23 December 2021, The Tablet

A synod for the world

The year ahead – synodality

A synod for the world

Pope Francis raises the Book of the Gospels at Mass in October to open the process that will lead up to the 2023 Synod of Bishops
Photo: CNS/Reuters, Remo Casilli


Some Catholics fear that the synodal process will lead to change in the Church; some fear that the synodal process will leave everything in the Church just the same. But the fundamental purpose of the synod is not to change the Church. It is to prepare the Church to save the world

Just under two years ago, Pope Francis announced that the next General Synod – the gathering of bishops from around the world in Rome that normally takes place every two years – would focus on synodality itself. The themes would be communion, participation and mission, and for the first time in the history of the Church it would invite all 1.37 billion Catholics to take part in a two-year process of listening and discernment. 

A legacy of the Second Vatican Council, the aim of this “journeying together” – the literal meaning of “synodality” – is to bring Catholics closer to the mission of Jesus. In this “way of being Church”, the whole People of God comes closer together on the journey of bringing alive the Kingdom of God on Earth. It has been described as the largest and most ambitious listening exercise in the history of humanity.

Some Catholics, including some who have written to The Tablet, have responded more in fear than in hope: fear of change, or fear of no change. Others are trying to use the process to push a particular agenda; some see it as as a cynical exercise in ecclesial politics; some dismiss it as a colossal waste of time. Can Catholics overcome this confusion and rise to the opportunity? I suggest that by reading the political and cultural signs of the times we can understand the fundamental purpose of this Synod. It is nothing less than God’s way of preparing the Church to save the world.

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