of the Synod receiving "no less than 108 National Syntheses prepared by the Episcopal Conferences (out of 114), to which must be added 9 Replies received from the Eastern Catholic Churches, 4 from the International Meetings of Episcopal Conferences and the Synthesis of the Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General representing Consecrated Life". 

This rich material, to which must be added the Observations freely sent by individuals and groups (including some Faculties of Theology and Canon Law), constitutes the framework for the document presented today, because its purpose is now to submit to the discernment of some - the Members of the Synod, who will meet again in October - what has been said by all - the local Churches in which the People of God live". 

The Maltese Cardinal also recalled the consultations and meetings held with theologians, which led to the "constitution of 5 Study Groups, made up of 33 experts of different formation and experience, called to deepen some of the fundamental questions that permeate the Synthesis Report": the missionary synodal face of the local Church (1), of the groupings of Churches (2) and of the universal Church (3), as well as the synodal method (4) and the question of "place", understood not only in a geographical sense, but in a cultural and inseparably theological sense (5). 

The contributions of these groups have also been incorporated into the Instrumentum Laboris and will form the basis of a theological aid to be published in the near future". 

These five groups have been joined by 10 others, announced by the Pope, called to examine in depth "themes on which the Synodal Assembly has already reached a significant consensus and which, therefore, seemed sufficiently mature to be able to move on to the phase of elaborating concrete proposals for reform to be submitted to the Holy Father". 

These Groups are already operational or, in some cases, will be operational shortly: they will present a first report of their activities at the Second Session, to offer their conclusions to the Bishop of Rome possibly in June 2025. 

In addition to this, the Commission of Canonists, called to study a project of reform of the canonical norms directly involved in the synodal process, has been operational since 2023. More recently, the SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) has initiated a path of theological and pastoral discernment on the accompaniment of persons in a situation of polygamy.

These two organizations will also provide an initial report on their activities in October.

The synthesis of listening

The synodal process then included listening to pastors, both bishops and pastors: "Their voices resonate also in the document that is published today," said Grech, who described the Insrtumentum Laboris as "a colorful concert of voices, a true polyphony, rich in timbres and accents."

For his part, the General Rapporteur, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, illustrated the work of the local Churches carried out since the closing of the first session: "The reports received show a Church that is alive and on the move. In fact, what stands out most when reading not only the reports, but also the experiences and good practices that have reached the General Secretariat, is that the synod, the synodal process, has been and continues to be a time of grace that is already bearing numerous fruits in the life of the Church. From Kenya to Ireland, from Korea to Brazil, the reports underline this renewed dynamism that the listening offered and received is bringing to the communities". 

And not only: "They unanimously attest, without hiding the work and difficulties of the synodal conversion, also a feeling of joy and gratitude, as reported, for example, by the Episcopal Conference of the United States". 

Another particularly interesting element, Hollerich stressed, "was the widespread adoption of the 'Conversation in the Spirit': this synodal method was introduced into the meetings of various ecclesial structures."

The Cardinal also recalled the formation initiatives on synodality and some fruits that are already evident: a certain maturity in the synodal journey of the local Churches, the parochialism that is evident in the contributions, the capacity for re-reading and self-evaluation.

For their part, the two special secretaries of the Assembly, Father Giacomo Costa and Monsignor Riccardo Battocchio, were in charge of illustrating in greater detail the contents of the Instrumentum Laboris. "The introduction is fundamental for understanding the document," said Costa, recalling the affirmation of an African Church: "From now on, no one will be able to consider the local Churches as mere receivers of the proclamation of the Gospel without being able to make any contribution. The Church is harmonious, not homogeneous, and it is a harmony that cannot be taken for granted".

First section: The basics

Battocchio explained that the first section, the "Fundamentals" section, contains "elements that support and orient the journey of conversion and reform that the people of God is called to undertake". It gathers the fruits of the journey begun in October 2021, but which has more distant roots. It serves to verify the existence of a consensus on some decisive aspects: to be the People of God, to be a sign of unity in Christ, to be a Church that welcomes and is called to give".

Battocchio affirmed that starting from the "recognition of the differences between men and women, it will be necessary a greater recognition of the charisms, vocation and role of women in all areas of the life of the Church" and "new ministerial and pastoral forms will have to be explored". Reflection on women's access to the diaconate will be addressed in study group number 5, in collaboration with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Second section: relationships, roads and places

The second section is divided into three parts. The first part speaks of "relationships", beginning with the "foundational relationship with God". Then, the relationships between the baptized, those that preserve communion with the ministers and those that exist between the Churches. It foresees the possibility of establishing other forms of baptismal ministry, such as the ministry of listening and accompaniment," distinct and differentiated from ordained ministries.

The following is the chapter "Pathways". A very strong need is that of "integral formation with shared common moments". Then the formation to discernment: to let oneself be guided by the Spirit". Then the "essential theme" of decisions: "How to develop ways of making decisions while respecting roles". Finally, transparency, not only in the area of sexual and financial abuse, but also, for example, in ways of respecting human dignity. 

The last part refers to "Places", that is, to the concrete contexts in which relationships are incarnated. Starting from the plurality of ecclesial experiences, the Instrumentum Laboris "invites us to go beyond a static vision of places. 

The experience of territorial rootedness has changed over the years". Great attention is given to the digital environment, as well as to "rethinking some aspects of the territorial articulation of the Church and enhancing the circularity of the ecclesial reality". 

In this perspective, a re-evaluation of the particular Councils is proposed. 

Finally, service to the unity of the Bishop of Rome, in order to study ways of exercising the Petrine ministry that are open to the new situation of the ecumenical journey and to Christian unity.

The authorAndrea Acali


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