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Synod: Unpause—What happened here and what the next 11 months hold

In his opening address at the synod on October 4th, Pope Francis referred to the synod as a “pause”—a time when synod participants would take a break from their frenetic lives in order to come together in Rome, to listen to one another, to have “conversations in the Spirit” on our most pressing issues and to identify the convergences, divergences, ideas and questions that emerged in these conversations.

The comment came in the context of the pope asking synod participants to “fast” from speaking to the media, and urging reporters like me to communicate that the synod was about listening. Although he didn’t name it, it was clear that the pope wanted reporters to take a “pause” this month from reporting on the intra-church disagreements we so often focus on. (By the way, I do not recommend telling people not to talk to the press about a story and telling reporters to cover that story positively in the same breath. It’s not a great PR strategy. But I digress.)

For the month of the synod, the press has been surprisingly “good,” as one prominent synod cardinal told me. There have been leaks, but nothing on the scale of the Amazon synod’s Pachamama incident, and only a few analyses have made this out to be a “single issue” synod.

But every pause is, necessarily, temporary, and as the synod comes to a close, it is time to plan for what is next. As synod spiritual director Timothy Radcliffe reminded the synod participants on their retreat, the disciples at the transfiguration did have to come down from the mountain. As synod relator general Cardinal Hollerich reminded them at the beginning of the synod discussions on participation, the success of the synod will be judged on what they accomplished in this momentous “pause.”

The final document for this month’s meeting is expected to be approved and released on Saturday, and it will outline the results of the synod’s conversations—as previously mentioned (and mentioned ad nauseam in the synod hall), the convergences, divergences, questions and ideas. It seems apparent enough that after two years of listening to Catholics around the world, the convergences and divergences on the key questions about how the church fulfills its evangelizing mission will be fairly representative of previous conversations. The questions and ideas that arise will require deeper reflection and investigation; synod officials have already said they may involve possible changes to canon law.

The next 11 months before the synod reconvenes will be a time for discussing those questions and ideas broadly in the church and deepening our reflection on them. This isn’t just a job for the synod participants. They’re coming down the metaphorical mountain not with stone tablets like Moses, but with stories of a profound experience like the Transfiguration that will inspire our next conversations as a community, focus our intentions going forward and inspire us to think differently about what may be possible. It’s this conversation that the synod participants will bring back to Rome next year; this is the “circularity” of synodality that we so often hear about. The pause is coming to an end. Ready, set, go.

Colleen Dulle is a writer and producer at America Media, where she hosts the weekly news podcast “Inside the Vatican.” Her forthcoming book on grappling with faith while covering the Vatican will be published by Penguin Random House in spring 2025.


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