Synod Synthesis and Vibrant Ecumenical Dimension

By Harry Winter, O.M.I.

The October 2023 Synod began on Sept. 30, with the most amazing Ecumenical Prayer Service since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965 (click here for the hour-long service as described by, Synodality and the Oblates, Part 7, Oct. 4, 2023). The Synthesis devotes #6 of Part One, with 12 paragraphs [a-l] to “The Eastern Churches and the Latin Church Traditions.”  This part of the Synthesis will be examined later. I will concentrate here on #7 of Part One, “On the Road Towards Christian Unity.”

Twelve “fraternal delegates” were invited from four major Christian traditions:  three from the Orthodox Church, three from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, three from the Mainline Protestant Churches (Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, and World Communion of Reformed Churches), and three from Free Churches/Evangelical-Pentecostal(World Baptist Alliance, World Pentecostal Fellowship and Disciples of Christ).  Of the six attending from the Protestant Churches, one is a woman, Dr. Elizabeth Newman, of the World Baptist Alliance.

The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity made it quite clear that these twelve fraternal delegates were “not only observers, but are invited to participate in the discussions, particularly in the Minor Circles” (News, Sept. 25, 2023). And the Synthesis itself spoke of “the active participation of fraternal delegates” as being one of the “new experiences” which gave the delegates “the evangelical joy of being the People of God” (#20a).

The Synthesis of Oct. 28th called the Ecumenical Prayer Service of Sept. 30 “a profound ecumenical gesture. . . . This highly significant event also allowed us to recognize that we are in an ecumenical kairos [critical time] and to affirm that what unites us is greater than what divides us” (6a).

The Synod members then linked the baptism of every Christian with both ecumenism and the sensus fidei, the Latin term indicating that the laity must be consulted in any matter of importance (7b). The attitude of the faithful is at the very root of the effort to include the laity in synods, councils and discussions.  Without the laity, not only Roman Catholic laity, but every baptized Christian, something essential is missing. This paragraph concludes, “There can be no synodality without an ecumenical dimension.”

Paragraph 7c joins “a commitment to the service of those experiencing poverty,” with “processes for repentance and healing of memory.” “Therefore, it is important that ecumenism is practiced first and foremost in daily life.”

The members then observed “In not a few regions of the world there is an ‘ecumenism of blood’, stemming from Christians of different affiliations who give their lives for faith in Jesus Christ” (7d).

After noting that “Collaboration among all Christians is crucial in addressing the pastoral challenges of our time,” especially in “secularized societies” (7e), the document addresses a situation affecting more and more Christians:  “interchurch marriages,” explaining they “may constitute realities in which the wisdom of communion can mature, and it is possible to evangelize each other”  (7f).

After these six “Convergences,” the authors propose four “Matters for Consideration (g-j).  Synodality in the Orthodox Churches and “other ecclesial communities” enriched the debates and “requires further investigation” (7g).

“Ongoing ecumenical dialogues have provided a better understanding, in light of the practices of the first millennium, of the fact that synodality and primacy are related, complementary and inseparable realities,” referring to St. John Paul II’s ecumenical encyclical Ut unum sint, (in which he offered the service of the papacy to other Christian Churches, modifying it for their need: 7h).

Since it affects the growing number of interchurch marriages, 7i needs to be quoted in its entirety:

“We need to examine the issue of Eucharistic hospitality (Communicatio in sacris) from theological, canonical and pastoral perspectives in the light of the link between sacramental and ecclesial communion.  This issue is of particular importance to inter-church couples. It raised the need for a broader reflection on inter-church marriages.”

Let us give a shout out here to Rev. Martin Reardon and his wife Dr. Ruth Reardon, both now deceased.  Along with Father John Coventry, they spear headed this effort through the Association of Inter-Church Families (click here for their Oblate friendship,, Oct. 8, 2015). In Oblate parishes and at our retreat centers, this matter of Eucharistic Hospitality is of prime importance.

The fourth and final matter for consideration presents ” ‘non-denominational’ communities and Christian-inspired ‘revival’ movements, which are also joined in large numbers by faithful who were originally Catholic” (7j).  This vast subject includes Taize, Iona and Focolare, whose Catholics are still faithful, with Focolare having a special place for Muslims. Then groups such as Richard Foster’s Renovare, in which Catholics retain membership while adapting practices from other Christian Churches. And finally, there are groups such as the late Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship, in which Catholics drop their allegiance.

About every fifteen years, the Vatican invites all these renewal groups to come and meet in Rome; many respond.

Section 7 concludes with 5 proposals (k-o).  All easily attained the 75 percent approval of the voting members of the synod. K and l both concern the year 2025, with k recommending that since it is the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 325 AD), “a common commemoration of this event will help us to better understand how in the past controversial questions were discussed and resolved together in Council.” L notices that the date for Easter will coincide in 2025 for all Churches and Christian communities. “The Assembly expressed a keen desire to come to a common date for the feast of Easter so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, our life and our salvation, on the same day.”

M reinforced the role of the fraternal delegates:  “There is also a desire to continue to involve Christians of other Churches and ecclesial traditions in Catholic synodal processes at all levels and to invite more fraternal delegates to the next session of the Assembly in 2024.”  L contines this attention:  “A proposal has been put forward by some to convene an ecumenical Synod on common mission in the contemporary world.”  The final proposal, o, refers back to “ecumenism of blood” (7d) above:  “It was also proposed that we might devise an ecumenical martyrology.”

It is disappointing that Eucharistic Hospitality did not receive a proposal.  This probably means that the Assembly did not think it would receive a 75% majority vote.  But at least this crucial, pastoral matter did make the “Considerations” above.

When the document examines “The Bishop of Rome in the College of Bishops,” (#13), it states “Promoting the unity of all Christians is an essential aspect of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. The ecumenical journey has deepened understanding of the ministry of the successor of Peter and must continue to do so in the future.  Responses to the invitation made by St. John Paul II in the encyclical Ut unum sint, as well as the conclusions of ecumenical dialogues, can help the Catholic understanding of primacy, collegiality, synodality, and their mutual relationships” (b).

Unfortunately, when the document presents Bishops, Clergy, and Consecrated Life, no mention is made of ecumenism as “an essential aspect.”  But when it examines “A synodal approach to formation” (#14), the Assembly requested “conducting ecumenical and interreligious dialogue” as one of the nine areas required (#e).

For Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the emphasis that “Rather than saying the Church has a mission, we affirm that the Church ‘is’ mission” (#8) means that ecumenism is a vital and essential part of mission and the Church. May every Oblate work so that Christian Unity becomes a deeper part of our mission.

On Oct. 25, the Synod participants sent a short, 2 1/2-page “Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God.” This statement, full of the Holy Spirit, contains many of the elements presented above.