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Synod members begin small-group discussions on ‘synodality’

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Oceania delegates to the Synod on Synodality. Photo: Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP/Supplied

The 364 members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops and the 85 experts, facilitators and ecumenical delegates accompanying them began their work in earnest on 5 October, meeting, sharing and praying in small groups.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod, introduced the work late 4 October, asking members of the assembly to prepare for the small-group discussions by reflecting in prayer on the Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who recounted their life with Jesus, their “hope and enthusiasm,” but also their “disillusionment, frustration, anger and fear” after his death.

Although they initially do not recognise the risen Jesus walking with them, “they are not afraid to entrust all this to the mysterious wayfarer, and so they discover that listening to his Word dissolves their heaviness and transforms their desolation into a consolation that grows,” Cardinal Hollerich said.

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“I do not know if we will have many moments of desolation in our walking together,” the cardinal told synod members, “but I am confident that by the work of the Holy Spirit, consolation will enter our hearts, which is the condition for undertaking a good discernment.”

The theme of the synod is: “For a synodal church: Communion, participation, mission.” As the synod assembly proceeds through 29 October, its members will discuss the issues in the gathering’s working document in order, beginning with the foundational question of what are “the characteristic signs of a synodal church?”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney arrives for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican Oct. 4, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Topics to be addressed later in the month include being a sign and instrument of union with God and unity with humanity, how to share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel and what processes, structures and institutions create a missionary synodal church.

Most of the synod’s work was scheduled to take place in small groups, arranged by language and with a mix of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, lay women and lay men. The 35 working groups, with 10-12 people each, include 14 groups working in English, eight in Italian, seven in Spanish, five in French and one in Portuguese.

Pope Francis, president of the synod, does not attend the sessions when the work is devoted to small group discussions.

The synod members were asked to begin by focusing on the assembly working document’s assertion that “a synodal church is founded on the recognition of a common dignity deriving from baptism, which makes all who receive it sons and daughters of God, members of the family of God, and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ, inhabited by the one Spirit and sent to fulfil a common mission.”

Servers lead a procession into the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall at the start of prayer during the first working session of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

After morning prayer 5 October, the groups began with each member sharing, for a maximum of four minutes, “what seems most important and most meaningful, what they feel emerges most strongly from their memory” of the input of the various synod listening sessions over the past two years regarding what contributes to or detracts from strengthening that model of a synodal church.

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and president of the assembly’s Commission for Information, told reporters on 5 October the morning work followed the model of “spiritual conversation”: members shared their experience and after a pause for silence and prayer, each person shared what struck or touched them most about what the others had shared. After more silence, they began trying to list common traits and obvious differences in what they had heard.

Each working group will be asked to draft a short report on their conversation, vote on whether it accurately reflects the discussion and then choose someone to read it to the whole assembly. After a discussion of all the reports in the full assembly, each group will decide whether or how to amend their reports before turning them into the synod secretariat for inclusion in a summary report on that section of the synod’s work.

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