VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis extended his massive consultation of Catholic faithful around the world by a year, urging patience for the three-year turned four-year process that promises to reform Catholic hierarchies and promote decentralization in the church.
“The fruits of the synodal process that has begun are many, but for them to be fully mature it’s necessary to not be in a hurry,” Pope Francis said during his Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday (Oct. 16), following his announcement of the postponement.
The so-called “Synod on synodality,” originally scheduled in Rome for October 2023, is meant to be the culmination of an ambitious global project to hear from clergy and parishioners at the parish level. The process, though well underway, has had a somewhat halting start.
All Eastern Churches and 112 out of the 114 episcopal conferences in the world took part in the first phase of the synodal process. Participation among rank-and-file Catholics was more patchworked, with many parishes reporting a low level of participation. In the United States, only 10 percent of Catholics took part in the synodal discussions.
The findings from these initial conversations have been submitted to the Vatican’s synod office, and a group of lay and religious experts and academics gathered in Rome last week to draft a document with initial summaries made by the episcopal conferences. The document, which has not been published yet, will be sent to groups of lay and religious leaders divided into seven continents.
“With the purpose of allowing for a longer time for discernment, I have decided that this synodal assembly will take place in two sessions,” the pope said Sunday. The now-delayed synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” will end in October 2024. But Bishops will still meet to discuss the findings to date at the Vatican in October of next year, the pope said.
“I hope this decision will favor the understanding of synodality as a constitutive element of the church and will help everyone experience it as a journey of brothers and sisters who witness the joy of the gospel,” Francis said.
Francis’ decision to split the bishops’ summit in two sessions is not unprecedented. He enshrined the practice in his 2018 document regulating synods “Episcopalis Communnio.” He also divided the synod of bishops on the family into two sessions, between 2014 and 2015, given the wide scope of the topic.
“The Synod is not an event but a process in which the whole People of God is called to walk together toward what the Holy Spirit helps it to discern as being the Lord’s will for his Church,” read a statement published on the website of the General Secretariat for the Synod at the Vatican on Sunday.
The statement said the continental assemblies will continue the process of listening and discernment within the seven regions of Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Oceania, North America and the Middle East. In March 2023 the seven continental assemblies will submit summaries of their discussions to the Vatican.
Ahead of their final gathering in 2024, the Synod office at the Vatican explained that the summit of bishops in 2023 will “take on a processual dimension, configuring itself as ‘a journey within the journey’ to foster more mature reflection for the greater good of the Church.”