The XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod is about to begin: next October, synodal fathers – and for the first time, mothers – called by Pope Francis, will meet in Rome for an event titled ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.’

Thus, the so-called Synod on Synodality will unfold as a historic event due to the innovations it includes for the entire Church to participate in the search for methods that allow all baptized individuals to walk in communion and fraternity. Here, we address the five key points you must know before this significant event in Church history begins.

1. What is the Synod on Synodality?

It was Pope Paul VI who, during Vatican Council II, created the Synod of Bishops as a way for bishops from all over the world to participate in the governance of the Church. This way, prelates could discuss matters of interest from their regions in Rome. Since then, 15 assemblies have been held. However, the Synod on Synodality is not just limited to this meeting in the Vatican, but the gathering of 250 bishops and experts will take place in two stages – October 2023 and 2024 – after a thorough reflection process about how the Church can continue its path in unity, involving millions of baptized individuals, whether consecrated or not, men and women of all ages.

2. When and Where Will the Synod on Synodality Be Held?

Initially, the Synod on Synodality was set to last from October 9, 2021, to October 29, 2023. However, Pope Francis decided to extend its celebration by one more year, until October 2024, when the second phase of the General Assembly will be held in Rome.

Following its inauguration in October 2021, the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality took place, during which the consultation process was opened to local churches. This was followed by the continental phase, where Episcopal Conferences delved into concerns expressed by local churches and drew their conclusions.

In October 2022, Pope Francis announced his decision to extend the Synod’s celebration to 2024 to allow more time for discernment: “The fruits of the initiated synodal process are many, but to reach full maturity, we must not rush. I trust that this decision can enhance the understanding of synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church, and help everyone live it on a path of brothers and sisters who bear witness to the joy of the Gospel,” the Pope explained.

Thus, the first phase of the Assembly will take place from October 4 to 29, 2023, and the second in the same month of 2024.

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3. What is the Purpose of the Synod on Synodality?

For Pope Francis, synodality is a key theme when addressing the present and future of the Church. “The path of synodality is the path that God expects from the Church of the third millennium,” the Pope explains “What the Lord asks of us, in a sense, is already contained in the word ‘Synod’. Walking together – laypeople, pastors, Bishop of Rome – is a concept easy to express but not so easy to implement,” he admits.

4. What’s New in the Synod on Synodality?

As we pointed out earlier, the Synod on Synodality will be held in an unprecedented manner, with two assemblies in 2023 and 2024, and the fact that its consultative phase involved all baptized individuals, not just bishops.

Additionally, it’s innovative that the October 2023 Assembly will include women and laypeople, who will not only participate as consultants but will have voice and vote for the first time in history. This measure, as explained by the Holy See, “is justified in the context of the synodal process, without changing its episcopal nature.”

This way, the auditor figure – listeners without the right to vote – has been eliminated, and 70 members have been added who, despite not being bishops, have voting rights and come from local churches, both consecrated and laypeople, including deacons.

5. What Topics Will Be Discussed in the Synod on Synodality?

“There has been no meeting to conspire among cardinals on how we can add more progressive points to the Church. It has been an experience of listening,” explained the Archbishop of Luxembourg, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, during the press conference presenting the Synod on Synodality’s Instrumentum Laboris, emphasizing that the document was crafted from issues presented by local churches worldwide.

From this listening experience emerged topics such as the role of women and their possible access to the diaconate; care and inclusion of LGTBIQ people; access to the presbyterate for married men; abuses; and the management of authority within the Church.

After these topics are voted upon, the final word will come from the Pope, who will write an apostolic exhortation outlining his stance on these matters.

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