Stories Seldom Heard
289th Edition -
Let’s Open the Door to the World Church Garden
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. A special welcome to those who attended the week retreat at Santa Sabina Center, San Rafael, CA. When I began writing Stories Seldom Heard 289 months ago, we explored women’s stories in scripture since those were “stories seldom heard.” As you know, since then we have discussed many other passages of scripture. However, there is another “story seldom heard” happening in our midst, especially in some of the dioceses in the United States: the story of the Synod on Synodality.
Even though many of you, I am sure, are involved in the Synod on Synodality, I thought it would be helpful to hear more about the process and the reports that the General Secretariate in Rome has published. Since the Synod is a world-wide four-year process (perhaps an on-going process), there is much information that has been gleaned and distributed. The following is a keyhole peek into the World Church Garden of the Synod on Synodality.
As you know, Pope Francis convened and invited everyone in the Church to participate in the process that began in October 2021. From October 2021 to October 2022, the Church throughout the world held listening sessions. The question the Church raised was, “What is God asking of us, the Church, at this time of our lives?” There was a specific process set forth. Theologians and Church historians presented background information and questions to help the local Church communities discuss this enormous question. During the year, the responses were received by a variety of Church institutions and sent to the General Secretariate in Rome.
In October 2022, the General Secretariate (GS) of the Synod in Rome analyzed and synthesized the fruits of the listening sessions they received. The GS summary report is called “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent.” It further focused the insights and tensions that resonated most strongly with the experience of the Church on each continent and identified, from the perspective of each continent, their priorities. This report is viewed as a “working document.” It is not the end of the process. There is much more to come, but before we go further, I would like to quote or paraphrase some of the comments that were included in the October 2022 Report: “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” (1).
“Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” gives us a “peek” into the World Church Garden beyond our local Church communities. The information is gleaned from the listening sessions from the world’s nations. The insights and information are very hope-filled. They reflect an honesty and graciousness that reveal the participants’ level of trust during their listening sessions. They are also a small sample of the richness of the process and the deep connections of those who participated.
“Our current synod experience has awakened in the lay faithful the idea of and a desire to, get involved in the life of the Church, in its engagement with the world today, and in its pastoral work on the ground” (Canada).
“Largely what emerges from the fruits, seeds and weeds of synodality are voices that have great love for the Church, voices that dream of a Church of credible witnesses, a Church that is inclusive, open and welcoming the Family of God” (Zimbabwe).
“Despite the continuous cases of kidnapping and violence recorded, the reports of the Diocese express the joy of those who were able to actively participate in this first phase of the Synod” (Haiti).
“Among the fruits of the synod experience, several summaries highlighted the strengthened feeling of belonging to the Church and the realization on a practical level that the Church is not just the priests and bishops.”
“Some Christian who felt hurt and who had distanced themselves from the Church came back during this consultation phase” (Central African Republic).
“For many, the great surprise was the experience of being listened to by the community, in some cases for the first time, thus receiving a recognition of their unique human worth that testifies to the Father’s love for each of his sons and daughters.” “They wish to continue this journey.”
“However, there has been no shortage of challenges which the Report did not hide.” Some people had difficulty understanding what synodality means. There was a need for better translations of the materials. There was a sense of mistrust and a resistance to the basic proposal.
“Some expressed doubts about the outcome of the synodal process due to their perception of the Church as a rigid institution unwilling to change and modernize itself or due to a suspicion that the synodal outcome had been predetermined” (Canada).
Several diocesan reports complained about the lack or weak involvement of priests” (Chile).
“An obstacle of particular relevance on the path of walking together is the scandal of abuse by members of the clergy or by people holding ecclesiastical office…Some Dioceses reported that participants wished for them (those who have been convicted) to publicly acknowledge and atone for past abuses” (Australia).
“The dynamic of home and exile, of belonging and exclusion, is a felt tension in the report. There was an emphasis on “radical inclusion.”
“Those who feel at home in the Church feel the absence of those who don’t” (Ireland).
“The meager presence of the voice of young people in the synod process and in the life of the Church” was noted.
Numerous reports “pointed to the lack of structure and ways to accompany persons with disabilities.”
“Uganda echoes many other countries in noting that in the structures of the Church the rich and the educated are listened to more than others.”
“The people of God express a deep desire to hear the cry of the poor and that of the earth.”
“Many African and Pacific Rim reports call on churches around the world to recognize that addressing socio-environmental challenges is no longer Optional” (EC Pacific).
“There was a desire to deepen the ecumenical journey…”
Throughout the document there were numerous references to the gifts of women not being recognized even though in the life of the Church they are present and active. Even in the process of these synod discussions the women were often the organizers of the discussions, overwhelmingly present in number and fully participating members.
The synodal Church is a listening, hope-filled and prayerful Church.
It is a gathering of the faithful as we listen to one another in a “great diversity of contexts. No one is asked to leave their own context, but rather to understand it and enter it more deeply.”
“We are faced with the inexhaustible and holy mystery of God and must remain open to its surprises…”
“Whenever we encounter a person in love, we learn something new about God.”
“The only legitimate authority in the Church must be that of love and service, following the example of the Lord” (Argentina).
Is there something in this very brief report of the 2022 GS that surprises or resonates with you? Is there something that stirs your curiosity? As you can imagine, there is much more to the Report – much more to ponder as we continue to pray to the Holy Spirit for perseverance, direction and discernment.
I hope this background will encourage you to continue your involvement or begin your participation in these most important conversations. A friend called and asked where she could get more information. Together we went to the Vatican website. It was a bit overwhelming since they have many documents from which to choose. There were also many language options: French, Italian, English, etc. I would suggest going to Discerning Deacons or Future Church websites. They have regular webinar meetings to explain the information and processes of the Synod. I have found them very helpful.
This is a lot of information. I will continue this conversation next month with some insights into the June 2023 publication of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). This “Working Document” explains the next step in the process.
If this sounds too overwhelming, we can all participate: pray, pray, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who began this process and is fully invested. Not a bad partner to explore the World Church Garden with! I thought you might find this poem of Denise Levertov encouraging. Blessings.
I have a small grain of hope—
one small crystal
that gleams clear
colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment
to send you.
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.
Only so, by division,
will hope increase,
like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source—
clumsy and earth-covered—
1. When a quote was attributed to a nation, I identified the nation. When the quote comes from the body of the text of “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” I did not include a specific reference.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly reflection written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich its spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like to support this ministry, please send your contributions to: Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P., 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green, and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. To make changes or remove your name from “Stories Seldom Heard” mailing list, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. Bob McGrath