The Roman Catholic Church is approaching what could be a historic moment as it begins the process of gathering opinions and ideas from members around the globe, on how it can adapt and better serve its community and the rest of the world in the future.
In March 2020, the church, under direction of Pope Francis, announced what is called the synodal process, which began in earnest in October 2021 and is scheduled to last until at least October 2023. Officially called the “Synod on Synodality,” this process is a mechanism by which the Vatican can confer with its congregations to determine how to best serve its mission as a church. The word “synod” is itself based on the ancient Greek work for “walking together on the road.”
St. Mary’s Parish in Fort Frances is included in the process. A group of parishioners have joined together to form a core group to hear from anyone, within the Church or without, who wants to discuss in good faith what the Church can do to better examine its mission and serve others going forward.
As the group explained, the aim of the synodal process isn’t to change the core tenets of the religion. The process will not be to discuss whether something like abortion will become accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. A document provided by the Vatican explains the synod is “not only a series of exercises that start and stop, but rather a journey of growing authentically towards the communion and mission that God calls the Church to live out in the third millennium.” Ideas outside of what the St. Mary’s group call the “truths of the Church” are what will be discussed; in essence, the rules of man as opposed to the rules of God.
The synodal process can be used to address what people want to see from the church and what changes could reconnect them with their faith or bring them back if they have become lapsed or non-attending.
By way of greater example, some of the great changes in the Roman Catholic Church came during what is called the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II. This four-year ecumenical council was called in 1962 to address how the Church could address the then-modern world and the challenges it presented. Vatican II was what led to the decision to begin offering the Roman Catholic mass in the local language rather than Latin, and allowed the priests to face the congregation, rather than deliver the mass facing the other direction.
The synod is not an ecumenical council, however. Aleteia.org describes a synod as being “primarily focused on new approaches, rather than binding law.”
The synodal process has several different stages that will lead it to October of 2023. The first phase, called the Diocesan Phase, which centres on local churches and their congregations, will end in April 2022. Ideas and opinions gathered there are then submitted to the bishop level, where they are further discussed and synthesized. The second, Continental Phase will begin in September 2022 and last until March 2023. In the second phase, the ideas that have been collected and agreed upon are sent up to and discussed by the Continental Assemblies, which all culminates in the final phase, or the Phase of the Universal Church, where the Synod of Bishops will discuss and examine the most prominent ideas that have been raised from the preceding Synod phases at the Vatican.
The St. Mary’s group stresses that anyone is welcome to have a good faith discussion with them, or to fill out an online questionnaire, regardless of Churchgoing status, or even religious affiliation. In order to do so, interested individuals may pick up a paper questionnaire in-person at the parish. There is also the option to call the parish at 274-5233 to set up a personal interview, or learn more about the Synod and view the online questionnaire at stmarysfortfrances.com/synod/. The questionnaire will remain open until March 15. All collected responses will remain anonymous.
For further information on the synodal process, visit Synod.va or the Archdiocese of Toronto website at https://www.archtoronto.org/synodality.