The Synodal Path
In describing the idea of synodality I have commented that it is much more like the Camino than an airplane journey. The Camino is a journey to the Shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela – to be an official pilgrim you need to walk at least 100 kms but there are many routes to the same destination, from France and Portugal, from Germany and England, and from Italy among the most known and popular. In this the Camino is much like life: many starting points but a common destination.
Pope Francis has taught that synodality is the way of being Church. In this he is drawing attention to the variety of pathways that are taken to arrive at a common destination. Beyond the commonality and the destination, he also suggests that it is a particular kind of journey- one that takes time, a degree of ‘match fitness’, a recognition that the journey takes place with others with whom we are each in dialogue.
Maybe this stands a little in contrast to the emphasis Pope Saint John Paul II put on large events like World Youth Day, but the Camino experience is small groups that may well merge and journey together for a while then separate and move at a different pace. It is by nature more attuned to deep reflection and attentive listening to the other.
Synodality is a lesson for life – perhaps even a curative for the ills of modern life. The pace of change and the demands of work have come to dictate how we live, it all seems to be a rush. When we are rushing we may hear that another is speaking, we may recognise the words, but are we listening? To deeply listen is to attend to other; it is about mutuality. It is listening which is active and moves each of us along on the journey but also engages each of us more fully with the other. A stanza of the poem Hope by Alexis Valdez cited the book Let Us Dream by Pope Francis (in conversation with Austen Ivereigh) sums up the power of deep attentive listening:
We’ll understand how fragile
It is to be alive.
We’ll sweat empathy
For those still with us and those who are gone.
The Synodal path is a journey – one that is rich and varied because it is a journey with others to whom we listen, from whom we learn, and with whom we come to act. Whether this will come to us through the Plenary Council, the forthcoming international Synod on Synodality or more through our families, parishes and local communities, it is a call to step out onto the path and take new steps in hope.
- Patrick McArdle is the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn