What is the Continental Stage?
The Continental Stage consists of a time of listening and discernment of all of the People of God and of all local Churches on a continental basis, leading to a series of continental assemblies.
This does not mean a replication of the consultation, listening and discernment that has already taken place, which was an invitation to all of the people of God. This is, rather, a deepening of that discernment process by the people identified to represent the local churches in the pre-assembly processes prior to each Continental Assembly.
This Continental Stage is marked by the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS), which will be written after careful reflection on the fruits of the first stage from syntheses of all of the Episcopal Conferences of the Universal Church, as well as the Eastern Churches, and groups such as lay movements and so on. The DCS will be released at the end of October.
Why was this stage added?
This Continental Stage is part of this synodal process to emphasise the dialogical movement between the universal Church and the particular Church (cfr. CIC 368; Communionis Notio n.7). This process involves a discernment on the main synodal theme “how we walk together today” and its priorities are developed in a manner as inclusive as possible. We are convinced that a synodal Church is a Church of local churches with the vision of a mutual dialogue and connection between the universal Church and the particular Church.
When does the Continental Stage start? In a very general and functional sense, the Continental Stage begins after the local-National Stage, which mainly started last 17th October 2021 and completed last 15th August 2022. However, it is hoped that the worldwide synodal process opened by Pope Francis last 9-10 October 2021 will have a continuity among stages, and a seamless movement from one to the other.
Will there then be five continental meetings?
No. Although referred to as the “Continental Stage”, the proposed subdivision does not correspond exactly to the five continents.
What is the goal of this Continental Stage?
The intent of the continental stage is to deepen our discernment 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, now at a continental perspective. This stage is not yet 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, that is, to its very being and acting. As a dynamism of ecclesial life, it is a learning by doing process. For this reason, the process of rediscovering this dynamism of ecclesial life, begun in this particular Synod with the diocesan phase, does not, nor can it, have an end, a limit, a deadline by which to acquire it or not.
Synodality is like 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- discernment according to the guidelines of their respective pastors.
How and when will these continental meetings take place? How will individual believers be able to participate in them?
This specific process related to the Continental Assemblies 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.
We have the fervent hope that, following the release of the Document for the Continental Stage, the thousands of local groups that were assembled for the local stage will then also extend their reflection on this document to continue deepening themselves in their own local synodal processes with the guidance of their pastor.
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.
(From Vatican Synod office.)