Father Louis J. Cameli

Recording the voices of God’s people for the Synod on Synodality

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Over the past several months, Monsignor Patrick Pollard and I were responsible for synthesizing reports the Archdiocese of Chicago received in preparation for the Synod on Synodality. We worked with women and men representing a wide range of church participation, religious, ordained and members of the ecumenical community to collect the results of the consultation.

In the end, we had a stack of paper a foot high. It was a bit daunting, but we read everything that came in, made notes, and tried our best to summarize the voices of God’s people. This article lays out important pieces of what we heard, and it is a synopsis of the full report (which will be available soon).

Pope Francis invited the entire church to pray and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit throughout this synodal process. At his insistence, efforts were made to listen to the voices of those on the margins or whose voices are not regularly heard.

It is essential to note that the pope did not envision a closed-end process. Rather, he saw this as the beginning of a continuous process and a summons to be the church the Lord intended: a church that is “syn-hodos,” literally, traveling “on the road together.”

What did we find in this consultation process? First, numbers tell a part of the story. We received about 40,000 individual and collective responses. That is approximately 2% of the Catholics in the archdiocese. Of course, we had hoped for wider participation, but this number represents a beginning.

Pope Francis envisioned a process that included moments of prayer, encounter, dialogue and discernment. The process in the archdiocese unfolded as the pope envisioned it, but in a limited way. For example, some communities of women religious and the Consejo Hispano (representing Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese) followed Pope Francis’ direction exactly.

The vast majority of respondents, however, went in another direction that was more like a survey or sounding or even the parliamentary process that the pope had warned against. These respondents seemed to speak to the church (as if it were outside of themselves) rather than from the church (as active participants within).

They seemed more ready to offer their opinions about structural and institutional changes in the church and changes in church discipline and doctrine than to listen and pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Their opinions, whether “liberal” or “traditional,” identified the changes that they felt were necessary for the future, for example, opening up ordination to the priesthood to women and married men or a robust reassertion of settled doctrine and discipline.

Across the entire spectrum of opinions, there were two notable pieces of common ground. Universally, respondents affirmed the centrality of the Eucharist, but often from very different perspectives. Many pressed for more inclusive and creative liturgies, while a small number wanted a retrieval of the Tridentine Mass.

Everyone, however, seemed to be looking for a deeper understanding. This suggests that we are in a ripe moment for liturgical and Eucharistic catechesis and formation.

Another key piece of common ground was concern for the next generation of Catholics. Everyone wants faith to be central in the lives of a younger generation, even if they are not quite sure how to foster that. This concern suggests the urgency of coming together, praying, dialoguing and discerning where the Spirit is leading us to help young people deepen their faith.

As we read through the responses, it became clear that we need a better collective sense of our mission in and to the world. There was a general consensus among participants that the world is in deep need of the healing and the transformative power of the Gospel, of the mystery of Jesus Christ.

What this might look like and how we might assume this responsibility must be defined. That, too, can only happen through a synodal process of prayer, dialogue and discernment. There was general consensus that this renewal requires church leadership to remain committed to creating the opportunity for the people of God to participate in honest dialogue.

If the church is truly to be synodal, many respondents observed, she must be especially attentive to those at the margins. Their insistence in this regard was not always a matter of demanding changes to church teaching and practice, but rather of showing respect for their experience as they try to live in accord with the Gospel. Church leaders, they said, must truly hear what they have to say in order to truly know them as fellow disciples who, like all committed Christians, strive each day to take up their crosses and follow Jesus.

The results of our synodal consultation offer reasons for hope. People prize their faith and their life in the church. They want a younger generation to experience these blessings. They are searching for ways to move forward.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that we are at the beginning of something that is new for many people. We are “syn-hodos,” traveling on the road together, and we have not yet arrived. It will take time and perseverance to complete this journey. Bishop Robert McElroy expressed it well, when he wrote about “the case for continuity in synodal formation” (bit.ly/3cZVGjD). As he encouraged, we do not stop now. Instead, with courage and determination, we take the next steps.

An essential element of that formation will be learning to do what Pope Francis called us to do: pray together, listen to each other and — in that listening — discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us. In other words, we still need to learn what it means to be a synodal church, but together, we are on our way.



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