Reports coming out of the worldwide synodal process indicate a sense of the faithful which could be transformative of how the Church will carry out its mission.

The process initiated by Pope Francis has Catholics throughout the world encountering one another at “consultations” (listening sessions), some face-to-face and others through various media. We have been bringing to life the synodal call for “communion, participation and mission.” What seems to be emerging is a more inclusive way to do church, both a listening and teaching church.

The word “synodal” simply means “journeying together.” This journeying began with listening sessions in parishes throughout the world early in 2022 and was Stage One of the process.

Stage Two has included each Diocese synthesizing the parish consultation reports then sending them to their national bishop’s conferences (in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). Each conference then synthesized the diocesan documents and sent their national report to the Vatican.

The Vatican organized groups of theologians, lay people, ordained ministers and others to analyze the hundreds of national reports from throughout the world and write a synthesis report. The resulting 45-page document is titled “Enlarge the space of your tent” (Is 54:2). It is described as a “working document for the continental stage” and was studied by many groups from every nation organized into seven continental regions. Delegations of lay people, priests, bishops, consecrated persons and others comprised the regional consultations whose reports will be sent to Rome in preparation for Stage Three.

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne appointed five Vermont delegates to participate in the consultations of the North American region, consisting of Canada and the United States: Katharin Brink, Essex Catholic Community; Monica Cayia, St. Mark Parish in Burlington; Deacon Chris Noble, St. Anthony Parish in White River Junction; Ellen Kane, Cathedral of St. Joseph in Burlington; and Joseph Gainza, St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier.

Stage Three, the final stage, will take place in October 2023 and October 2024 at the Vatican and will include bishops and lay members.

At the meeting I attended, one of 14 that took place that day, women and men of various ages, including several young adults and a priest from Newfoundland, discussed the continental stage document. I was struck by the general tone of the conversation. It seemed the consultation process already had affected how lay participants see ourselves. We spoke not “to” the Church but “from” the Church in recognition that all the faithful are the Church, the People of God.

By journeying together, listening to one another and prayerfully listening for the movement of the Holy Spirit, all the faithful take on the responsibility of fulfilling the mission of the Church to proclaim Jesus as Lord.

This is truly a remarkable event in the history of the Church; comparable to the transformation initiated by Vatican II (1962-65) and, in fact, in many ways a logical outgrowth of that council.

—Joseph Gainza is a synod delegate from St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier.

—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.