Universal Synod and update on Synodal Pathway in the Church in Ireland

07 Oct 2021

Update from Winter General Meeting 2021 

  • (i) Universal Synod (ii) Update on Synodal Pathway in the Church in Ireland

In October the Holy Father Pope Francis opened the Universal Synod and since that time bishops around the country have launched ‘synodal pathways’ in their own dioceses based on prayer and discussion about faith.  The following statement by the Bishops’ Conference gives an update on how the Catholic Church in Ireland is engaging in the Universal Synod as it pursues its own Synodal Pathway across the island:

‘Look, behold I am doing something new’ (Is 43:19) are words from the Prophet Isaiah, a prophet whose writings we often hear during Advent.  We are grateful to the Holy Spirit for a new lifting up of hearts among the People of God in Ireland as we embark on the Synodal Pathway.  Synodality is about how we journey together, helping each other to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.

In updating one another on initiatives across the dioceses of Ireland, we are grateful for the many developments already experienced in the first stage of the Synodal Pathway.  A wide range of people have indicated their interest in, and support for, the process including webinars and retreats based on the theme of synodality.  In particular, the active encouragement and engagement on the part of the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland (AMRI) has helped the synodal process get off to a good start.

We particularly wish to highlight the significance of prayer for the whole Synodal Pathway.  We note that the Synodal Prayer to the Holy Spirit* is often recited at gatherings and during liturgies.  Prayer cards with the text of the prayer have been printed.

Since the opening moments of liturgical celebration and prayers in October, dioceses have begun engaging actively and creatively with the topics of the first phase of the national synodal pathway that coincides with the universal synodal process with its focus on Communion-Participation-Mission. Diocesan synodal delegates and teams have been established.  Training is being put in place for local parish synodal representatives. Local parishes are beginning to hold listening sessions.  We commend the creative plans that are afoot to devise other ways (for instance, pop-up cafés in a shopping centre) to meet people who might not come regularly to Church.

Under the stewardship of the Steering Committee and the Task Group, regional meetings of the diocesan delegates have taken place, a website will very shortly be in place and further resources provided.  The Steering Committee and Task Group also intend to engage actively with other bodies that operate beyond diocesan boundaries such as religious orders, associations and other groupings.  In particular, we wish to involve sisters and brothers of other Churches in reflecting with us on our ‘journeying together’ as disciples of Christ.

The first phase of the Synodal Pathway will continue until June 2022.  It will see the diocesan, parish and other initiatives continue and gain momentum, especially during the season of Lent.  After Easter next year, dioceses will begin to gather up the fruits of this first phase by holding diocesan pre-synodal gatherings to listen together in a spirit of prayer and sharing to what their diocese has heard and to discern what they would want to feed into the universal synodal process.  This will lead to the composition of a report from each diocese for the Bishops’ Conference.  This report will also be a summary of the first phase in the diocese of the national Synodal Pathway with its focus on how we are ‘journeying together’.

Upon receiving the diocesan reports, the Bishops’ Conference will then proceed in synodal style to draw up its report to be submitted in August to the Holy See.

We look forward to hearing “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:7) and encourage all interested in participating in this moment to pray for the success of the synodal process and to support local parishes in this endeavor.

Update from Autumn General Meeting 2021

Members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered in-person this week in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, for their Autumn 2021 General Meeting.   Due to public health restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bishops’ Conference had hosted its previous five plenary meetings via video link.  The main issues discussed by the bishops during their Autumn General Meeting included an the opening of the Universal Synod on 9 and 10 October and an update on the Synodal Pathway in Ireland. 

During their 2020 Winter General Meeting, bishops decided to proceed along a Synodal Pathway and, following their Spring General Meeting, announced that a new Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland is to take place with a view to holding a national synodal assembly, or assemblies, within the next five years.  Over 550 submissions have been received from the public as part of the initial phase of the Synodal Pathway.  Dr Nicola Brady has been appointed as chair of the Synodal Steering Committee and the vice-chairs are Mr Andrew O’Callaghan and Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick.

By a happy coincidence, these first two years of the Synodal Pathway in Ireland will complement the Church’s worldwide journey towards the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops, entitled: For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.  This weekend (9 and 10 October), Pope Francis will officially open the Universal Synod.  The Holy Father has asked that the whole Church prepare for this Synod which is scheduled to take place in October 2023 in Rome. 

In this regard, bishops welcomed the publication on 7 September, by the General Secretariat for the Synod in Rome, of the Preparatory Document which indicates the guiding principles of the Synod on Synodality.  Bishops agreed that, as the Church in Ireland embarks on its own Synodal Pathway, we can also look forward to letting ourselves be inspired by these guiding principles.

Bishops discussed this Preparatory Document, sharing in the goal of its listening process, namely, “not to produce documents, but to plant dreams, prophecies, and hopes.”  For the initial preparatory phase of the Universal Synod, the fundamental questions put before us are:

–          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?

These global questions neatly complement the guiding question facing the Irish Synodal Pathway over the next five years, which is: “What does God want from the Church in Ireland at this time?”

The full membership of the Steering Committee and the Synodal Task Group for the Synodal Pathway will be published as part of the official launch in the coming weeks.

For more on the Synodal Pathway see www.catholicbishops.ie/synod and on the Universal Synod see www.synod.va