By Sr M Luka Jueneman
As the universal Church is engaged in a synod on the topic of synodality from 2021-2024, people of the Archdiocese of Perth gathered to explore synodality and its significance at this moment in time.
Facilitated by visiting scholar Fr Eamonn Conway, the talk series Synodality and The Future of The Catholic Church: A Journey Towards Communion, Participation and Mission was held at the Centre for Faith Enrichment on Thursdays 2 March and 9March attracted more than 40 participants who were able to ask questions throughout the sessions.
Fr Conway is a priest of the Archdiocese of Tuam (Ireland) and Professor of Integral Human Development in the School of Philosophy & Theology, University of Notre Dame Australia.
He also edited the recent book The Synodal Pathway: when Rhetoric meets Reality (2022).
Fr Eamonn endeavored to answer What is synodality and why does it matter? in depth in both sessions.
He brought home to the audience that synodality is about prayerfully listening to one other on all levels of interaction in the church.
A synodal style encompasses journeying together as God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It denotes a way of being church that involves “a conversion of mindset and mentalities; deep, attentive and faithful listening; as well as frank speaking.”
This is not just about the Synod of Bishops or a synodal assembly such as the recent Plenary Council held here in Australia, but about an attentiveness to the style we work together on all levels of the local and universal church, a movement in and of the church which aims at a cultural change.
The global crisis requires the Church to change in order to remain faithful to its mission, as Pope Francis, citing St John XXII at the Opening of Vatican II, reminds us:
… today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. “The deposit of the faith is one thing… the way it is expressed is another.”
Moreover, explains La Civiltà Cattolica Editor, Fr Anthony Spadaro, “synodality is what the Church is called to in the twenty-first century … it defines a new way of proceeding that gives form to the Church as People of God.” According to Pope Francis, it is the best means of addressing the many crisis faced by the Church, both within and outside.
Synodality provides an opportunity for openness to the perspective of others, being drawn into a communion and community that changes everyone and for deepening a sense of co-responsibility among all God’s people for the mission of the Church.
What Pope Francis wants us to rediscover and place our confidence in is “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.” [He] has described the transformation that is required in terms of shifting from a pyramidal to a synodal Church:
“There is a pyramidal Church, in which what Peter says is done, or there is a synodal Church, in which Peter is Peter but he accompanies the Church, he lets her grow, he listens to her, he learns from this reality and goes about harmonising it, discerning what comes from the Church and restoring it to her.”
“A synodal Church can only come to be if it is led by bishops, priests and deacons capable of providing a synodal style of leadership along the lines Francis has described here,” Fr Conway said.
In a second step, Fr Eamonn told participants about the significance of the current XVI Synod of Bishops 2021-2024.
What is a synod?
“The word ‘synod’ comes from the Greek and refers to an assembly or a meeting, or, more literally, to journeying a common path. It is analogous with “council”, which is its Latin counterpart. In the Catholic Church it has come to mean an assembly of bishops along with experts and advisers meeting together to advise the pope, or a similar event at diocesan or regional level established to advise local bishops,” Fr Conway explained.
By including a mandatory consultation stage for the local churches as an essential part of a synod, Pope Francis gifted the church with an ecclesial rather than episcopal synodality, which is something he experienced as a bishop in Latin America. This new way of proceeding allows for the entire People of God to exercise their distinctive charisms and responsibilities for the good of the church.
Fundamentally, Pope Francis’ vision of a synodal church is that of Vatican II, which did not only provide us with invaluable texts but also with a process of being a synodal church.
Furthermore, says Italian journalist Massimo Faggioloi, his papacy is “a second reception (of the council) … under the matrix of mercy” and a re-inculturation of the papacy in the global Church.”
This explains why the current Synod on Synodality is being held over a span of four years, rather than being confined to a gathering of mainly bishops in October this year.
In Fr Eamonn’s own experience – who attended the 2012 Synod on Evangelisation as an adviser – at previous synods “all contributions were scripted and, in effect, vetted in advance.”
At exactly the same time when the church was at the brink of a governance catastrophe due to the Vati-Leaks scandal, Fr Conway continued, the 2012 Synod of Bishops “was in effect, inconsequential, attending to matters far removed from the pressing and serious matters immediately affecting the Church.”
In contrast, we are all part of the current synod which will tackle the issue how to embed synodality in the life of the Church and its governance, and hence enable it to fulfil its mission in the world of today. Course participants were very grateful that Fr Eamonn answered any questions on the topic during the two sessions.
“This is a time to trust, to hope, and to dream, or, as Pope Francis often urges us, to see, to judge and to act. Our planet, faced with an ecological crisis unthinkable before, needs the voice of a strong and vibrant Church to protect it. Our Church, faced with virtually a complete loss of credibility in several parts of the world, needs a form of governance that is healthy, mature and respectful of all,” Fr Conway said.
 See “Synodality in the life and mission of the Church”, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2018.
 See Interview with the Holy Father, Dec 7 2016. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2016/12/07/161207a.html