The Good Steward — Synod’s continental phase identifies vital issues

Daniel Conway

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) have published the final document for the continental stage of the 2021-2024 synod. This phase of the worldwide synod involved representatives from all regions of the universal church meeting to review the findings of listening sessions held in individual dioceses.

Readers are encouraged to access the full text of the final document (available at archlou.org/synod-2022/). The priorities identified by the North American Writing Team speak to issues of vital concern to the church in North America. These issues will contribute directly to the October 2023 gathering of the synod in Rome. They will also shape the pastoral priorities of dioceses throughout Canada and the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

The first priority in the final document concerns synodality as a leadership style. The concept of synodality is misunderstood — even controversial — today, so it’s essential that Pope Francis’ view of the church as a pilgrim people journeying under the guidance of the Holy Spirit be widely taught.

The second priority concerns “welcoming those who feel excluded from participation in the life of the church in a manner that is authentic and faithful to the Gospel and the Catholic faith.” Many people today feel strongly that “inclusion” is an essential aspect of the mission given to us by Jesus, but the complexity of the issues involved requires prayerful discernment. Everyone is welcome, but the church cannot endorse every lifestyle or contemporary point of view.

The third priority is “co-responsibility” — a frequently raised issue of shared decision-making and the desire for more transparency in church governance. Co-responsibility calls for an in-depth understanding of the mission of all the baptized, with specific attention given to particular vocations.

The fourth priority calls for unity and communion in the church in the midst of widespread polarization and division. There is an intense desire for peace and harmony today especially as divisiveness and factionalism grow in intensity often due to the hate-mongering facilitated by social media.

The final priority is “a church that goes out to the peripheries.” Echoing the call of Pope Francis for Catholics to be missionary disciples who leave their comfort zones, the fifth priority reminds dioceses throughout North America that “on our continent there is always a danger of forgetfulness of, and indifference to, those who are poor and ostracized.” 

Dioceses are encouraged to support a more robust formation in the kind of missionary activity that is needed to carry out the Lord’s command to proclaim the Good News to all.

These five priorities — synodality, inclusion, co-responsibility, unity and missionary zeal — are vital to the church’s ability to serve God’s people here in North America and throughout the world. Let’s pray for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit during the October 2023 gathering of the synod in Rome and as the findings of this four-year synodal journey are integrated into the life of the church in the years ahead.

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