A Church alive and on the move: ‘The seeds of a synodal church are already sprouting’

Theologians evaluating contributions for the upcoming Second Session of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops have concluded their reflections, with work on the “Instrumentum laboris” for the Second Session of the General Assembly of the Synod continuing.

Jun 29, 2024

The team of theologians at work

By Christopher Wells
Over a period of one and a half weeks, a group of 20 theologians from around the world convened in Rome to analyse the responses from the People of God to the Synthesis Report produced by the First Session of the General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality. Among these theologians was Fr Dr Clarence Devadass, Director of the Catholic Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur. From June 4 to 14, the group worked on the reports submitted to the General Secretariat of the Synod, in preparation for the Second Session of the XVI Assembly, scheduled for October 2-27, 2024.

A global response
The group of theologians, comprising women and men, bishops, priests, consecrated individuals, and laypeople from different continents, analysed 107 reports from the Bishops' Conferences and the Eastern Catholic Churches. They also reviewed contributions from the USG-UISG (the International Union of Major Superiors and the International Union of Superiors General), and more than 175 submissions from international organisations, university faculties, associations of the faithful, and individual communities and persons. Additionally, they considered reports presented by parish priests during the threeday Parish Priests for the Synod meeting held from April 28 to May 2 this year. All this work aimed at producing the Instrumentum laboris (working document) that will guide the Second Session of the General Assembly.

The joy of the journey
These reports are the fruit of the work local churches have done since the Synthesis Report of the First Session of the 16th Assembly. They depict a Church that is alive and dynamic. Among the most frequently mentioned themes are: formation for synodality, the functioning of participatory bodies, the role of women, young people, attention to the poor, inculturation, transparency, a culture of accountability among Church leaders, catechesis, Christian initiation, collaboration among churches, and the role of the bishop. These reports are also rich in personal testimonies.

“The reports often recount the experiences of people who have undergone a real personal conversion. However, others express confusion, worry, or anxiety, particularly fearing that their contributions may not be taken seriously or that ideologies and lobbies might exploit the synodal path to impose their own agendas,” says Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the General Secretariat of the Synod.

“It is important to remember that the October Assembly is not about specific issues but about synodality — how to be a missionary Church on the way. All theological discussions and pastoral proposals aim to serve this purpose. The Assembly will primarily be a time for each participant, starting from the journey that began in 2021 and bringing the ‘voice’ of the People of God from their communities, to seek the help of the Holy Spirit and their brothers and sisters to discern God’s will for His Church, rather than imposing personal visions of the Church.”

A different look
The work of the theologians was guided by two Special Secretaries of the XVI General Assembly, Italian theologians Msgr Riccardo Battocchio and Fr Giacomo Costa, SJ. “The Instrumentum laboris for the Second Session of the XVI Assembly will look different from the previous one,” Msgr Battocchio said. He explained that, while the first session looked at the “wide-ranging themes” to be discussed by the Assembly, the second will focus on the question, “How to be a synodal Church in mission.”

The forthcoming working document, then, will review the work of the synod up to this point, while offering theological reflections and concrete proposals “to help the discernment entrusted to the members of the assembly.”

An international perspective The theological experts taking part in the work of analysis included eight theologians from Europe (including five Italians); three from Africa; two from North America and three from South America; two from Oceania (both Australian), and two from Asia.

In addition to the two Special Secretaries, the General Secretariat for the Synod was represented by the Secretary General, Cardinal Mario Grech; the General Rapporteur, Cardinal Hollerich; and Undersecretaries Bishop Luis Marín de San Martin and Sister Nathalie Becquart.

The next steps With the work of the theologians complete, the Synod’s General Secretariat will proceed to the next stage of the drafting process for the Instrumentum laboris.

After a “wide-ranging verification” of the contents, the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat – composed mostly of Diocesan Bishops chosen by the Fathers and Mothers of the Synod – will approve the draft and present it to Pope Francis, who will approve the definitive text.--Vatican News

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