A Time to Speak — Journeying together into the third phase

Richard “Tink” Guthrie

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in 2021, is comprised of three distinct stages — the diocesan, continental and universal phases. Each sequential stage in this three-year Synod is designed to inform the work of the next.

Locally, the Synod began in early 2022 with six months of grassroots listening to the faithful through 120 in-person gatherings, plus online feedback. In June 2022, the Archdiocese of Louisville published our final synthesis report, Journeying Together, reflecting the experiences, joys and concerns shared by nearly 2,400 people in our Archdiocese who answered the Holy Father’s invitation to share their personal stories of the Church. If you have not yet read the Journeying Together synthesis, I encourage you to do so and witness the transparency with which this synodal approach brought forth our Church’s blessings and shortcomings in the hope of fostering future growth together.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) received these diocesan stage synthesis reports from across the country and summarized them into a comprehensive U.S. National Synthesis for submission to the Holy See in Rome. Thus concluded the first synodal phase, the diocesan stage, in late summer 2022.

In the second phase of the Synod, the continental stage, the Holy See reviewed national syntheses from around the world and produced a Working Document of global feedback from synodal listening. The Working Document reflected experiences of Church by people from diverse geographies, cultures, languages, socioeconomics and political realities. Even with these diverse realities, the recurring hopes and concerns they expressed for the Catholic Church were remarkably similar to the stories shared locally in central Kentucky.

Earlier this year, in North America, more than 1,000 diocesan delegates, including 146 bishops, from the United States and Canada participated in virtual assemblies to discuss the content of the Working Document. Delegates consistently remarked that synodal listening is challenging us to move forward as a more welcoming, inclusive Church where all feel invited to come and know Jesus Christ. Delegates’ comments were collected, and again synthesized, to produce the North American Final Document, which was delivered to the Holy See in April, thereby concluding the continental stage, the second phase of this synodal journey.

Now the Synod on Synodality enters the universal third phase, when the Synod of Bishops in Rome will meet in October 2023, and again in October 2024, to study deeply what has been shared by all the baptized. Through the Holy Spirit, the Synod of Bishops will seek to discern the will of God for how to accomplish the mission of the Catholic Church in light of these universal synodal learnings.

Outcomes of the Synod on Synodality will become apparent over time and might only be fully understood by future generations with the benefit of hindsight. Pope Francis frequently reminds us that the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be rushed and that fruits of the synodal process must therefore be harvested over time. One early tangible outcome of Synod listening was harvested just last month when our Holy Father announced that for the first time ever, laity and women, including young people, will be seated as voting members of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. This is a poignant example of ensuring that everyone is represented on the journey, which is the very essence of synodality.

May the Holy Spirit inspire us all to listen, discern and respond with the heart of Christ Jesus! Please continue to pray for Pope Francis and the Synod on Synodality.

The synodal documents are available at www.archlou.org/synod-2022/.

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