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Diocesan phase of worldwide “Synod on Synodality” begins with Mass on Oct. 17, listening sessions to follow

Bishop Alberto Rojas will invite the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese to an intensive period of conversation about the state of the Catholic Church and its future direction when he begins the local phase of a worldwide Synod with an Opening Mass Oct. 17 at Queen of Angels Church in Riverside.

“It will be a blessed moment for us to begin this shared journey in talking and listening to one another about the realities of our local Church and where the Holy Spirit is calling us,” Bishop Rojas said of the Opening Mass.

On Sept. 7, the Vatican released a preparatory document and handbook for the 2023 Synod on Synodality to be reviewed by all Catholic dioceses in the world over the next six months.

“It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,” the new document states, quoting Pope Francis.

“This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s ‘renewal’ proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task.”

According to the Vatican, the preparatory document is “a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the People of God in the particular Churches” for the diocesan phase of the synod.

The diocesan phase

During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from Oct. 17, 2021 to April 2022.

The handbook says that dioceses should organize local gatherings for “synodal consultation” and also enable individuals to give their feedback directly to the diocese.

It recommends that multiple parishes come together for these “synodal consultation meetings” so that “a range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups” take part.

The preparatory document, handbook and questionnaire are to be reviewed by dioceses, as well as superior generals, unions and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements and Catholic universities during this phase.

Sister Leticia Salazar, ODN, Chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, has convened a diocesan committee to develop recommendations on how to carry out the consultation process, locally, and to produce a report on the diocesan phase that each diocesan bishop must submit to Pope Francis by April of next year.

“This process has the power to move us forward,” said Sr. Salazar. “What kind of Church, what kind of faith community do we need to be for the near future.”

Main questions to be considered

Questions are included at the end of the handbook, which says that the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over this multi-year process is as follows:

“A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’ ”

In considering this, dioceses will receive and report feedback on the following:

— What are difficulties, obstacles and wounds in the local Church?
— What is the Holy Spirit asking of us?
— In our local Church, who are those who “walk together”? Who are those who seem further apart?
— How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore? How are the laity listened to, especially women and young people? What facilitates or inhibits our listening?
— How does the relationship with the local media work (not only Catholic media)? Who speaks on behalf of the Christian community, and how are they chosen?
— How do prayer and liturgical celebrations actually inspire and guide our common life and mission in our community?
— What hinders the baptized from being active in mission? What areas of mission are we neglecting?
— To what extent do diverse peoples in our community come together for dialogue? What are the places and means of dialogue within our local Church?
— How are divergences of vision, or conflicts and difficulties addressed? What particular issues in the Church and society do we need to pay more attention to?
— What relationships does our Church community have with members of other Christian traditions and denominations?
— How does our Church community identify the goals to be pursued, the way to reach them, and the steps to be taken? How is authority or governance exercised within our local Church?
— How do we promote participation in decision-making within hierarchical structures? Do our decision-making methods help us to listen to the whole People of God?

What is synodality?

The preparatory document describes synodality as “the form, the style and the structure of the Church.”

“The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment,” the handbook says.

The handbook describes the synodal journey as an experience of “authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General of Synod of Bishops, spoke on a panel, along with undersecretaries Sister Nathalie Becquart and Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín. Myriam Wijlens and Fr. Dario Vitali, consultors for the synod, also answered questions as part of the panel.

At the press conference, Grech said that synodality is “the mature fruit” of the Second Vatican Council.

“The synod is not a parliament,” the cardinal said.

“A synod is an experience of everyone listening to the Holy Spirit,” he added.

Catholic News Agency contributed to this article.