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Q&A: Worldwide synod asks Catholics to journey together as disciples


Deacon Dan Lowery discusses the meaning of synodality during a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Sept. 18.



Guest columnist


Editor’s note: In May, Pope Francis asked all dioceses around the world to host synods in anticipation of a worldwide synod of bishops in 2023. The Diocese of Gary’s participation will begin on Oct. 17. Deacon Daniel Lowery is assisting with the coordination of this effort and provided answers to a number of questions that have been asked with respect to this important topic.  


Q: What exactly is a synod?

A: It’s a gathering, a formal gathering, of Church leaders, but not just Church “leaders” per se. Pope Francis has made it clear that all of God’s people should be represented when we gather in synod. This is about more than a “roundup of the usual suspects.”


Q: The topic of this new worldwide experience of synodality is synodality itself?  What does this term mean?

A: At a technical level, “synodality” refers to a way of making decisions and a way of exercising authority in the Church. Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to be more intentional in the way it consults with the entire people of God and most especially the laity on important questions facing the Church and the world. He wants us to be intentional in the way we engage others, as well, especially those who have long stood on the margins of our decision-making processes. But it’s more than a matter of consultation. Pope Francis describes synodality as the “way of being Church,” and he refers to synodality as a kind of spirituality, too. Synodality is about listening to each other and to the Holy Spirit.


Q: Why is Pope Francis calling for a synod on synodality now?

A: The Holy Father is very clear on this point. He believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends toward inequality across the globe. Pope Francis sees a world that is hurting, and he wants to position the Church to fulfill its mission to “Go make disciples,” yes, but to do so while responding generously – and yes, prophetically – to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Pope Francis believes that all of us – you and me – will be needed if we’re to respond as Jesus would have us respond to this unique moment in our history.


Q. Didn’t we just have a synod?

A: Yes, in 2017, the Diocese Gary concluded a robust and productive synod process. Given its recency, our efforts in 2021 and 2022 will likely be organized around many of the same priorities that emerged out of our 2017 synod process.


Q: All this about process and consultation is good, but what about content? What subject or subjects will provide a focus for our consultations during this new experience of synod?

A: Bishop (Robert) McClory has been very clear in this regard. He points to a directive from Pope Francis that was shared with him by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Papal Nuncio to the U.S., on the occasion of Bishop McClory’s ordination. “The Holy Father wants a missionary Church,” the nuncio noted, “and His Holiness is counting on you,” Bishop McClory, “to lead the people of the Diocese of Gary to be both disciples and missionaries.” That’s our focus - missionary discipleship.  


Q: How will this new experience of synodality unfold?

A: A number of pre-synod consultations are already underway. All of the priests of the diocese have been invited to participate and so, too, all members of our diocesan pastoral council. A special effort has been made to reach out to those whose voices have so often gone unheeded in the Church and in the world, too, most notably the voices of the young and ethnic minorities.  Our portion of this new experience of synod will kick off with a Mass celebrated by Bishop McClory on Sunday, Oct. 17, along with a presentation of pastoral priorities to be assessed. Formal consultations will continue for some time. Finally, a Mass closing our portion of this process will take place in late January or February, and a final report – a synopsis of what we’ve heard – will be forwarded to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops next March. The hard work of implementation will begin shortly thereafter.


Q: To what extent does this synod represent something new and innovative?

A: Although the synod process that is unfolding is quite exciting, there is nothing new here. Pope Francis has called attention to the deeply synodal nature of the Church. Indeed, “synods” have long been a part of our history, our “way of being Church.” The Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 gave us the creed that we recite every Sunday. They were synods of sorts. In fact, this “way of being Church” is older even than the Church itself. This is clear in the readings from the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the first from the Book of Numbers, two elders – Eldad and Medad – were caught prophesizing without explicit permission, and so Joshua reported them to Moses. Moses’ response? “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"  And in the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus responds in a similar way when a man is caught driving out demons in his name, again without permission. "Do not prevent him,” Jesus tells his disciples. “No one who performs a mighty deed in my name can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

We are the people of God, a people who are called to journey together sharing our gifts, sharing our faith, and sharing our wisdom. At the end of the day, this is Pope Francis’ hope for the Church in this pivotal moment in our history, that we journey together as God’s people under the shared guidance of the Holy Spirit.  


Q: Finally, what is being asked of us now?

A: Most importantly, we are asked to pray for all who will participate, not just in our own synod, but in all of the synods of all the local Churches across the globe as we all seek to respond faithfully to Pope Francis’ invitation into a shared time of “comm, participation and mission.” Further, we are asked to share our faith when and where we can in our local parishes, but also in our families, among our friends, and in our communities. Again, we are missionary disciples challenged always and everywhere to “Go make disciples.” Still further, we are invited to share our wisdom when and where we can. Pope Francis envisions a Church in which the Holy Spirit is free to set all hearts afire for the benefit of the world. All hearts!

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