Pope Francis has invited people around the world to journey together in a synod process to contemplate how God is calling the People of God to be the Church in the third millennium.
In the Diocese of Nashville, the planning for that synod process has begun as the Church moves toward the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission,” in October 2023.
“What Pope Francis’ call for a worldwide synod affords us is the opportunity to reflect on how we, as the People of God, can continue to grow in the spirit of synodality,” said Dr. Brad Peper, the director of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. “The Holy Father’s invitation is a time of ecclesial introspection for us to realize more clearly the fullness of the Church and her mission.”
Peper and Erin Stracener, director of the diocesan Tribunal, have been designated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding as the co-contacts to facilitate the synod process for the diocese.
The Vatican has provided for every diocese a document, called the Vademecum, with resources to help plan the synod for the local Church. Peper and Stracener are using those resources to guide their preparations. “Rome gave us a roadmap of what to do,” Stracener said.
The hope is that each parish in the diocese will appoint someone to facilitate conversations about parishioners based on questions the co-contacts will provide, Stracener said.
“We want small group interaction with open-ended questions,” Peper added.
The three main areas for discussion are communion, participation and mission, Stracener said.
“This process builds on the goals of the Second Vatican Council,” Peper said.
The diocese has launched a website that “will provide various individual and parish-based resources to encourage our community to pray, learn and participate in this spirit-led endeavor,” Peper said.
On the website, www.dioceseofnashville.com/synod, people will also be invited to complete a survey, Stracener said.
“December through February will be the implementation phase,” Peper said, when people will be able to participate in the small-group discussions.
After those are complete, the results of those discussions will be collected and compiled in a 10-page synthesis that will be posted on the synod website and provided to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB will compile all the syntheses from dioceses across the country into a report for the Vatican, which will use those reports from all the dioceses across the globe to prepare working documents for the Synod of Bishops in 2023.
The synod process will be open to all people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Stracener said.
“Currently, we are in the planning phase to find and implement strategies for dialoguing with the Catholic faithful as well as voices not always or traditionally heard, such as non-Christians,” Peper added.
They plan to use social media platforms to invite members of other Christian denominations and of other religions to participate in the synod, Stracener said.
“We’re going to engage some with the schools,” she said. “We want to engage with people who speak Spanish … because the Spanish-speaking communities are vital to our diocese.”
The diocese will benefit from past synodal processes and initiatives, such as Bishop Spalding’s “Look, Listen and Learn” tour after he was installed as the Bishop of Nashville, Peper and Stracener noted.
Goal and purpose of the synod
The Vademecum lays out not only how to conduct the synod process, but its goal and purpose.
“Synodality enables the entire People of God to walk forward together, listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to participate in the mission of the Church in the communion that Christ establishes between us,” the Vademecum states. “Ultimately, this path of walking together is the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God.”
The synod process is guided by the question: “How does this ‘journeying together’ take place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allowing the Church to proclaim the Gospel? And what steps is the Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?” according to the Vademecum.
“In parishes, small Christian communities, lay movements, religious communities, and other forms of communion, women and men, young people and the elderly, we are all invited to listen to one another in order to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who comes to guide our human efforts, breathing life and vitality into the Church and leading us into deeper communion for our mission in the world,” according to the Vademecum. “As the Church embarks on this synodal journey, we must strive to ground ourselves in experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”
“Synodality represents the path by which the Church can be renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit, listening together to what God has to say to his people,” the Vademecum states. “However, this journey together not only unites us more deeply with one another as the People of God, it also sends us out to pursue our mission as a prophetic witness that embraces the entire family of humanity, together with our fellow Christian denominations and other faith traditions.
“It is especially important that this listening process happen in a spiritual setting that supports openness in sharing as well as hearing,” according to the Vademecum. “For this reason, you are encouraged to root the local experience of the synodal process in meditation on Scripture, the liturgy, and prayer. In this way, our journey of listening to one another can be an authentic experience of discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit. Authentic discernment is made possible where there is time for deep reflection and a spirit of mutual trust, common faith, and a shared purpose.
“The purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission,” the Vademecum states. “Thus, the objective of this synodal process 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.”