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 | By Bishop Steven J. Raica

For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

In the last edition of “Grace and Peace,” I spoke about the importance of the prayer cards that I receive from many of you through our Catholic Charities and Communities Appeal. I mentioned that it gives me an insight into your concerns as we lift each other up in prayer. Through this simple way, we journey together in faith.

Today, I am focusing my remarks on a natural and organic development of this thought as it impacts our local Church and the universal Church. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has identified that the next Synod in October 2023 would focus on the very process of doing a Synod. A Synod on the Synod, we might say. Now, a Synod is way of journeying together in which the Church and her pastors, especially the Holy Father, listen to the sense of the faithful. Sometimes, it has a targeted focus (Synod on Consecrated Life, Synod on Priesthood, Synod on the Laity, Synod on the Eucharist, etc.). By now, you might be scratching your heads and wondering what is a Synod? To my knowledge, there has never been a Synod in the Diocese of Birmingham. Although the Code of Canon Law outlines the process of a Synod, that process seems elaborate and cumbersome and eschewed by many church leaders and dissuaded by many canonists I know. Because it has not been used on the local level, [there is a] lack of awareness. In short, a Synod represents a way that we do Church within our diocesan community and with other dioceses in order to develop a greater missionary focus. In fact, the theme of the forthcoming Synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.” We might say that its focus is to discern and identify ways the Holy Spirit is already at work among us, identify what may be lacking and who may not be at the table and whom we may need to hear from in order to go forward in faith. In other words, how is God calling us to journey as a community – a community open wide for mission, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ more effectively through our words, actions, and life as Christians?

The foundation and method of a Synod is drawn straight from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Indeed, through active participation we can listen to the experience of each other more intently to see where the Holy Spirit is guiding pastoral leadership and ministry today. As a result of this listening, it will suggest a ministerial pathway for mission that is more effective and wholistic (i.e, Where do we need to go? How can we bring as many people as possible along with us? How are we going to get there?). I pray that it will bring us closer together as a faith community. As we proceed with the process of dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect, we can, through our prayer and discernment, become more co-responsible in the mission that Christ gave to each of us through our baptism and confirmation: Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ!

May God bless you!