“We need to learn from the past. There is recognition that we are a church in need of healing at every level and, as a survivor of abuse who engaged in the process remarked, ‘we need to find a forum in which we can all heal together.’” This is one of the many deep and varied insights and reflections offered in the national synthesis of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which has now been submitted to the Vatican’s Synod Office as part of the Synod on Synodality called by Pope Francis for 2021-2023 with the theme For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.
The completion and publication of the national synthesis is a significant milestone in the synodal pathway of the Irish church, and it will be marked as part of the National Novena to Our Lady of Knock tomorrow, which has as its theme A Journey in Hope. Synodality is about journeying together as a community of Christians, seeking to follow the example of Christ by sharing faith through encounter, particularly with those who are vulnerable or marginalised.
Knock Shrine offers a special and sacred place of pilgrimage for people on their faith journey, and it is fitting that it is here that we will offer the national synthesis as a resource for reflection, dialogue and action.
The national synthesis reflects the work of many people, from local to national level, as we seek to discern the important themes and areas of focus from the many views and experiences that have been shared. The themes identified in the document are: Abuse as part of the Story of the Church; Co-Responsible Leadership; Clergy; Lay Ministry; Sense of Belonging; The Role of Women in the Church; LGBTQI+; Sexuality and Relationships; Adult Faith Formation; Liturgy; Youth; Education and Catechesis; Family; Covid-19 Pandemic; and Culture.
It also offers reflections on areas that did not feature as prominently as might have been anticipated, and begins the work of pointing us towards some conclusions, although it is clear throughout that this is not the last word, but rather a contribution to an ongoing and deepening dialogue and a support for pastoral action.
The synthesis is not a long document and it is important to read it in full because the themes are clearly interconnected and all will require careful attention and reflection as the synodal process develops. Decisions about next steps will be informed by collective discernment, grounded at local level, in keeping with the synodal approach. The national synthesis does not seek to recommend specific actions at this point, but rather to reflect faithfully what has been heard in the course of the dialogue and listening undertaken thus far, including those areas where there are tensions and opposing views.
The national pre-synodal assembly in Athlone on June 18th provided an opportunity to reflect on these challenges and tensions in advance of the preparation of the national synthesis. It was a hope-filled experience because it demonstrated that it is possible to explore these differences in a way that is relational, rather than adversarial. The centrality of prayer and scriptural reflection to the methodology was an essential foundation, repeatedly calling our attention back to our shared belonging in Christ.
The prayer walk through the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise that closed the day conveyed that, while so much has changed in the church over the centuries, the faith has endured and the Christian community here is still journeying together. There are deep wounds within the church, but also a willingness to find ways to heal together and restore trust, reminding ourselves what is essential and precious about our faith, a gift to be shared.
From here the synodal journey will continue on many different levels. Being present in Knock, an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine that welcomes pilgrims from all over the world, reminds us that our synodal journey in Ireland is connected to a much wider global community.
As the Universal Synod progresses we will be challenged to listen to the experience of the church in countries devastated by war — and this year’s Novena programme includes a Day of Prayer for Peace in Ukraine — in communities at risk of being wiped out by famine or climate change, and in the many different contexts where lack of opportunities are robbing people of hope for the future.
The strong sense of shared responsibility that has guided our synodal process so far, from the local to the national level, has been a great encouragement. It is hoped that this will continue to to motivate us to develop our skills of deep listening and discernment, as we reflect on the significance of our national synthesis, and the different voices of the church around the world, asking what God wants of us in light of what we have heard.
Dr Nicola Brady is chairwoman of the steering committee of the Synodal Pathway