Did the synod make a splash?

The Synod’s apparent lack of impact on the everyday struggles of pew-sitting Catholics is also noteworthy.

Nov 19, 2023

By Katie Prejean McGrady
In 2018, I had the remarkable honour of representing the United States at a pre-synod gathering in Rome, preceding the Synod on Youth and Young Adult Ministry. I eagerly shared my excitement on social media, only to be met with confusion from friends and family who asked, “Wait, where are you going?” and “What even is a synod?”

Here we are, six years later, and I think that last question is still the first one to be asked with regards to the Synod on Synodality.

The first in-person gathering of the Synod on Synodality wrapped up the final weekend of October, the final vote on the synthesis report going late into the night on the 28th. That synthesis report was first released in Italian, then English, and is now available on the Synod website and has been reported on by most of the major Catholic news and analysis outlets. But, I suspect that if you were to ask the average pew-sitting, Mass going Catholic to offer a thought about that synthesis report, or even to say something about the Synod on Synodality in general, other than the terminally online Catholics, most would have very little to say. And that’s not a criticism of the pew-sitting, Mass going Catholics. It’s a (gentle) criticism of the Synod itself.

The Synod’s apparent lack of impact on the everyday struggles of pew-sitting Catholics is also noteworthy. Amidst concerns such as Church scandals, political campaigns, rising costs, and global conflicts, the synod seems to have been overshadowed. It appears that the Synod on Synodality has not captured the attention of most Catholics or even secular media, with many Catholic outlets moving on from the month-long gathering.

Perhaps this lack of widespread interest is not inherently problematic. The Synod’s first round, with its synthesis report and concluding halftime report, is essentially a compilation of opinions and suggestions, with no immediate, earth-shattering changes. With less than one per cent of global Catholics contributing, and fewer than 750 people attending the gathering, can this summary truly reflect the global Catholic experience?

Acknowledging the worthiness of those who attended, it’s clear that the Synod on Synodality primarily involved “professional” Catholics — individuals deeply immersed in Church matters. As a member of this group, I recognise that the Synod may have been largely overlooked by the global Catholic community, becoming yesterday’s news even for Catholic outlets.

Can we say that, maybe, the Synod on Synodality has gone largely missed by most of the global Catholic world, and just weeks after the first in person meeting is over, largely moved on from and no longer headline news, even on Catholic outlets, because it was just an inside baseball gathering, self-referential, navel gazing, even though this is something Pope Francis has often admonished and advised against the Church becoming?

This is not me discounting the merits of the Synod on Synodality. I am glad a gathering in the Vatican highlighted, even centred, the voices of lay people, especially lay women. I am encouraged by some of the ideas inside the Synthesis report. I am pleased to know everyone sat at equal level, with equal time to speak, listen, and ponder what was shared. I’ve dedicated column inches and hours of my radio show to the Synod on Synodality.

But, I am a “professional” Catholic. I have the privilege, and headspace, and career mandate to do so.

I don’t think the average Catholic has thought about the Synod all that much, and I think that is okay. Because, at the end of the day, a meeting in Rome with a document few will read, saints does not necessarily make.

And I can say that, because after my participation at the pre-Synod in 2018 and then hours of work writing about and creating curriculum surrounding Christus Vivit, the apostolic exhortation following the Synod on youth and young adult ministry, showed me that most people do not notice, nor care, about these meetings.

The lived reality of going to Mass, catechising and teaching our children, making the sacraments a priority within our daily lives, serving and caring for the poor and least of these…that is where holiness is found and forged. Meetings create documents, and documents perhaps eventually seep into the lived experiences of the Church. But not right away. Sometimes, not even in our lifetime. Certainly not as they are happening.

Perhaps we’d do well to keep that in mind as continued preparations for the second in person meeting is held next year for the Synod. Maybe some more of those pew-sitting, not professional, average Catholics could be there next year, just to say that. --LCI (https:// international.la-croix.com/)

(This is an edited version of the original article.)

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