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SYNOD 2021 – 2023: meaning, significance, objectives and Preparations

  • Bishop Obodo Inaugurates Synod Committee in Enugu Diocese


By Fr. Anthony Aneke


On the 10th of October 2021,  the Holy Father Pope Francis formally opened a two-year process called “a synod on synodality,” officially known as Synod 2021-2023: For a Synodal Church.” In brief, the process involves an expansion of an established institution, called the “Synod of Bishops.” This means that bishops around the world will consult with everyone from parishioners to monks, nuns and Catholic universities before coming together for a discussion in 2023. This points to how the Church can learn to rely more fully on this kind of consultation-and-discussion process – how it can become more “synodal” in its governance.

But then, it may not be surprising that many practicing Catholics especially in Nigeria may find the name “Synod on Synodality” and its purpose puzzling. And so, it is very necessary to clarify what a Synodmeans in the first place?

What a Synod means.

Synod as a word is derived from an ancient Greek term which means “coming together” or “traveling together.” Ancient Christians developed a custom of local leaders coming together to pray and make decisions about matters affecting all the Christian communities in a region. They gathered in the faith that their prayers and discussions would reveal God’s will and the way to achieve it.These gatherings came to be called “synods” and began a tradition of regional synods for bishops, as well as larger ones called “ecumenical councils.” In principle, these were for all bishops around the world to discuss issues that were consequential for the whole Church.

The Synod of Bishops was established by St Paul VI on 15th  September 1965 with the Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo. Its formation took place in the context of the Second Vatican Council which, with the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (21st  November 1964), had largely concentrated on the doctrine of the episcopate, urging greater involvement of the Bishops in matters that concern the universal Church. The Council Decree Christus Dominus (28th October, 1965) describes the newly established body as follows:

Bishops chosen from various parts of the world, in ways and manners established or to be established by the Roman pontiff, render more effective assistance to the supreme pastor of the Church in a deliberative body which will be called by the proper name of Synod of Bishops. Since it shall be acting in the name of the entire Catholic episcopate, it will at the same time show that all the bishops in hierarchical communion partake of the solicitude for the universal Church (n. 5).

One of goals of Vatican II was to revitalize the importance of bishops as heads of their local churches and emphasize their cooperation with one another. As a “college” under the leadership of the pope, the bishops are mutually responsible for the governance of the whole church.To assist this revitalization, Pope Paul VI created a permanent structure for a Synod of Bishops, with a secretariat in Rome and a General Assembly gathered regularly by the pope.

Over the years the synodal norms have undergone successive improvements, as witnessed by the various editions of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum published in 1966, 1969, 1971 and 2006. In the meantime, the Code of Canon Law (25th January 1983), canons 342-348, and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (18th October 1990), canon 46, have integrated the Synod into the universal law of the Church, specifying its nature and functioning.

Canon Law on the Synod of Bishops

According to Canon 342, The synod of bishops is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.Can. 343 further buttressed that “It is for the synod of bishops to discuss the questions for consideration and express its wishes but not to resolve them or issue decrees about them unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff has endowed it with deliberative power, in which case he ratifies the decisions of the synod.”

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Inauguration of the Synodal process in Enugu Diocese

Hinging on the above, the Auxiliary Bishop of Enugu Diocese Most Rev. Ernest Obodo urged the faithful to pray fervently for the success of the 2021-2023 synod of Bishops. His Lordship while speaking on the inauguration of the members of the synod committee for Enugu Diocese, during the Eucharistic celebration on 17th October at Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu noted that the inauguration which is happening in all the different dioceses of the world will chart a new course for the Holy Church.

His Lordship noted that all authority comes from God and once bestowed on man, it is essentially for service. The bishop buttressed further the collegiality of the Church and how collaboration being a cardinal phenomenon is adopted in the effective operation and administration of the Church, both locally and universally. Taking a clue from the ministry of Jesus while on earth, His Lordship noted that to effectively reach out and evangelize the world, Jesus had to collaborate with people, thereby appointing his 12 disciples who collaborated with him in his ministry while on earth and after hisresurrection.

His Lordship made reference to the first council of Jerusalem convened by the apostles where issues in the early Church were discussed at a time when strange and wrong doctrines were filtering into the Church. This, Bishop Obodo noted as one of the necessities of the coming together of the Bishops, to deliberate and discuss the present and the future of the Church, the harbinger of our faith.

According to His Lordship, it will be difficult to gather all the bishops in the Church once. However, what the Holy Church does is to selectfew bishops from differentregions and backgrounds to celebrate communion. When they gatherwith the Pope who heads the council, they talk about the preservation of faith and morals, as well as strengthening of the ecclesiasticalstructures of the Church.

“They discuss issues affecting the world today. Issues such as:Women ordination, gay marriages etc.as they come up with solutions.  It is the Pope who is the Bishopof Rome that convenes a synod. The Pope is the head of bishops in the synod, he is the representative of Peter”, His Lordship said.

The Synod 2021 -2013 processes

It will be recalled that earlier this month, the General Secretariat for the Synod published the Preparatory Document, along with a Vade-mecum (or handbook) to indicate the guiding principles that will direct the path of the Synod on Synodality.

