On Oct. 10, 2021, Pope Francis launched a two-year process of preparation for the 26th Synod of Bishops. The theme of the synod is “Towards a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.”
According to the preparatory document:
“Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: It is precisely this path of synodality that God expects of the Church of the Third Millennium.
This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s renewal proposed by Vatican II is both a gift and a task: By journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn her experiences which processes can help her to live in communion, to achieve participation, to open herself to mission.
Our journeying together is, in fact, what most effectively enacts and manifests the nature of the Church as a pilgrim and missionary People of God.”
The process of preparing for the synod is unprecedented because it involves listening not just to the bishops but to members of the Church at the diocesan and regional levels. Instead of the usual top-down approach, what we are witnessing is bottoms-up process. It is more inclusive and participative.
There have been synods since the early period of the Church up to the present (diocesan, regional and world-wide levels). These have been participated in mostly by bishops and other Church leaders. Now the process involves listening to the faithful. It reflects what the Church is called to be – a synodal Church – a community that walks together, that journeys together.
Although the term synodal Church appears to be neologism – a new way referring to the Church – it is by no means a new vision of the Church or the latest ecclesiology. It is actually based on the vision of a renewed Church promoted by Vatican II that can be summed up as the Church as Communion and People of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, participating in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king (servant).
Hence, the “synodal Church” cannot be taken in isolation or separate from “communion, participation and mission.”
A deeper understanding of what it means to be Church as communion that actively participate in Christ’s mission as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people is needed as well as an assessment on how we have lived this ecclesiological vision over the last half a century.
Then we search for how we continue to live this in new ways now and in the decades to come especially amidst the pandemic and climate change.
Let us remember that we live in the shadow of Vatican II and its reception and implementation is a continuing process.
A synodal Church is the pilgrim community of Christ’s disciples who live in communion and actively participate in Christ’s mission as a prophetic, priestly and kingly/servant mission.
This is the proper context for discerning, deciding and acting together as a Christian Community at all levels – from the local, regional, universal levels. It is all about living in communion, it is all about participation in mission not just governance. It is both relationship-oriented as well as mission-oriented. It is action oriented, not just a matter of talking and discussing.
The process is important but so also is the outcome. The synodality of the Church is not just limited to what we do leading to the Synod of Bishops in 2023. It is not just coming up with new, inspiring document that would be forgotten after the synod. It is a continuing journey of making the Vatican II vision of a renewed Church a reality in our life and for the coming generation.
What is the ecclesiological vision of the Synodal Church and how do we live it?
Tomorrow: The Church as a Pilgrim People
Father Amado Picardal is a Filipino Redemptorist priest who holds a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He has lived a life of solitude as a hermit after an active life as missionary, professor, promoter of Basic Ecclesial Communities, and peace and human rights advocate. He is currently executive co-secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Rome.