All the submissions from the parishes, diocese and countries have been received. Now we enter the Continental Phase.
What is the Continental Stage?
Consists of a time of listening and discernment of all the people of God and of all local Churches on a continental basis, leading to a series of continental assemblies.
It is not a replication of the consultation, listening that has already taken place, rather, a deepening of that discernment process by the people identified to represent the local Churches in the Continental Assembly. It is understood that there will be differences in approach that take account of the established practices, cultural and language elements, geography, and organization of each continent. This stage is managed by the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS), which is being written with careful reflection on the syntheses of all the Episcopal Conferences of the Universal Church, Eastern Churches, Religious Institutes, Lay Movements and so on and will be released at the end of October 2022.
Why was this Stage added?
To reflect on the main synodal theme "how we walk together today" and how its priorities are to be developed to be as inclusive as possible. A Synodal Church is made up from local Churches with mutual dialogue and connection between them is what forms one universal Church. We want to strengthen links between neighbouring Churches (cf. Fratelli Tutti n.151) so the Universal Church remains fundamentally relevant, as it has become evident over time that there are dynamics, tensions, challenges, and historical-cultural peculiarities across continental and regional levels.
So, it is important to move away from a merely temporal and spatial vision and adopt a dialogical approach with a single and unique process that always involves, but in a differentiated manner, the entire People of God.
When does the Continental Stage start?
There is no exact starting date as some regions have already activities and changes planned that dovetail with the Continental Stage. The General Secretariat of the Synod advised dioceses to maintain the people and infrastructure used for the listening and discernment thus far, and in doing so are already implementing some of the fruits from that listening process, with greater involvement of lay people in parishes. As this is now the modus vivendi for a synodal Church. All Continents are urged to ensure they have people and processes in place to plan the steps in the journey toward their regional ecclesial assembly to be completed prior to March 31st, 2023.
Will there then be five continental meetings?
The Continental Stage proposed subdivision does not correspond exactly to the five continents. It is better to speak of geographical areas corresponding to the International Meetings of Episcopal Conferences. For this synod, the subdivision is as follows:
Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM)
Africa and Madagascar (SECAM)
Asia (FABC) and Oceania (FCBCO)
North America (USA + Canada)
Middle East (includes Eastern Catholic Churches)
What is the goal of this Continental Stage?
The intent of the continental stage is to deepen our understanding on what has emerged from the previous stage of local and national listening, with the aim of formulating open questions more accurately, and to better substantiate and flesh out the insights coming from the local Churches from a continental perspective. Also, to listen to those on the margins of the Church not integrated in previous stages. This stage is not the time to suggest answers, nor to decide on courses of action.
How does this stage fit into the synodal process?
It is important to understand that synodality was the way of the early Church and consist of a tension and dynamism that belongs to the very identity of the Church. As a dynamic, it is a learning by doing process. So, the process of rediscovering this dynamism, does not, nor can it, have an end, a limit, or a deadline. Synodality is a communion among people, demanding the daily yes of those involved. In this sense, it is important to note that the current process does not end with the diocesan stage, the continental stage, or the celebration of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. These events are integrated into the ongoing unique dynamic of synodal conversion in the Church. Everyone is called to live this call to synodal conversion every day in their faith experience and to continue the concrete work of listening with discernment according to the guidelines of their respective pastors.
The Continental Stage is intended to express continuity between the work of listening-discernment of the local-national level or first stage and the work of listening-discernment of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. This connection will be ensured by working from the Document for the Continental Stage, which is the real working resource, to facilitate the work of dialogue, listening and discernment at the continental level. This document is the fruit of the local church stage, developed from the syntheses received from the people of God.
The Continental Stage is a real process of listening and discernment, on the unique question of how are we “journeying together” to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her, guided by the Holy Spirit.
This specific process begins with the publication of the Document for the Continental Stage, which we expect to be ready by October 2022. This document will be made public and sent to all the bishops of the world. However, it is important to underline that the main subjects of this pre-assembly process are the people identified to represent local Churches at the Continental Assembly. In addition, specific continental Task Forces will be set up to guide the synodal journey within their continent. They will be accompanied by a Task Force of the General Secretariat of the Synod, which has the task of animating the full continental process and of supporting the continental assemblies. As for the continental assemblies, these will take place between January and March 2023. Their contributions will need to be submitted by March 31st.
Who will participate in the Continental Assemblies?
All Continental Assemblies will be Ecclesial Assemblies representing the entire People of God and not only Episcopal Assemblies. The participants will represent the variety of the People of God: bishops, priests, deacons, men and women from religious orders, laymen and laywomen. This inclusivity is one of the first fruits of the ongoing synod process.
The bishops are encouraged to have their own specific time to meet with one another, and collegially reread and reflect on the synodal experience, so ensuring the agreed authenticity and freedom of the path that was taken before the Lord in completing this document.
Continental Assemblies continue the work of listening and discernment of the local phase, they represent an opportunity to listen to those persons or groups that might have been excluded in the previous stage, particularly those living in conditions of poverty and marginalisation. We also hope for the participation of fraternal delegates from other Christian denominations and representatives of other religions and faith traditions, as well as some people with no religious affiliation but aware of the importance of "walking together" also for our societies. Always keeping in mind, the desire of a broad representation of the diversity of the Church.
The Continental Stage will conclude in each 'continent' with the drafting of a Final Document of the Continental Stage. This document will be the fruit of an authentically synodal path, respectful of the synodal process reflecting the voice of the People of God within the Continent.