Synod: the European continental assembly begins in Prague

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Two hundred delegates from throughout Europe gather in the Czech capital of Prague to discern the fruits of the synodal work at the local level. The European continental assembly for the third phase of the Synod on Synodality is taking place from 5-12 February.

During his Apostolic Journey to Africa, Pope Francis recalled one of the indispensable aspects of synodal action – that bishops are not “sacred bureaucrats,” nor managers or tribal leaders, but are instead shepherds in the midst of their people, shepherds who get their hands dirty.

The Pope’s exhortation came just ahead of the opening of the European assembly for the continental stage of the synodal process, which is taking place this week in the Czech capital of Prague

The seven continental assemblies

The synodal process is exemplified by the different stages of the current Synod, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church. Communion, participation, mission.” The continental phase follows on the consultation in the local Churches (the Diocesan phase), the results of which were summed up at the national level (Episcopal Conference/Synods of Oriental Churches phase).

The third stage has been ongoing since the publication of the Working Document for the Continental Stage in October 2022.  The continental Synodal Assemblies, which mark an integral part of this phase, are taking place in the coming weeks: for Oceania, the meetings began on Sunday, 5 February, in Suva, Fiji; with the Synodal Assembly for the Middle East, taking place from 12 to 18 February, in Beirut, Lebanon; for North America, from 13 to 17 February in Orlando, USA; for Asia, from 23 to 27 February, in Bangkok, Thailand; for Africa, from 1 to 6 March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and for Latin America, from 17 to 23 March in Bogota, Colombia.

Two hundred delegates from all over Europe

The Assembly for Europe opened on Sunday evening with the celebration of Mass in the Church of the Premonstratensians in Strahov, presided over by the Archbishop of Prague, Jan Graubner. The meeting – which also falls on the 20th anniversary of St John Paul II’s post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Europa – is divided into two parts.

In the first part, some 200 delegates (156 from the 39 European Bishops’ Conferences, another 44 personally invited by CCEE) will meet to outline the challenges and possibilities of the Synod.

The second part will take place from 11 to 12 February, during which the 39 presidents will meet in order to evaluate the results of the discussions and to begin to set out the synthesis that will be sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod by March. The examination of the Final Documents from the seven continental assemblies will lead to the Instrumentum laboris, which will be finalized by June 2023.

Gathering the fruit of discernment at the local level

This phase of the synodal process was prepared by the publication of the Working Document for the Continental Stage, which aimed at providing a better understanding of how the local Churches are already “walking together.”

The document gathered together the results of consultations at the local level and returned them to the local churches. Intended to provide an instrument for deeper discernment, the Document was based on three questions: Which insights from the local consultations resonated most strongly; which issues should be addressed in the next stage; what priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action should be discussed in the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023.

Delegations representing the diversity of the People of God

The continental stage thus brings together the result of the involvement of each diocesan bishop with his synod team. The Assembly also intends to ensure that the whole People of God is represented: Bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, laymen and laywomen, with special consideration for women and young people. In addition to the list of on-site participants, there are also almost 400 online delegates.