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Communion, Participation, and Mission from Jerusalem

For a Synodal Church

In 2015, Pope Francis said, “The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his Church in the third millennium. A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.” On September 7, 2021, the preparatory document was published and it begins: “The Church of God is convoked in Synod.” The path entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” will solemnly open on October 9 and 10, 2021 in Rome and on October 30 it will open at the Shrine of Our Lady of Palestine in Deir Rafat. What does this mean for us Catholics in the Holy Land?


The preparatory document encourages us to dream about the Church that we are called to be. This means not writing long documents but rather initiating a process of renewal at all levels in our Church. Indeed, we are weary after dealing with the COVID pandemic, the erosion of trust in the Church, financial scandals and abuses, and the ongoing troubles all around us in the Holy Land and in the wider Middle East.


To be convoked in Synod means to be called together to set off on a way. We are being invited to walk together as a community that walks with a renewed awareness of Christ walking alongside us, in our midst. Like on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33), he comes among us in a time when we are weary, dejected and confused. He has come to look for us and listen to us. We are confident that he will open the Scriptures and finally break bread for us. As we count our woes, our eyes are closed so that we do not recognize him. However, step by step, he guides us from a focus on our problems (so many, so real) to an opening of our eyes so that we can see him fully alive and dream of what we seek to become: a community that chooses life and life in abundance.


Four actors can be identified on the way: Jesus (do we see him, do we hear him?), the crowd that walks together, the apostles sent to nourish us and the antagonist who comes among us to sow division. As we walk on the way, we are called to discern what Jesus is saying to us today, to identify who we are today and to develop a vision for the journey. In this we must understand our identity (who we are?) and our mission (what we are called to do?) A synodal Church, a Church that is walking on the way, is a prophetic sign for the world. Above all, it is a sign for the community of nations, which today seems incapable of proposing a shared project in which humanity can pursue the good of all. 


The first stage in this synodal process is from October 2021 until April 2022. During these six months we must listen closely (not just hear), consult, dialogue and discern. These six months are a time to set our communities in motion, to embark once again together on the journey so that we can encounter Jesus. We listen to each other on the way and we listen to the Holy Spirit. Let us not be afraid to listen!


There are eight significant focal points in this process:


1. Recalling – we are invited as we walk on the way to take stock of where we have come from as Church in this land. Particularly significant for us are our beginnings as Church on the first Spirit-filled Pentecost (Acts 2) and the decisive Sprit-filled Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) that opened the community up to everyone. In recent times, the Spirit guiding the Church of the Holy Land was experienced in the Diocesan Synod of the Catholic Churches (1995-2000).


2. Living – we are invited as we walk on the way to look around at our present reality. Our Catholic Churches are deeply rooted in the Middle East and the Arab milieu with all their blessings and all their challenges. They are also diverse, composed of various rites (Greek, Latin, Syriac (both Maronite and Syrian) and Armenian), covering the area of four political entities (Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus), including in their midst diverse communities, cultures and languages (Hebrew speakers and migrants).


3. Recognizing – we are invited as we walk on the way to discern the gifts that each part bring to the body that is the Church. This includes those parts that we know less well. In a special way, we are invited to listen to the youth, to the women, to the migrants and the refugees, to the poor. As we listen, we comprehend ever more fully how the gifts of God are to be found in every sector for the good of the whole Church. We must not forget that the Church includes all those who never frequent her churches and ceremonies too, how can we bring them into the process and benefit from their gifts?


4. Exploring – we are invited as we walk on the way to reflect on how these gifts facilitate the responsibility placed on us by Christ to preach the Gospel. This necessitates first and foremost listening to each sector in the Church and ignoring none of them in the strategic planning involved in fulfilling our responsibility to be a Church that witnesses to the Risen Lord. This strategic planning has its blueprint in the Scriptures understood through Tradition and articulated today in the teaching of the Church.


5. Examining – we are invited as we walk on the way to examine our conscience without fear, to confess our sins with courage and to seek a permanent conversion to Christ. This is particularly important when it comes to examining how responsibility and power intersect in the Church in order that we can reject all forms of clericalism, abuse, defensive polemics, corruption in all its forms, worldly manipulation and sectarianism that blocks us within hermetically sealed groups, preventing us from becoming Church. 


6. Accrediting – we are invited as we walk on the way to collaborate with others to build a better society. Our dream is not only to be a Church that is truly the Body of Christ. We are not sealed off from the wider world but called to be a leaven within it. As a part of the larger society around us, we want to contribute to its welfare and work for the common good.

7. Regenerating – we are invited as we walk on the way while we build positive and life-giving relations across boundaries that separate us. The way on which we walk will bring us into encounters with all those we share our world with us. Christ came to bring down the multiple walls of separation. We must reach out to our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters, to Jews and Muslims, Druze and Bahai, Samaritans and all people of goodwill. We can engage in a shared dream of repairing our broken world.


8. Fostering – we are invited as we walk on the way to develop a vision for the future. What kind of Church do we want to be? What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to bequeath to our children? Let us dream together!


Two perspectives emerge from this process:

  • A vision of our Church from within and how she integrates all that constitutes her within herself. This is a vision of the Church ad intra, the Church that we seek to be. 

  • A vision of our Church from without and how she engages with others to promote the common good in our society and in the world. This offers a vision of the Church ad extra, the Church that alongside others is building the Kingdom and preparing for Christ’s coming among us again.


We must remember that these six months, from October 2021 until April 2022, constitute a first step in the synodal process. These first steps at the local level, involving parishes, schools, Christian institutions and communities of men and women religious, will be followed with the broadening of the process to the dioceses, the entire region (Middle East) and the world. The preparatory document explains: “The synthesis that each particular Church will elaborate at the end of this work of listening and discernment will constitute its contribution to the journey of the universal Church.


To make the subsequent phases of the journey easier and more sustainable, it is important to condense the fruits of prayer and reflection into a maximum of ten pages. (…) We recall that the purpose of the Synod (…) is not to produce documents, but “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands” (paragraph 32).

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