Synod on Synodality Journey in a Diocese

Interview with Father Ignacio Blanco, Member of the Synodal Secretariat of Quilmes, Argentina

Synod on Synodality Journey

Pope Francis opened the Synod on Synodality journey on October 9-10, 2021, and the first phase in the dioceses took off on October 17.

The motto of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, called by the Holy Father, is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” The works will last three years and will be articulated in three phases (diocesan and national, Continental and universal) through consultations and discernment, to culminate with the October 2023 Assembly in Rome.

Let us recall that “the concept of synodality refers to co-responsibility and the participation of all the People of God in the life and mission of the Church” [“Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church”). Hence, at present, the Synod is a process of listening to the People of God, of dialogue, and of discernment to clarify God’s Will for His People. The Church is initiating now a synodal process, which will culminate in October 2023 with the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

Exaudi talked with Father Ignacio Blanco, member of the Synodal Secretariat — who animates the “synodal journey” in the Bishopric Quilmes, Argentina –, to learn how this process is unfolding in the dioceses.

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Exaudi: Let’s talk about the Bishopric of Quilmes and your previous experience with the synodal process.

 Father Ignacio Blanco: The Quilmes’ diocese, which Bishop Carlos Jose Tissera is accompanying pastorally today, is divided into five Deanships, and has as its Metropolitan headquarters the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. It includes the districts of Berazategui, Florencio Varela, and Quilmes, which are in the South zone of Greater Buenos Aires, and has a population of 1,325,045 inhabitants (according to the data of the 2010 National Census).

In May of 2018, the Bishop established a six-member Secretariat, headed by Auxiliary Bishop Marcelo Julian Margni (”Maxi”), to begin to think about the 3rd  Diocesan Synod.

The formal convocation of this Synod, by Bishop Carlos, took place in the Cathedral Church on July 8, 2018, seventeen years after the death of the Bishop of Quilmes, Father Jorge Novak. The objective of the 3rd Synod was to rethink the Diocese’s Evangelization in the light of Pope Francis’ Magisterium (especially the Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of t Gospel”). The motto: “Church of Quilmes, Walk with the Joy of the Gospel!”

A broader Commission was appointed early in 2019 (that included the Secretariat), which began to meet weekly. Results from the work of this Commission:

  • Two massive meetings were planned for sensitization and awareness of the communities.
  • Twelve “Pre-Synodal Papers were published (simple instruments of communication and communion, where reflection was carried out on the steps of the synodal journey). Each one of them was configured on a two-sided A4 sheet.
  • The creation of Sub-Commissions was encouraged for the specific endeavor in communication, in the elaboration of surveys and statistics; in the registration of the memory of the journey; in the accompaniment of prayer and spirituality, in the configuration of the necessary canonical instruments.
  • A scheme was proposed to SEE (2019), to JUDGE (2020), and to ACT (2021). A triptych was elaborated to spread this proposal throughout the Diocese. We sent ad hoc files.
  • A diocesan competition was encouraged to get a logotype that would give identity to our walking and the realization of a Synod hymn was commissioned.

During 2019 we worked on surveys and assemblies to highlight data of the diocesan reality in the social, political, economic, environmental, and religious dimensions. The contributions were collected and the main problems of the Diocese were delineated when it came to Evangelization. All the materials of this journeying were “hung” on the Bishopric’s Web page.

Three Forums were projected for 2020, one in each district: in Florencio Varela, with the theme of integral ecology and the Laudato Si Encyclical, at the headquarters of the Arturo Jauretche University, in Berazategui, with the Christus Vivit and the theme of young people in a municipal gymnasium; and the subject of “Land, Roof and Work,” at the headquarters of the University of Quilmes. With the impact of the pandemic, it was decided to try to continue journeying, re-thinking the instruments to continue maturing the synodal journey. Some topics that arose from the “See and Listen” event of the previous year, were worked on through podcasts.

During 2020, meetings were proposed with different realities, including grass-roots Ecclesial Communities, consecrated men and women, Institutes of Diocesan Formation, Vicariate of Solidarity, Movements, and Associations.

