Between 80 and 90 bishops, clergy and lay people who were part of the synodal consultation process in their dioceses met together in Southwark on Wednesday.
The National Synod Day was described by Canon Christopher Thomas, the General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales, as an “important moment in the journey together as we review prayerfully the draft of the national Synthesis”.
Their day began with a moment of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament using a prayer aid with reflections on the two icons of the Synod for a Synodal Church proposed in the Preparatory Document. Archbishop John Wilson, of Southwark, then celebrated Mass in St George’s Cathedral.
These two moments of prayer set the atmosphere for the day which, as noted in Canon Thomas’s letter of introduction, “falls between the Solemnities of Ascension and Pentecost and this moment of people with their bishops is like the pre-Pentecost Church” when the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus were gathered in the Upper Room with Mary.
After lunch, the afternoon gave those who had worked on the diocesan Synod submissions the chance to review and discuss together the first draft of the National Synthesis.
This Synthesis represents over 700 pages of material the Bishops’ Conference received from dioceses, national organizations, universities, Catholic groups and individuals. A national synthesis team, composed of nine members, spent the month of May prayerfully reflecting on all the Diocesan Synod submissions and crafting the first draft.
The group round table discussions took place in the Cathedral’s Amigo Hall, and were facilitated by Sr. Bernadette Reis from the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. All present were able to provide their feedback about how the draft synthesis reflected their diocesan synthesis, what they felt was missing, what they found surprising or disappointing, and topics needing further discernment and analysis.
The desire to continue growing in the synodal process both at the diocesan and national levels was one point that emerged. One group expressed that now that the Church in England and Wales has been through the synodal process, the need remains to “show and reveal how it is embedded and how it will go forward.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, brought the day to a conclusion. In closing remarks, he said:
“In this upper room, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have had a unique window on the life of the Church in England and Wales – not complete, but a glimpse, a panorama, that we rarely see drawn together in this way. We are learning the art of listening, the discipline of listening, which does not come naturally, but is something that requires self-control and humility. We are learning that. This is a hugely important quality in the life of the Church which has not always been present.”
The National Synthesis Team will take this very valuable feedback and incorporate it into the first draft so as to produce a final draft. Their hope is to have a final draft by the end of June, at which point it will be available on the Episcopal Conference web site.
In the meantime, the Bishops will undertake a discernment to formulate their response for the synodal process that will be forwarded on, together with the National Synthesis, to be incorporated into the Regional European synthesis.
A Synod celebration is also being planned for 29 June, in Westminster Cathedral, at 10:30 to celebrate the Conclusion of this phase of the synodal process in England and Wales.