The theme for the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – Synod on synodality is Participation, Communion and Mission (Vademecum, # 1.4). Synod on synodality will attempt to underscore the importance of journeying together as the people of God through a life of listening to one another and the Holy Spirit (Vademecum, # 1.3).
Synodality, historically, is a characteristic of the Church and ought to be the style of being a Church. In the wisdom of Pope Francis, the Synod on synodality should not be a simple meeting of Church leaders, but rather a synodal process in which everyone would have a voice. That is, laity, clergy, young and old, women and men alike, through listening, entering into conversations, consultations, and encounters towards renewing a key aspect of being a Church (Preparatory Document # 14 and 15).
As a process, journeying together in consultations, conversations, and dialogue commenced in October 2021, leading to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of Synod of Bishops (Vademecum # 1). Synthesis from the various continents suggest that consultations and listening circles happened across the globe from the local parishes to the national and continental level so far. While this is important and commendable, noticeable is the fact that listening and consultations did not focus on the domestic Churches, that is, the Christian families. This process constitutes an intense moment of learning how to make synodality a style of being a Church. However, the concept of the role of Christian families as the basic and fundamental locus for synodality has not been given much attention. It can also be said to be one of the least commonly expressed or discussed issues throughout the experience of synodality. However, it is an indispensable topic for discussion if indeed the Christian community can emerge as a synodal community.
My proposition is that the role of Christian families in synodality is not banal, rather, it is a pivotal and indispensable component of it.
The Central Principle Of Synodality
Synodality simply means walking together, listening to one another, and most importantly listening to the Holy Spirit (Vademecum # 1.2). To be precise, it involves a journey in communion for progress – walking forward (Vademecum # 1.2). From this background, one observes that listening is an important dynamic for the emergence of a synodal Church. Synodality is at the service of the mission of the Church, founded on communion and relies on participation. The mission of the Church is the responsibility of all the baptized. This is founded on the teaching of the Catholic Churchof the common priesthood of all the baptized. In this regard, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), following the theology of the Second Vatican Council, emphasizes that:
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization. (EG., #120).
Thus, irrespective of one’s position or function or vocation in the Church, the mission of the Church is the responsibility of all the baptised. This mission “requires the entire People of God to be on a journey together, with each member playing his or her crucial role, united with each other.” (Vademecum # 1.3). The underlining factor here is, the equal dignity shared through baptism, is the basis for every baptised to be co-responsible for the mission of the Church. This is an invitation to inner examination by each member of the Church to examine their proper vocation and role that requires of it for the promotion of the Kingdom of God. We must be reminded that this invitation is neither a clerical one, nor a sophisticated one. It is a call to live synodality in “the Church’s ordinary way of living and working” (Vademecum 1.2). Thus, in the spirit of synodality, each person drawing grace, strength, wisdom, and sense of responsibility through baptism is called to live ‘synodally’ in one’s vocation, daily experience, and encounters. From this backdrop, those who feel called to this vocation of family life, by virtue of their baptism have the responsibility of living and manifesting the gospel values in that setting. Proper to this understanding, the family is considered ‘the domestic Church’ (Familiaris Consortio# 21, here after referred to as FC).
Mission, Children Upbringing And The ‘Domestic Church’
“The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion” (FC #21). It is a ‘communion of people’ and a prime locus of embodied encounters where the totality of the good news could be experienced through all the senses. The “family receives the mission of safeguarding, revealing and communicating love, as a living reflection and real participation of God’s love for humanity and of the love of Christ the Lord for the Church as his bride” (FC # 17). It is the first point of contact with the mission of the Church– love, hospitality, wellbeing, and being in ‘communion’. “A fundamental moment for building such a communion is constituted by the educational exchange between parents and children (see Eph 6.1-4; Col 3.20ff), in which each gives and receives” (FC #21). This makes the ‘domestic Church’ a place of encounters and mutual learning. The ‘domestic Church’ is also a place of diversity. In Christian families, inter-generational reality, gender perspectives and differences in preferences as it relates to everyday life situations is experienced. It is also a place to be open to one’s gifts and vulnerabilities, knowing that like in an African village, every member is called to hold one another’s back (living Ubuntu).
In addition, the ‘domestic Church’ also has the element of social function: It is in the ‘domestic Church’ that bonds of solidarity and loyalty are created, trust is nurtured, and love becomes lived. It is the first place to learn how to share – moments of joys and sorrows, times of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
Synodality relies on the understanding of the common priesthood of all the baptised that calls for co-responsibility in the mission of the Church (C.f. Instrumentum laboris # 20). All the baptised are Priests, Prophets, and Kings (CCC #1241) called with equal dignity and equally responsible for the mission of the Church. Synodality is walking together, journeying together towards the one common mission of the Church, the evangelising mission of the Church. This demands a shared vision, participation, communion, unity among people, unity among believers, unity among Churches, and unity between the Church and the world or society.
Towards The Emergence Of Synodal ‘Domestic Churches’
The Christian families live in a Church that is awakening an essential characteristic in it – Being a synodal Church. Therefore, as Christian families, domestic Churches are equally challenged to a life of “journeying together.”
With reference the Ghanaian context, one could say that children and young people today are faced with enormous challenges ranging from negative peer influence, exposure to use of addictive substances, and this leads to involving in rioting and violent acts of destruction to lives and property. These challenges lead to moral decline. Moral decline is a contemporary social problem linked to societal failure to give proper character formation through the formal school systems. Nonetheless, a central point that is often given less attention is the importance of paternal/maternal listening for moral upbringing of Children. Psychologist have established that there is a relationship between conversations, that is, atmosphere that allows personal narratives by children and moral development of Children.
The “personal narratives contain clear ethical dimensions since narratives are not simply a report of what happened but also an evaluation of what happened in terms of what events mean for self.” From this background, one could say that a culture of listening is pivotal component for the proper upbringing of Children. This makes the ‘domestic Church’ the first place where synodality should be lived. Synodality offers some important lessons for the emergence of a synodal ‘domestic Church’:
Firstly, synodality has the dimension of mutual listening and mutual speaking. Listening, therefore, is the method appropriate for synodality to occur. The purpose of listening is so that diversity of perspectives can be understood, can be appreciated, and can be translated into bridges that make journeying together possible. This means that dialogues and conversations, that respect inter-generational differences, and genuine conversations lead to discernment.
Secondly, as the Instrumentum Laboris, further elaborates, listening in synodality has a pneumological dimension. Thus, Christians are called upon to have moments of prayerful conversations using the so-called method of Listening in the Spirit (See: Instumentum Laboris # 31-42). This method is equally important for use in family setting as it supports discernment. Acknowledging that discernment requires a deep spiritual process, the conversation in the Spirit method involves praying (together), listening to the Word, moments of silent reflections, sharing, listening to each other and, above all, to the Holy Spirit (See: Instumentum Laboris # 31-42). This method helps listening to move from the ‘I’ to ‘We’. It acknowledges both convergence and divergence while drawing consensus.
Thirdly, synodality, emphasizing on inclusion of all the baptised in decision-making process, invites us to break out of our routine (we cannot continue to hold on to our old ways) in order to listen to the Spirit (the principal agent of evangelization) and to listen to each other (as co-responsible, collaborators, as co-servants) because the Church is richer in relying on the various gifts and contributions from all her members. As an African proverb says: “together we are stronger.” This dynamic is important in the ‘domestic Church’ where every “members of the family, each according to their own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’’’ (FC # 21).
Synodal domestic Churches benefit the evangelizing mission of the Church in many ways. Family listening circles will be one effective way of building a culture of listening, where children are free to share their personal narrative and what that means to them. Family members express themselves and allow the Holy Spirit to guide them through active listening for consensus building. In such a context, parents can identify the needs of children and support them in arriving at decisions that will support their integral growth and moral development.
Furthermore, when active listening occurs in Christian families, it helps young people to grow in faith. Children can ask relevant questions in relation to their faith, bring forth their fears and concerns and seek help when necessary. It will support the building of a strong and clear identity in faith. It will support the realisation of the dignity of each one leading to the readiness to share and learn from others based on formed identities and convictions. This is where they learn to listen, share, and serve. As John Paul II cautions parents to note that the first formation of priests and, in fact, all the other vocations, which are equally important for the evangelising mission of the Church, happens in the hands of the parents (Ref. Pastores Dabo Vobis, #41).
The emergence of synodal Christian families cannot be realised if left to happenstances. This requires a deliberate pragmatic approach that creates awareness, educates, and forms Christians in the conception of the Church as synodal. In this respect, formation programmes that focuses on synodality in the domestic Church are imperative. It is precisely so for the safeguarding of minors in many ways.
The Church’s effort at renewing this essential aspect of her being synodal needs to be carried out with a deeper reference to the family. This is why it is important to understand how synodality can help Christian families in this sense. Besides, the African concept of the family could be a model of such a place of serendipity. A place where the Church is invited to muster the courage to trust that the Holy Spirit is present in the journey of listening to one another.
The discussion on synodality must come down to this level of the domestic Church. We must refrain from continuing the discussion on synodality at a level that is detached from the basics, that is detached from this domestic reality, which is an important component if we can indeed emerge as a synodal ecclesial community.
 The Vademecum and Preparatory Document referred to in this article are the ones for the Synod on Synodality and is available at: https://www.synod.va/en/news/the-vademecum-for-the-synod-on-synodality.html and https://www.synod.va/en/news/the-preparatory-document.htmlrespectively.
 Synthesis from the continental assemblies are available at: https://www.synod.va/en/synodal-process/the-continental-stage/final_document.html.
 The “Instrumentum laboris”, the Working Document, of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the first session is available at: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2023/06/20/230620e.pdf.
 For an example of youth violence which is reported regularly in the media, see: Nana Yaw Gyimah, “40 Students Arrested for Vandalism at Krobea Asante Technical and Vocational School” in MyJoyOnline, available at: https://www.myjoyonline.com/40-students-arrested-for-vandalism-at-krobea-asante-technical-and-vocational-school/ (accessed 23/10/2023).
 Tianlong Yu, In the Name of Morality: Character Education and Political Control (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2004), 54.
 Allison Dibianca Fasoli explores this dynamic in “Conversations and Moral Development,” in The Oxford Handbook of Moral Development: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Lene Arnett Jensen: 482-499 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 486.
 Fasoli, “Conversations and Moral Development”, 486.