Bishop Ray’s Pastoral Message on Synodality

A Pastoral Message from Bishop Ray Browne

The Synod of Bishops in Rome in Autumn 2023

and a ‘Synodal Pathway’ of five years in the Irish Church.

A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together.”

  • How is this “journeying together” happening today in your local Church?
  • What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?[1]

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Pope Francis extends a world-wide invitation to the whole Church to consider how we might walk together and work together as God’s people in greater synodality. What does he mean by this word synodality? It comes from the Greek language and means “journeying together”. Journeying together involves good communication: listening and really hearing what the other is saying, and thus proceeding in harmony, appreciating the insights and experiences of each other.

To prepare for the Autumn 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome, Pope Francis asks the Church worldwide to reflect on how she can be ‘synodal’ at every level from your local parish to the Pope in Rome. What are our strengths and weaknesses? What can we do to improve?

He asks that over the next four months, as an initial task, there is a good conversation – deep listening in every parish in every diocese. Listen and hear what each other is saying; listen and hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us; listen to Jesus in the Gospels. Together we seek to discern how we should proceed, not simply striking off on our own paths, but hearing where the Holy Spirit is calling us. He asks that this leads to the compilation of a Report at National level. To help us, the organisers of the Synod of Bishops in Rome have proposed key topics and questions. Some of the synod questions concern vital matters that we rarely discuss.

For many years in our own diocese we have worked hard at consultation and listening. Witness the past two years when there was wide consultation on planning for the years ahead. Witness all our Pastoral, Liturgy and Financial Councils, at Parish, Area and Diocesan level; and the work of the diocesan Pastoral Team; meetings with parish secretaries and sacristans. Despite that work, there are so many of all ages in our diocese who have never been involved, never felt invited and sometimes felt ignored. Some age groups have barely been represented. Can we widen the circle? Can we deepen our consultation and dialogue? Can we continue to listen and speak until we sense together where the Holy Spirit is leading us?

At diocesan level we have chosen a team of three to guide us in this consultation, but the work will involve many others. Likewise at national level a team is being put in place. It is vital that in all things we are inclusive: female and male, all ages, all backgrounds, all viewpoints. Extend the invitation widely; listen to every person who wishes to contribute, and respect their viewpoint. This Sunday we are just making a beginning. We do not yet clearly see the road ahead, help us work it out.

Here in Ireland there is an extra important dimension. What we do now for the Synod of Bishops in Rome will be the first phase of our own Synodal Pathway. For the next five years the whole Catholic Church in Ireland is seeking to travel a Synodal Pathway: journeying together, listening and discussing, discerning together what the Holy Spirit is asking of us as the People of God. Hopefully this will bear fruit in the everyday life of our parish communities.

At the centre of all we do is the life-giving Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ invites us, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, remain in my love”[2]. I ask everyone to unite in prayer in the months ahead for the success of this Synodal process, in Ireland and worldwide.

The Preparatory Document for the Synod concludes with these words of Pope Francis:

We recall that the purpose of the Synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but

“to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions,

allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds,

weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope,

learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness

that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.”[3]

+ Ray Browne,

Bishop of Kerry

17 October 2021.

[1] Synod of Bishops Preparatory Document, Par. 26

[2] John 15:9

[3] Synod of Bishops Preparatory Document, Par. 32