In 2021 we made four work notebooks for the Diocese’s communities. In a first notebook, we offered a biblical icon of a compassionate Jesus facing the hungry and suffering multitudes (cf. Mark 6:30-34), a way of taking up the pain and suffering of this time of pandemic. In a second offer, we took up the reality of our people today: the inequality and yearning for another possible world, violence and the culture of peace, the cries of our earth, and care of the common home. A third notebook concerned a “Church going forth,” with special care to reach young people, to discern the use of the networks for the service of the Gospel, to promote an integral proclamation of the Gospel. A fourth notebook was concerned especially with the problems of the ecclesial community: the problem of clericalism and the need to diversify the ministries, the abuse of power and the need for a more helpful and diaconal face, and the role of women in the ecclesial community. Reviewing 2021, we wondered if we could continue this way, with so much difficulty posed by the impossibility of our presence. The lack of an adequate “reception” of all the People of God obliged us to suspend the journey toward an Assembly of the Synod. Our Bishop understood it so and communicated it to the Diocese in September of this year in the Shrine of Lujan.

Exaudi: How have you organized yourselves in the Diocese?

Father Blanco: After the suspension of the Diocesan Synod due to the pandemic, the concern was not to lose all the trajectory since 2019. We regard as providential Pope Francis’ convocation to the Latin American and Caribbean Ecclesial Assembly, to be held in Mexico, and then the proposal of the theme of the Synod of Bishops: “Church and Synodality.”

Then we decided to suggest to the Bishop the configuration of a “Diocesan Council for the Synodal Journey,” the name under which a diocesan pastoral council will be constituted. <It will be> an organ convoked and presided over the Bishop, which will carry forward and promote the study and assessment of the pastoral action of our entire local Church and suggest practical conclusions regarding her.

This Council:

  1. Defines, in the light of the material collected during the preparation of the 3rd Diocesan Synod and others emerging, the topics that will be addressed as a priority and fixed its deadlines;
  2. Designs and coordinates the implementation and supervises the instruments that facilitate the effective treatment of the described topics;
  3. Assures transparent, participatory, and fluid communication with all the People of God and, in particular, with the Presbyteral Council, and with the Presbytery through it, and with the Vicariates and other diocesan services of pastoral animation.;
  4. Generate areas of dialogue and collaboration between diocesan pastoral services in view of the articulation of their tasks and  joint discernment in the described topics, and helps to maintain an integrating vision of diocesan scope, in keeping with the foundational identity channels in which our Diocese expresses and commits its fidelity to the Gospel;
  5. Should the case exist, it delegates in ad hoc Commissions the study of specific problems and receives its conclusions, and
  6. Tries to hear and have the voice heard of all the People of God, gives a formed opinion regarding these same topics, and proposes lines of action that can be put into practice, geared to the good of the diocesan community and its service to the Gospel.

Exaudi: With what materials do you work in the parishes?

Father Blanco: From this “Diocesan Council for the Synodal Journey”  we will work with the material of the consultations carried out with our communities in 2019, where we fully highlighted the reality of our people in their social, political, economic, environmental, and religious aspects.

We carried out these consultations with different realities: priests, deacons, laymen and women, consecrated men and women, individuals outside the ecclesial structures.

We will also add the material of the considerable work of the Ecclesial Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as of the Synod of Bishops in regard to “Church and Synodality,” which appear in the respective Web pages.

Exaudi: How is the consultation being organized in the Diocese’s parishes?

 Father Blanco: The organization of the work regarding the consultation of the People of God in this diocesan stage, will be done by the Council. What we already have is what was worked on in previous years; we don’t have to start from “zero.” Consultation and participation have already taken place. This doesn’t mean that we cease to be open to new contributions that may arise over these months.

Moreover, we are taking part in the meetings of diocesan delegates, which the Argentine Episcopal Conference suggested for the Animation of the Synodal Journey in the atmosphere of the Synod of Bishops. From this delegation and together with the Diocesan Council for the Synodal Journey, the different diocesan entities will be encouraged to take part with proposals, reflections, and initiatives.

Exaudi: What will be done once all the answers of the parishes of the Diocese are received?

 Father Blanco: We have already sent to Mexico some conclusions of our work in the “See and Listen” stage to contribute with a reflection of the Ecclesial Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean. We have also sent a subsidy regarding the problem of “Earth and Habitat” in the diocesan territory, work done from the Diocese’s Social Pastoral ministry.

We will share this material and that which we will add over this time, at the national level, and send it at the end of December or beginning of January for the Synod of Bishops.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester