The continental gatherings showed “a deep desire for greater inclusivity and welcome within the Church,” and many expressed their perception that there is a breakdown in community when some groups or individuals feel unwelcome. These include “women, young people, immigrants, racial or linguistic minorities, LGBTQ+ persons, people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment, and those with varying degrees of physical or mental abilities.”
Liturgy, too, is “not always experienced as unifying.” Some synod delegates spoke of “those wounded by the limitations placed on the pre-conciliar Latin rite.”
Priorities for a missionary Church
The Church must be “truly missionary to go out to the peripheries and to evangelize” and Catholics must have “holistic formation” for this end, the final document continued. Synodality, one group of participants suggested, should be engaged “as a missionary movement.”
The final document listed several priorities: “the challenge of welcoming those who feel excluded from participation in the life of the Church in a manner that is authentic and faithful to the Gospel and the Catholic faith”; “co-responsibility” for the Church’s mission, including shared decision-making and governance; addressing Church unity and community amid polarization and division; and being “a Church that goes out to the peripheries.”
Another priority was the integration of synodal consultations and “the synodal style” into local churches and to increase participation in these efforts.
“Many who chose not to participate conceive of it as a competitive model, opposing laity to clergy. Others see it as insufficiently clear in its methodology, ecclesiology, and aims,” the final document said.
The synod’s bishops evaluate the synod
The final document included reflections from participating bishops. They thought that the documents of the synods must “reflect back” what was heard and said, especially to acknowledge that “we heard those who feel wounded or cast aside by the Church.”
“This does not solve the issues or heal the wounds, but it is an important beginning,” they said, according to the final document.
Bishops reportedly experienced synods at the diocesan level as “a great grace” but “often challenging” and “a learning experience.” Many voiced uncertainties about the direction of the synodal process but saw “ecclesial discernment” as a way to avoid “polarizing habits.” They also recognized that a “great majority” of Catholics had little or no direct contact with the synodal process.
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They were concerned about the “relative absence of priests” in the synodal process as well as “the danger of false or unrealistic expectations.”
Among their questions was whether more collaboration with the bishops of Mexico would have been a further improvement in the process, given the influence of Mexico on the rest of North America. Mexico’s synod collaborated with other countries in Central and South America.
The final document was introduced with a letter from Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme-Mont-Laurier, Quebec, president of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Our common aim is to build a more listening and discerning Church, strengthened in our ecclesial communion and committed to our common mission to announce the mystery of Christ Jesus to the world,” the two bishops said.
Flores and Poisson said this final document “marks a moment of unity and collaboration between the people of God in Canada and the United States of America, a particularly grace-filled experience we hope will be continued into the future.” It “explores those areas where we must turn our attention as we continue cultivating a more synodal Church in Canada and the United States.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.