On Sunday, October 29, 2023, the Pope will celebrate the closing Mass of the first Roman phase of the Synod on the Future of the Church. Today, the 364 members of this assembly, which includes lay men and women, will vote on an around 40-page summary report, which is intended to specify the points of agreement reached, highlight the questions still to be discussed, and indicate how they would like to continue their work until the next session, in October 2024.
As the first phase of the Synod at the Vatican draws to a close, I.MEDIA takes a look back at some of the main lessons that have emerged during this month of work.
1. A synod on method, not doctrine
The Synod on the future of the Church will not “bring solutions to all problems,” but it will “define a new way” for the Church to tackle them, said Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, Archbishop of Kinshasa. Like him, many other members of the Synod have repeated this to the press.
Launched in 2021 at local and then continental levels, this major consultation has brought a series of questions to Rome – the working document, which the members have based their discussion on, contains 309 question marks. For some, these questions were simply a “pretext” to “test” the new synodal culture that the Pope intends to implement at all levels of the Church.
For a month, the 365 members – including the Pope – experimented with a method of discernment inspired in part by the Jesuits, called “conversing in the Spirit.” This carefully structured method prioritizes listening, silence, and prayer. Everyone has equal speaking time and can express themselves freely without being criticized head-on.
The shape and table layout chosen for the Paul VI Audience Hall also reflected a desire to establish a principle of equality between members. “There’s no more protocol in the Vatican,” says one member, a little bewildered after finding himself dining close to the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, at the spiritual retreat held right before the beginning of the works.
This method, criticized by some for its rigidity or its temptation to “canalize the Holy Spirit,” has for others the virtue of forcing opponents to listen to each other in a calm atmosphere. A photo posted on X (formerly Twitter) bears witness to this: that of Jesuit Father James Martin, committed to reaching out to the LGBTQ community, alongside Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and a critic of the Synod.