According to the guideline, the solemn opening of the Synod takes place in Rome on October 9-10, and in the particular Churches on October 17; and will conclude at the Vatican in the year 2023 with the assembly of bishops from around the world.According to vaticannews.va, the released Preparatory Document is intended above all to be an instrument facilitating the first phase of listening and consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches, which will take place from October 2021 to April 2022in the hope of helping to set in motion the ideas, energy, and creativity of all those who will take part in the journey, and to make it easier to share the fruits of their efforts. Between October 2021 and October 2023, the process will be divided into three phases, moving from the diocesan to the continental level, and giving rise to two different working instruments. The synodal journey will conclude at the level of the universal Church.

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Therefore, the Synod is understood as a process composed of three parts: the preparatory phase, in which the consultation of the People of God on the themes indicated by the Roman Pontiff takes place; the celebratory phase, characterized by the meeting of the assembly of Bishops; and the implementation phase, in which the conclusions of the Synod, once approved by the Roman Pontiff, are accepted by the local churches.

The central phase, in which the work of discernment of the Pastors is carried out, is thus preceded and followed by phases that call into play the totality of the People of God, in the plurality of its components.

The Synod – which avails itself of a General Secretariat composed of a General Secretary, an Under-Secretary and a number of special Councils of Bishops – meets in different types of Assembly: in an Ordinary General Assembly, for matters concerning the good of the universal Church; in an Extraordinary General Assembly, for matters of urgent consideration; in a Special Assembly, for matters which mostly concern one or more specific geographical regions. Furthermore, it is also the responsibility of The Roman Pontiff to convene a Synodal Assembly in accordance with other modalities which are established by him.


Pope Francis: history of interest on Synodality

Since the beginning of his papacy in 2023, Pope Francis has shown special interest in the Synod of Bishops . The following year, he convened an “Extraordinary General Assembly,” outside the usual three-year cycle, on “the vocation and mission of the family.” The assembly talked about controversial issues such as welcoming to communion couples living outside church-sanctioned marriages. These discussions continued into an “Ordinary Assembly” in 2015.

2015 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops established during Vatican II. At a ceremony for the anniversary, Pope Francis gave a speech that laid out his views on Synodality. The word “synod,” he reminded the audience, is about cooperation.

“A synodal Church is a Church which listens,” he said, pointing out that mutual listening has been the goal of much of the church’s renewal since Vatican II.

“For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross,” Francis declared.

Since then, Francis has taken steps to give the Church examples and a concrete framework for a more “synodal church.” In 2018, he issued new regulations that encourage much wider consultation with members and organizations of the Church at all levels as part of the synod process.

And in 2019, he followed up a “Special Assembly” for bishops of the Amazon region with “Querida Amazonia,” a kind of papal document known as an “exhortation.” Here, he took the unusual steps of recognizing the authority of the synod’s own final document and referring important structural and procedural changes to their continuing work in their home churches, rather than to intervention by the Vatican.

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Therefore, the current Synod on Synodality” is the culmination of all this effort to bring a greater degree of openness, collaboration and mutual listening to the church. Unlike previous synods, this one officially begins in dioceses all over the world, with opportunities for mutual consultation at every level and among many different church organizations.

In his EPISCOPALIS COMMUNIOon the synod of bishops, the Holy Father noted in his statement that the communion that exists in the Church and the unity in service is a profound intricacy that strengthens the church.

“Another fruit of the Synod of Bishops is that it highlights more and more the profound communion that exists in Christ’s Church both between the Pastors and the faithful (every ordained minister being a baptized person among other baptized persons, established by God to feed his flock), and also between the Bishops and the Roman Pontiff, the Pope being a “Bishop among Bishops, called at the same time – as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches”. This prevents any one subject from existing independently of the other.

“Moreover, I am confident that, by encouraging a “conversion of the Papacy… which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization,” the activity of the Synod of Bishops will be able to make its own contribution to the reestablishment of unity among all Christians, according to the will of the Lord (cf. Jn 17:21). By doing so, it will help the Catholic Church, according to the desire expressed years ago by John Paul II, to “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”, Pope Francis declared.

It is hoped that when the General Assembly meets in 2023, its task will be to prayerfully consider how to move forward as “a more synodal Church in the long-term” – a church that “journeys together.”

In furtherance to this, Bishop Obodo prayed for the success of the coming synod 2021 – 2023, as Enugu diocese prepares to roll out programmes for the synodal processes.

Rev. Fr. Anthony Aneke is the Managing Director and Editor in Chief of The Choice Flame Newspaper, Catholic Diocese of Enugu. He is a Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu. His Passion for media is born out of his desire to see a media in our ever challenging and complex world whose dexterity is centered on facts, truth and accurate representation of events with the aim to strengthen the many institutions of our society and the church to serve all across spheres.
Rev. Fr. Anthony Aneke is the Managing Director and Editor in Chief of The Choice Flame Newspaper, Catholic Diocese of Enugu. He is a Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu. His Passion for media is born out of his desire to see a media in our ever challenging and complex world whose dexterity is centered on facts, truth and accurate representation of events with the aim to strengthen the many institutions of our society and the church to serve all across spheres.
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