Bishops encouraged to be creative as synodal process begins
December 14, 2021
Bishop Michael J. Sis of San Angelo prays during a Nov. 16, 2021, session of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the first in-person bishops' meeting since 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The synodal process the church is entering into is meant to show that "no one is unimportant in this time of listening," Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, told his fellow bishops gathered for their annual fall general assembly.
The process over the next seven months must involve the participation of the whole church "listening together, praying together, discerning together," Bishop Flores, a member of the bishops' Committee on Doctrine, said Nov. 17, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convened in Baltimore Nov. 15-18.
The listening comes at the invitation of Pope Francis, who has asked the church -- from those in the mainstream of church life to those on the margins -- to come together to voice their dreams, ideas and concerns in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in 2023.
Bishop Flores, who was voted in as chairman-elect of the doctrine committee in 2020 and took over as chairman at the end of this year's assembly, said the process is rooted in the pope's vision for a more synodal church where everyone is walking together on a journey to God, sharing an equal role in the church.
It is through coming together to listen to each other that people can discern the voice of the Holy Spirit, he explained.
"Pope Francis has asked us to invite people, to listen to people, including those who do not show up in our pews," he said.
Bishop Flores said invitations must be extended to the poor, people confined to nursing facilities, migrants and refugees, and those of other faiths as well.
He described the synodal process as a "deliberate pathway and style of communion."
The synodal process opened in dioceses worldwide Oct. 17. The launch begins a two-year process that culminates in the 2023 world Synod of Bishops on synodality. The synod is expected to adopt a final document that will guide the continuing development of a synodal church going into the future.
However, a document is not the end the goal of the synodal process. Instead, the process itself is what matters to the pope.
In a video message to the assembly, Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, described the process as a spiritual journey that must be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
"Pope Francis is calling us to discover that walking together is the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the church as a pilgrim and missionary children of God. Synodality is a way of being church. It is proper to the life of the church, making visible the core values of communion, participation and mission," the cardinal said.
"Synodality requires us to have a profound recognition ... (that) it is God's will that we are seeking to discern and discover and not our own nor our group's," he added.
Bishops offered ideas on how to reach out in the discussion that followed Bishop Flores' presentation. Some suggested having to go far beyond the parish to hear from people.
Bishop Flores said such efforts are necessary, urging the bishops to be creative in how they decide how to reach out. Creativity, he said, has been encouraged by the pope.
The synodal process involves three phases. The first involves gatherings and discussions rooted in prayer in dioceses. It will continue through June. Each diocese is being asked to submit a summary of local discussions to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those summaries will be synthesized into a final written presentation for the Vatican.
Once the Vatican receives the synthesized reports from bishops' conferences around the world, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will draft by this fall the "instrumentum laboris," or working document, to guide continental or regional ecclesial assemblies that will take place by March 2023.
Those assemblies will produce another set of documents that will help in the drafting of a second working document for the synod in October 2023. The synod is expected to produce a document on synodality throughout the entire church.