What do Vatican Tourists and Pilgrims Think about the Synod on Synodality
CV NEWS FEED // When Pope Francis convened the Synod on Synodality in 2021, he hoped to include voices from across the world, to embrace the sensus fidelium – the sense of the faithful. Yet, many American pilgrims visiting the Vatican this October know very little about the synodal process. For those that do, there is a wide range of opinions about what the focus of the synod should be.
Learning about the Synod
Father James Kieter, from the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, visited St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s Wednesday audience with the tour group he was leading. His group, he says, doesn’t know a lot about the ongoing synod that is occurring just steps away in Paul VI Hall.
“Most of Nebraska is simply asking: What is a synod? That was the sense,” said Kieter. “Most of the information people have about the Synod is just from what they are hearing in the news, and so they are hearing bits and pieces and then suddenly coming up with what they think is going on.”
Like many Catholics in America, Donna Goulet, a Catholic from Lansing, Michigan, knows little about the ongoing synod. But as she visits Rome this week, she is praying for the participants of the synod.
“The synod is a gathering of the leaders of the Catholic Church, and I am not exactly sure why they are all meeting,” said Goulet. “My opinion and my prayers are that they stay true to the Magisterium of the Church and do not fold to modern culture.”
Some pilgrims, however, have hands-on experience with the synodal process. Tim Hayes, a Catholic from Spokane, Washington, participated in both informal and formal discussions with fellow parishioners and other members of his diocese during the synod’s diocesan phase, but expressed frustration that his diocese and other dioceses seemed to take a haphazard approach to the listening stage.
My diocese has participated in a whole variety of ways, especially in my parish; we did a lot of informal dialogue more than anything else. One of the things that is challenging is that not every diocese participated in the synodal process; they may have produced the synod document, but it may not have been reflective of the voice of the people.
A synod about evangelizing
Now that the listening phase has concluded, the delegates are discussing the Instrumentum Laboris, a document constructed of diocesan reports about local concerns from around the world. While most tourists have little idea what is contained in the Instrumentum Laboris, the few who are knowledgeable have a range of opinions on what the synod should be discussing.
As he reflects on his work in parish ministry, Father Kieter believes that the synod’s predominant focus must be on how to make missionary disciples.
The great commission that Jesus gave us—’go and make disciples of all nations’—that literally needs to be the rallying cry of the synod. In parishes, whether urban or rural, anywhere, we have to form disciples,” said Kieter. “Every ill of the Church is fixed by forming fruitful disciples, people that understand Jesus instituted the Church to carry on what he began and to be faithful to that.
Kieter said that everything the synod discusses should be tailored towards helping Catholics across the world encounter Jesus Christ and how to effectively form intentional disciples.
“Regardless of all the workings and details, everything needs to come back to: are we helping Catholics be fruitful disciples? How do we help them encounter Jesus, enter into a relationship with him that is authentic, and then be sent out?” said Kieter. “Everything should be tailored to go back to that.”
Outsiders looking in
For Kieter, evangelization must be a focus, including reaching out to former Catholics.
Joe Corso, an ex-practicing Catholic-turned-Protestant visiting the Vatican, expressed similar sentiments to Kieter: that the synod must focus on evangelizing through preaching and clarifying the truth.
“(The Synod) must focus on speaking the truth, speaking the gospel in both love and a sense of judgment, because that is the truth and not a watered-down gospel; there is a right and a wrong,” said Coros. “Part of the problem of why people have been leaving both the Protestant and the Catholic Church is because the gospel has been watered down, so people have no foundation on which to base what they are believing.”
Other non-practicing Catholics, however, share a different view. Mike Nunno said that he now identifies as spiritual but not religious, but believes that if the synod adopts more progressive measures, the Church will be more appealing.
“I think there is a lot of room for the Church to be more progressive on personal freedoms like LGBTQ issues, and I think they need to be more progressive on abortion. I really like what the current Pope is standing for in his persona toward helping underclass societies,” said Nunno. “I think it would be attractive for other people if it adopted these reforms.”
Some Catholics, however, are reluctant to see this “progressive” change.
Goulet shared that she and many of her friends worry that the synod will lead to progressive reforms such as those happening within the Catholic Church in Germany.
“As is the case in Germany, they are starting to accept more same-sex unions and blessing homosexual couples. In the Bible, it says God created man and God created woman,” said Goulet. “If I were a participant in the synod, I would prioritize the need for the church to stay true to the core of the family,” said Goulet. “And the family is between a man and a woman in holy marriage. The family is the first Church. Without family, civilization crumbles.”
Moving from politics to Christ
Despite Pope Francis’ best attempts, onlookers have begun viewing the synod through a western-political lens. Mike Rogers, a Protestant from Michigan, warned that the delegates need to focus on Church issues rather than political and cultural issues.
“The Church needs to somehow separate its teaching and cultural issues a little bit and not become so involved with the political side of things,” said Rogers. “It needs to continue to preach the Gospel and, at the same time, hold fast to what they know is true.”
Ultimately, to be successful, Kieter argues, the synod needs to focus on embracing the Church’s ultimate mission, to lead people into a deeper relationship with Christ, he said.
But if the synod doesn’t help the primary mission of forming fruitful disciples, then it is pointless. I don’t know all the specifics of the discussions they are having, and we probably won’t hear the results of this month for up to a year. Ultimately, though, the synod needs to go back to who we are called to be by Jesus.