“I think we all agree when I say that we are tired,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said in his remarks to open the Synod on Synodality’s 15th day on Wednesday.

One synod delegate agreed that the schedule has been “loaded” but said it’s “understandable that we tackle a lot in a short period of time.”

“It’s intense but it’s good work,” Father Ivan Montelongo told CNA this week about his participation as one of 11 delegates representing the United States at the Oct. 4–29 assembly at the Vatican.

Father Ivan Montelongo, Wyatt Olivas, and Julia Oseka, all delegates representing the United States, speak with Pope Francis during a Synod on Synodality meeting in the Paul VI Hall. Credit: Vatican Media
Father Ivan Montelongo, Wyatt Olivas, and Julia Oseka, all delegates representing the United States, speak with Pope Francis during a Synod on Synodality meeting in the Paul VI Hall. Credit: Vatican Media

The coffee break, the 30-year-old priest from El Paso, Texas, emphasized, is “sacred time.”

Between small-group discussions and larger all-member gatherings, there’s a lot of listening, and listening “takes a lot of concentration, a lot of coffee too,” Montelongo said.

As the third week wraps on the first session of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, what does a typical day look like for a U.S. participant?

For Montelongo, the wake-up call is usually around 6 a.m. 

He and the other U.S. delegates are staying at the Pontifical North American College (NAC), a seminary for men studying for the priesthood in the United States.

More in Vatican

On the days the synod does not celebrate Mass together in St. Peter’s Basilica, he and the other U.S. delegates start the morning with Mass at 7 a.m. in the college’s chapel.

Mass is followed by a quick breakfast before loading up in a van at 8 a.m. to make the way down the hill to the not-far-off Paul VI Hall in Vatican City.

The time before everything starts, he said, is usually filled with greeting people, making connections, finding your table, and getting seated.

At 8:45 a.m., the synod assembly begins. The hundreds of delegates pray the psalms and listen to the day’s Gospel together. Sometimes there are also spiritual reflections, Montelongo said.

Whether the agenda calls for small groups or full-group listening sessions, called general congregations, the mid-morning coffee interlude is always much appreciated, the priest said.

“Everyone [moves] toward the coffee and while we’re in line, or after getting coffee, conversations just happen,” he said, “sometimes about what was discussed but sometimes just about ourselves, about our weekends, about our ministries.”

Montelongo, who was ordained in 2020, is judicial vicar and vocation director for the El Paso Diocese. While he was born in California, he spent his childhood in Mexico until age 15, when he moved to Texas with his family.

(Story continues below)

The synod assembly takes its lunch break from 12:30-4 p.m., during which time the U.S. delegates return to the North American College to eat and partake in “the beautiful tradition of siesta time.”

Montelongo said he will also use the break to catch up on some work or emails from back home.

A bus leaves to take the delegates back to the Vatican at 3:30 p.m. The synod assembly works from 4 to around 7:15 p.m., when they return to the NAC for dinner.

After dinner, “sometimes there’s work to do from the synod,” he said. For example, those chosen as “rapporteur” of their table have to prepare what they will say on behalf of their group in a general congregation. People can also prepare remarks if they would like to speak during the time of “free” speeches.

Then Montelongo says his night prayers and goes to bed.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, synod delegates had a break from meetings in the afternoon. The young priest said he used that time to “recuperate” and to do some work and laundry. “Those normal things,” he explained with a smile. The schedule “takes a toll.”

The following Sunday, a day of “vacation” for the Synod on Synodality, Montelongo went to Mass in St. Peter’s Square and then visited the Jewish neighborhood of Rome with some friends for lunch.

Another U.S. delegate, 19-year-old Wyatt Olivas, is in Rome for the first time, so he said they are trying to show him around, “but it’s hard to find those times.”

“It’s bittersweet,” he said, as the synod passed the halfway mark. “I’m having a good time, but work is pending back in the diocese.”

“I truly believe that this is very important, so I’m so thankful for being here and for participating in this historic moment in the Church. I’m also ready to go back home and even take all this richness that I’ve seen here back with me.”

Montelongo also said he’s already thinking about getting “ready for the next one,” the second session of the assembly, which will take place during the month of October 2024.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said.