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Zac DavisOctober 26, 2023
Pope Francis signs a note asking that U.S. synod delegate Wyatt Olivas, an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming and youngest member of the synod assembly, be excused from his classes in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 25, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The first session of the synod on synodality is coming toward a close. As we approach the expected release of the synod’s summary report on Saturday evening and the closing liturgy on Sunday, here are three questions that I will be paying attention to.

1. Will the “synthesis document” say anything new?

There seems to be a growing tension around the formulation of the synthesis report of the synod members’ discussions. It is meant to summarize what has happened this October—and while many Catholics around the world will be looking for (or fearing) signs of change, they may in fact simply see a summary of topics that were already discussed. The letter to the people of God released by the synod foreshadowed the synthesis document’s release: “There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: the synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed.” In my view, the synthesis report risks looking like another version of the continental reports, which summarized the synodal processes around the world, or the instrumentum laboris, which provided the topics and structure for discussion at this month’s meeting. That document contained the questions; the people of God are eager to hear answers. But they may not get them until after next year’s gathering.

2. Will synod members talk openly on Oct. 30? Pope Francis asked for confidentiality and “fasting from public words” during the synod. The conditions were quite strict: Members were asked to not even share their own interventions. One morning outside of the synod hall, a delegate walked by the journalists gathered outside the hall and, knowing that the media were not being given much information, said to us sympathetically: “November is coming.” If participants are supposed to bring the experience of synodality back to their home churches, surely that will involve talking more concretely about what they experienced, with examples and details. Will they? When the synthesis document is released, will participants who feel that it didn’t reflect their own views attempt to set the record straight with a carefully placed interview or essay?

3. What tweaks will be made for next year’s gathering?

There will be 11 months to dissect, debate and discern the contents of the synthesis report. But there will be practical matters to consider as well for next year’s meeting. Will the media strategy remain the same? And what about the structure? As my colleague Gerard O’Connell wrote, even at the halfway point, participants were feeling fatigue, calling the meeting a “a marathon.” The proceedings allowed for plenty of silence—but did it allow for rest? The synod on synodality was billed as a time for the church to learn how to do synodality. Many participants have raved about the methodology and the process. But are there lessons to be learned from any shortcomings?

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