The “Working Document for the Continental Stage” of the global Synod was released last week with the title “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent,” a reference to Isaiah 54, which serves as a metaphor for one of the central themes of the document—the call for a more welcoming Church. The desire for a Church that is more welcoming appeared throughout the document, echoing calls that came from different Churches from all around the world, such as the United States, Germany, Zimbabwe, and the Greek Melkite Church.
The document went on to say that there were certain groups around the world that consistently felt unwelcome in the Church: “Among the most frequently mentioned excluded groups are: the poorest, the lonely elderly, indigenous peoples, migrants without any affiliation and who lead a precarious existence, street children, alcoholics and drug addicts, those who have fallen into the plots of criminality and those for whom prostitution seems their only chance of survival, victims of trafficking, survivors of abuse (in the Church and beyond), prisoners, groups who suffer discrimination and violence because of race, ethnicity, gender, culture and sexuality. In the reports, all of them appear as people with faces and names, calling for solidarity, dialogue, accompaniment and welcome” (no. 40).
The metaphor of the big tent is appropriate for the aims of the synod, because, as the document points out, “This tent is a space of communion, a place of participation, and a foundation for mission” (no. 11).
Writing for National Catholic Reporter, Christopher White’s analysis focuses on many of the groups who have felt unwanted by the Church. He writes that the document “reckons with a number of topics once considered taboo in the Catholic Church, including women’s ordination, LGBTQ relationships, children of priests, sexism and clergy sexual abuse.”
Christopher Lamb’s column for The Tablet focuses on women’s issues and the urgency with which the Synod’s participants want to see them addressed: “The role and vocation of women are described as a ‘critical and urgent area,’ with the document calling for further discernment is needed on how to include women in governance roles, the possibility of preaching and the female diaconate.”
Our friend Austen Ivereigh was among the members of the drafting committee who met in Frascati, Italy, to synthesize reports from around the world to create this document. He has a reflection in America about the experience. He writes about the importance that the document reflect the voices of the People of God, and the need to avoid giving into the temptation to theologize or make abstract the concrete words of the people of God:
The temptation to theologize, as if what the people had said could not be allowed simply to stand, was ever present in Frascati, an understandable resistance among highly competent and educated people to the humility our synthesizing demanded of us.
In the groups, I experienced the temptation as a kind of dead weight of dullness and banality, and I found it frustrating. Just let the people speak! This became my prayer and my hope for the document. Cardinal Grech and Father Costa were aware of the temptation, too, and went out to meet it. “We have been summoned here with the task of listening to the people of God,” Cardinal Grech reminded us. “If in our synthesis we do not represent what the people of God are trying to say, then we have failed.”
The message landed. The final document stays rooted in the people. But having experienced the temptation in our groups, I became aware of how hard it is, in synodal processes, to really listen to the people, especially for those of us accustomed to analyzing and opining.
There will certainly be much more dialogue, tension, and conflict in the Church over the next two years of this process. This document, remember, is a synthesis of what Catholics would like to see addressed. But there are many disagreements about how these issues should be addressed. Here comes everybody and all that. And plenty of people, especially those with ideologies and rigid agendas will walk away sad. Others will sense the Holy Spirit at work, experience conversion, and be renewed. Some will finally feel listened to. Hopefully the Church will benefit from this grand experiment. Ultimately it will fall to the Successor of Peter to discern what God is asking of the Church when the circus finally ends.
Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.
With thanks to Where Peter Is and Mike Lewis, where this article originally appeared.