Catholic Church leaders in Thailand are preparing for their “synodal process” as a response to the call of Pope Francis to help shape a new way of articulating the Church’s mission of evangelization.
Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok announced that the archdiocese will start next month the first phase of the process that will involve consultation meetings and reflection sessions.
He said an online “pre-synodal” gathering will later be held to come up with proposals to be submitted to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand.
Cardinal Kriengsak made the announcement following the orientation meeting on Sept. 8 ahead of the forthcoming synod at the diocesan level.
The cardinal explained that the 2023 synod of bishops in the Vatican will be different from previous meetings because it will involve the whole Church through a process of “listening and discernment.”
The 2023 synod will have to go through the “diocesan,” “national,” and “continental” phases before culminating in the “universal Church phase” in Rome in October 2023.
Cardinal Kriengsak said Thailand’s Catholic bishops will have to undergo a “period of discernment” on the proposition it will receive from dioceses before coming up with a document that will be submitted to the Vatican.
Vatican releases handbook
The Vatican last week released a preparatory document and handbook for the 2023 “synod on synodality” to be reviewed by all Catholic dioceses over the next six months.
The 22-page preparatory document titled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” is accompanied by a 42-page vademecum, or handbook, for the diocesan phase.
The handbook includes prayers, a description of synodality, the objectives of the synodal process, and the main questions to which the local Catholic communities are asked to give feedback.
It underlines that dioceses should focus on “maximum inclusion and participation” among baptized Catholics in the diocesan synod process.
The preparatory document has been released for a period of “pre-synodal discernment” that will influence a second draft of the text to be published before June 2023.
According to the Vatican, the preparatory document is “a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the People of God in the particular Churches” for the diocesan phase of the synod.
What bishops have to do
During the diocesan phase, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church from Oct. 17, 2021, to April 2022.
The handbook says that dioceses should organize local gatherings for “synodal consultation,” and also enable individuals to give their feedback directly to the diocese.
It recommends that multiple parishes come together for these “synodal consultation meetings” so that “a range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, age groups” take part.
The preparatory document, handbook, and questionnaire are to be reviewed by dioceses, as well as superior generals, unions, and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, and Catholic universities during this phase.
The diocesan synod process should “tap into the richness of the lived experience of the Church in their local context,” the handbook says.
Questions are included at the end of handbook, which says that the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over this multi-year process is as follows:
“A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”
What is synodality?
The preparatory document describes synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.”
“The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment,” the handbook says.
The handbook describes the synodal journey as an experience of “authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”
The synod on synodality will open with a “diocesan phase” in October 2021 and conclude with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.
Pope Francis will “inaugurate the synodal path” over the weekend of Oct. 9-10 with an opening session and a Mass. All dioceses are invited also to offer an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17.
One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”
“The purpose of the first phase of the synodal journey is to foster a broad consultation process in order to gather the wealth of the experiences of lived synodality, in its different articulations and facets, involving the pastors and the faithful of the particular Churches at all the different levels,” the preparatory document says.
“We recall that the purpose of the synod, and therefore of this consultation, 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,’” it says, quoting from Pope Francis’ address at the opening of the youth synod in October 2018. – with a report from Catholic News Agency