Julieann Moran, General Secretary of the Synodal Pathway in Ireland, reflects on the journey of the Synod so far.
“Over the last two and a half years, two overlapping and interrelated journeys have been taking place in Ireland. By coincidence or perhaps, Spirit-inspired, in March 2021 both the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Pope Francis announced their intention to hold synodal processes. The bishops announced a five-year synodal pathway of listening, discernment and pastoral action with the guiding question of “What does God want from the Church in Ireland at this time?” whilst the Holy Father announced a Universal Synod on the theme of synodality.
“From a very early stage, it was clear that the Irish process would need to integrate its work with the work dioceses and groups were asked to undertake for the Universal Synod. This integration has been, on balance, a positive addition to the Irish Synodal Pathway, with resources, methodologies and guidance provided from the Synod office in Rome, as well as the opportunities to hear and share learnings and experiences with the global Church. Probably the most significant of these innovations was the introduction of a Diocesan Stage of the Universal Synod where local listening and discernment ultimately formed an integral part of both synodal processes.
“There have been several stand out moments for me in both these processes so far, not least the opportunity to represent the Catholic Church in Ireland as a delegate during the Continental Stage of the Universal Synod in Prague (February 2023). I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility representing those who had taken the time and made a commitment to participate in the Diocesan Stage (October 2021 – May 2022). These were the women and men of our parishes, religious congregations, movements and associations, and our clergy, who shared the joy of their faith, but also some of the pain and sorrows they carried.
“A particular sentence from one submission last year stays with me as I carry out my day-to-day work as the General Secretary of the Irish Synodal Pathway. It said, “Those who feel at home in the Church feel the absence of those who don’t.” The Irish National Synthesis, which was sent to the Synod Office in Rome in August 2022 highlighted that “there was a unanimous desire for the Church to adopt a more welcoming and inclusive stance towards all, and in doing so to reach out especially to those on the margins and those who do not engage regularly.” It stressed that “the Church is at its very best when it is close to people’s lives, speaking a language that people understand, and connecting with people amidst their daily struggles.” It’s why I’m very proud that Ireland’s presentation made a significant contribution at the Continental Assembly in Prague. In particular, our emphasis that the Church is wounded by the horrific experience of abuse and by the cries of those who feel left out, and that there is an urgent need for healing and conversion – personal conversion, communal conversion, and ecclesial conversion.
“I think another stand out moment for me was the invitation extended by Pope Francis to the 70 non-bishop members. For the first time in the history of Synods in the Catholic Church, not only were bishops present with the Holy Father as voting members of the synodal assembly but also lay men and lay women, priests, religious sisters, brothers and deacons were present. It was extraordinary to see these people from around the world take part in this historical moment. Alongside Pope Francis, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, they gathered together as the baptised People of God to discern God’s will for his people today.
“But what about the Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church here in Ireland? One of the major pieces of work completed by the National Steering Committee was a research project in March this year. The committee engaged a researcher and held focus groups and surveys with the volunteers who held the earlier listening sessions. A leadership training and formation programme has now been prepared for local leaders and will be rolled out in the New Year. This, please God, will provide some of the skills and knowledge necessary as we continue our own synodal pathway. It includes a deepening of the theology and spirituality of synodality, listening and discernment skills (including further training in the ‘Conversations in the Spirit’ methodology), accompaniment skills, outreach skills, communication skills and facilitation skills, especially in the area of managing conflict. It is my hope that this pilot programme will support, increase, and improve engagement in the process, and ultimately strengthen the sustainability of the Irish Synodal Pathway.
“The two-year term of the National Steering Committee and Task Group came to an end in September this year. It culminated in the publication of two reports – the research report from the focus groups and surveys, and an overall report from the Steering Committee with its recommendations for the next phase of the Irish Synodal Pathway (both of these are available on www.synod.ie). The work of embedding synodality and synodal methods of leadership, discernment and decision-making at local level will be the immediate focus of the Irish Synodal Pathway in the New Year too. Diocesan synodal teams are being formed or renewed and regional meetings to outline and implement some of the recommendations from the Steering Committee’s Report will be held towards the end of January. I recently used a term to describe the Universal Synod as “helicoptering” in at different stages throughout the Irish Synodal Pathway to date, and I recall asking Cardinal Grech, the General Secretary of the Universal Synod, how Ireland could “surf the wave” of the Universal Synod so-to-speak. It is, therefore, no surprise to me at all that the Universal Synod has once again invited the Church in the world to participate in a further process of consultation and discernment; this time on the guiding question of becoming more synodal through the particular lens of co-responsibility. So, I’m looking forward to working with dioceses and other groups in the New Year as we continue both of these synodal journeys together and seek to make a significant contribution to the next stage of the Universal Synod (set for October 2024) and begin to lay some of the foundation stones of the Irish Synodal Pathway too.”