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Synodality is listening to the Lord speak through one another

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

This past Sunday (Oct. 10), Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the beginning of the preparations for a Synod of Bishops on Synodality scheduled to be held in October 2023.

The actual title for the synod is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Every bishop in the world has been asked to kick off the synodal process in his diocese this Sunday, Oct. 17. 

By next spring, each diocese will provide a report, 10 pages or less, to its national conference of bishops, describing the synodal process in its local churches, as well as sharing the knowledge and insights gained.

Each national conference of bishops will summarize the fruit of the synodal process in its country. Summaries of all these reports from the national conferences will be provided to the Holy Father as well as to the synod delegates.

Due to prior speaking commitments on Oct. 17, our archdiocese will initiate the synodal process on Sunday, Oct. 24, with a 10 a.m. Mass that I will celebrate at the Cathedral of St. Peter. All are welcome to join me at the cathedral on Oct. 24.

If you have persevered this far, you may be asking: What is a synod? A synod is a worldwide gathering of bishops. Not every bishop is invited to participate in a synod, but every national conference of bishops has delegates who participate in the synod.

Synods are designed to assist the pope in reflecting upon what the Holy Father considers to be some of the most important and consequential issues confronting the church at a given moment. Trusting the Holy Spirit is speaking through the delegates, the synod helps the Holy Father discern the path forward for addressing the challenges confronting the church.

The next question might be: What in the world is synodality? In launching the church, Jesus sent his disciples on a journey to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and in the process to make disciples.

The church is not a personality cult that is dependent on charismatic individuals, but is a family of believers journeying together. Synodality is an understanding that the church is intended to be collaborative and collegial, as opposed to a collection of lone rangers.

Synodality communicates an understanding of the church’s identity as disciples journeying together, striving to follow Jesus along a path illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Synodality is a listening attitude that expects to discover the Lord’s will for the church as we listen to Our Lord speaking through one another.

Through the synodal process for our archdiocese, we will discover and affirm the many ways in which we are already living synodality. I am fortunate to have many consultative groups that advise and assist me with my responsibilities of leading the church in northeast Kansas.

I meet a couple times a month with my administrative team that consists of our vicars general, moderator of the curia, and the lay leaders of our largest departments and critical ministries — e.g., our chief financial officer, superintendent of schools, stewardship and development director, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, and director of evangelization.

I also meet several times a year with our archdiocesan finance council, our priests council, our pastoral council (composed of lay representatives from each region of the archdiocese), the board of the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas, the archdiocesan envisioning team, the curia (the heads of all our archdiocesan offices), our ethics council, the Catholic Education Foundation, etc.

Thankfully, I do not exercise my leadership of the church in northeast Kansas in a vacuum but with the support, collaboration and guidance of many faith-filled, holy and smart individuals

Pope Francis throughout his pontificate has urged the church to reach out to those on the peripheries. The Synod on Synodality is an opportunity to do that in a much more intentional way. The pope is urging us to go beyond the usual suspects and to reach out to those on the margins.

At the same time, Pope Francis has been quite clear that a synod is not the same as a parliament. Synodality does not mean that we will be voting on the doctrinal and moral teachings of the church.

The leader of the synod is not any or all of the bishop delegates. The leader of the synod is the Holy Spirit to whom we entrust the guidance of the process. A synod is not an effort to discern the will of the people, but the will of God.

I am confident the Holy Spirit will give us new insights through the synodal process. In the coming months, you will be hearing more about synodality. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to guide this process for the archdiocese and the universal church. Let us discover how the Holy Spirit wants us to encounter Jesus as we journey together proclaiming his Gospel to a world that needs desperately its truth, hope and joy.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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