The Synod: A kairos moment for us as church.

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By Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

It has been fascinating to see the different responses to the diocesan phase of the Synod process. In the Johannesburg Archdiocese, the “listening phase” in parishes and communities has concluded. Each parish or group will present a consolidated report of the findings at an event on 29 April. In some other communities, this phase of the process is not yet complete.

It is disheartening that in many Catholic parish communities locally and internationally, people do not know about the Synod, and opportunities have not been made available for people to take part. Parish priests often remain “gate-keepers” and do not pass on the information or invite people into the process. This is symptomatic of a bigger problem that frequently Catholic laity are disempowered by priests (and Bishops) who, in practical terms, have the power to decide what happens in their parishes and dioceses.

Some parishes have offered listening circles. Unfortunately, participation has been very disappointing in some cases, with large parishes attracting only a handful of participants. One wonders why. Has there been too little awareness raised about the Synod? Is there an overwhelming sense of apathy or despair, or scepticism that sharing one’s experience will make any impact? In contrast, there have been places where the Synod has been greeted with great energy and enthusiasm. As people have shared their experience of church and their sense of where the Holy Spirit might be leading, there has been a sense of renewed excitement and hope.

Given Pope Francis’ desire to reach those marginalised from the church, who feel excluded or have left, another important question is whether and how people are being reached. In a few places, including the Archdiocese of Washington, there is an intentional reaching out beyond parishes, such as those in prisons, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and those working on farms. Sadly, however, this kind of outreach seems to be the exception.

I was part of a group of Catholic Women Theologians who hosted in-person and online listening circles on the issue of women in the church. It was striking that participants expressed a strong desire for the process to continue at the local level beyond this phase of the Synod. Sharing with other women who are also deeply committed to the church and experience immense challenges concerning it seemed to ignite a sense of energy, hope, and commitment to discerning the way forward. We need to recognise that for many who have felt most excluded or marginalised if nothing comes of the Synod that shifts their experience to one of feeling heard and included, their dashed hopes may be the last straw for their participation in the church. This is a critical moment for us as church.

The Synod is a potentially powerful process for change. Let’s not miss out on the momentum offered at this moment to continue, even beyond the formal diocesan process, to meet and dialogue and listen to the Holy Spirit. Only through our listening together and speaking the truth of our lived experience can our church become more inclusive and Christ-centered.

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