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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 05, 2024
Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops start a working session in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 18, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Three hundred parish priests from around the world will come to Rome at the end of April to take part in a meeting in preparation for the final session of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican next October.

The meeting, to be held from April 28 to May 2, was announced by the Synod Secretariat in a press release on Feb. 3. The 300 representatives of the world’s parish priests will participate in a five-day international meeting “of listening, prayer and discernment,” entitled “Parish Priests for the Synod.” On May 2, the parish priests will meet Pope Francis and will be able to have a dialogue with him.

Pope Francis launched the synod process in October 2021, seeking input from all baptized Catholics on building a listening church. After the local, national and continental phases of the synod, more than 400 people participated in its universal phase at the first synod assembly held at the Vatican in October 2023; 365 participants, 70 of which were non-bishops, were eligible to vote in synod proceedings.

The press release said “the initiative responds to the indication expressed by the participants” of the synod, who, in the synthesis report released after the October session, identified the need to “develop ways for a more active involvement of deacons, priests and bishops in the synodal process during the coming year. A synodal Church cannot do without their voices, their experiences and their contribution.”

Members at last October’s synod, which included cardinals, bishops, women and men religious, lay men and women, noted their concern with the almost total absence of parish priests at the synod assembly.

The decision to hold this international meeting of priests is a direct response to the strongly felt position expressed and voted on at the synod and detailed in the synthesis report. It was added in the report because many of the 365 voting members at last October’s synod, which included cardinals, bishops, women and men religious, lay men and women, noted their concern with the almost total absence of parish priests at the synod assembly. Bishops who I spoke with during and after the synod saw this as a major omission, given the central role parish priests have in the life of the church. They understood that unless the priests in the parishes are involved in the process, synodality has little chance of taking root in the church at the local level.

They were also aware that bishops in many dioceses globally, including in the United States, had done little or nothing to engage parish priests in the synodal process, and they viewed this as tantamount to undermining, if not dooming, the possibility of advancing synodality at the local level of the church. The decision to call local priests to this international meeting, even at this late stage, is an important recognition of the crucial role played by parish priests in the Catholic Church worldwide.

According to the secretariat’s press release, next April’s meeting envisages “the active involvement of participants.” And just as at last October’s synod session, so too at this international meeting, the 300 parish priests will sit at round tables to share best practices, take part in workshops around pastoral proposals, dialogue with experts and participate in liturgical celebrations.

Their input will be forwarded to the synod secretariat and taken into account in the drafting of the working document (instrumentum laboris) for the final session of the synod next October. As of the time of writing, there is no indication that any representatives of this group will be invited to that final session.

The event will be held at the Fraterna Domus retreat and conference center at Sacrofano, outside Rome, about 18 miles from the Vatican, where the participants stayed for the retreat before the first session of the synod in October 2023.

The 300 parish priests are in the process of being selected by the world’s 114 bishops’ conferences and the 23 Eastern rite Catholic churches. The selection has to be made by March 15, and the names will then be sent to the synod secretariat.

The international meeting is being organized by the Secretariat of the Synod together with three Vatican departments that agreed on holding the event: the Dicastery for the Clergy, which has overall responsibility for the more than 400,000 Catholic priests in the world; the Dicastery for Evangelisation’s section for First Evangelisation and New Particular Churches (that is, churches mainly in Africa and Asia); and the Dicastery Eastern Churches.

The synod secretariat provided two criteria to the bishops’ conferences and the Oriental churches to assist them in selecting the parish priests: “give preference to parish priests who have significant experience in the perspective of a synodal Church” and “favour a certain variety of pastoral contexts of origin (rural, urban, specific socio-cultural contexts, etc.).”

The task of selecting the parish priests will be challenging because, the synod press release said, the number of participants is determined using a criterion similar to that used for the election of the members of the synodal assembly in 2023-24. This means that bishops’ conferences or Oriental churches with less than 25 members may only send one, while churches with over 100 members can send four priests. Given these criteria, the conferences in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Italy and some other countries can send four parish priests.

Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

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