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The Irish Catholic Bishops' recently announced a new Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland leading to the holding of a National Synodal Assembly within the next five years. The focus being on the challenges and opportunities it is facing in a rapidly changing society.
The pathway will consist of two phases: a consultation phase (2021-2023) and a planning phase leading to the Synod Assembly.
Before embarking on the consultation itself, bishops are seeking submissions on what are the best methods to adopt in the consultation process.
The word "synod" evokes the image of "walking together on the way". For the Church it is a time-honoured way of working out together the "navigation map" for the Church at particular times. Synodality is about the whole People of God helping each other listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.
Speaking at the end of the World Meeting of Families in Phoenix Park, Dublin 2018, Pope Francis encouraged the people of Ireland to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit:
"who constantly breathes new life into our world, into our hearts, into our families, into our homes and parishes. Each new day in the life of our families, and each new generation, brings the promise of a new Pentecost, a domestic Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus sends as our Advocate, our Consoler and indeed our Encourager. How much our world needs this encouragement that is God's gift and promise!"
Like so many others we are appalled by the findings in published Reports into institutional and clerical abuse; the recent shocking revelations about Mother and Baby homes in Ireland – north and south – have further reminded us of the deep trauma felt by so many in the Body of Christ and the need for inner healing and hope.
One hundred years on from the partition of Ireland we also recognise the need for ongoing peace-making, the building of trust and reconciliation, and for a culture of welcome and integration for migrants and the many newcomers who have arrived to live on this island.
We hear a cry for transparency, greater participation and accountability in the Church.
We see the tremendous potential for the support and renewal of faith within the family. The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a new discovery of the family as the "domestic Church".
We are alert to the need to connect with the energy and gifts of our young people, forming and enabling them to be missionaries to each other and inviting them to spread the Good News not only in Ireland but around the world that Christ is Alive!
While many women are very engaged in Church life in Ireland, we acknowledge the critical need to honour the contribution of women, to hear their deep concerns, to formally recognise their roles and articulate new models of co-responsibility and leadership involving all lay people – women and men.
We are also aware that many people have left Church behind and in some cases feel ignored, excluded or forgotten – we need to hear their voices also.
If the church wants to become a missionary church, then it has to be a synodal Church, for synodality is not just a methodological choice, but the mode of being of a church which wants to go out in mission.by Cardinal Mario Grech to the Bishops of Ireland on Synodality
The journey towards a more synodal Irish Church begins now. Preparing ourselves to think and act synodally cannot happen overnight. A Synod without a synodal preparation risks being merely a parliament of competing voices.
The process that is proposed is as follows:
Before embarking on the consultation itself, bishops are seeking submissions on what methods to adopt in the next two years (2021-2023) of the consultation process.
The responses will be considered by a special task group which the Irish Bishops will put in place during their next Summer General Meeting in June 2021 to plan and oversee the first steps along the Synodal Pathway.
Bishops envisage these next two years (2021-2023) as a period of prayer, listening and discernment, involving a nationwide consultative conversation on the theme communion, participation and mission.
The aim of this phase will be to design the particular form of the National Synod and prepare directly at local, regional and national level for the holding of the Synod.
As we embark on the synodal pathway, Bishops ask for prayers that this may be a time of renewal, reform and new hope for all the People of God in Ireland.
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