July 11, 2023 — Last week, when the Vatican published the list of the 363 women and men who will be voting members at the Synod on Synodality, there was one Jesuit from the United States on that list: Fr. James Martin, SJ.
In addition to bishops who serve as Vatican departments and bishops’ conferences around the world, plus representatives of men’s and women’s religious communities and selected participants from the continental stage of the Synod, Pope Francis personally invited 50 women and men to take part. It is this last group that includes Fr. Martin.
This Synod process has been unique historically, as it has featured listening sessions with the “people of God” all over the world on the joys and challenges of being Catholic today. The Synod participants will weigh and discuss the fruits of this process when they gather for month-long meetings in Rome in October 2023 and October 2024.
Two other participants with deep ties to the Jesuits in the US will be involved in Rome: Julia Oseka, originally from Poland, is an undergraduate student at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Fr. David McCallum, SJ, an American who directs the Discerning Leadership Program headquartered at the Jesuit curia in Rome, will be a non-voting expert at the Synod.
In a recent email exchange, Fr. Martin shared his reaction to the news and what he’s looking forward to during this upcoming stage of the Synod process.
How did you feel when you received word you were being invited to participate in the Synod in this way?
I was both honored and surprised. Someone from the Synod office had alerted me a few days before the announcement was made public, but before that I had zero clue that I’d be invited.
What are you most looking forward to in the process?
Most of all, I’m looking forward to hearing how the Holy Spirit is at work in the People of God. Likewise, it will be interesting to hear the concerns of churches from the developing world and, more generally, from the Global South. And as a Jesuit of course, I’m a firm believer in this kind of group discernment as the optimal way to see where the Holy Spirit might be leading us all.
What do you hope to bring with you to Rome?
In addition to an open mind and heart, I also hope to bring the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties,” to quote Vatican II, of the LGBTQ community. I’m assuming that one of the reasons the Holy Father invited me was to be one of their voices in that meeting. Also, I hope to bring the prayers of my brother American Jesuits with me!
Does this Synod process have any special resonance for you as a Jesuit?
It’s not an original thing to say but I believe that the Synod is a kind of worldwide discernment that the Pope has initiated. And, as I mentioned, as a Jesuit I’m committed to that kind of decision making. (I’m also going to read up on Ignatian communal discernment, since I remember Bill Barry, SJ, once saying that most Jesuits did it wrong!) Also, one of Pope Francis’ greatest strengths comes from his Jesuit background: the reverence for the Holy Spirit alive and active in each person, which I’m sure deepened during his time as a spiritual director, novice director and Provincial. All of these things are very much bound up in the Synod, I think.
Finally, there will be quite a few Jesuits present, with whom I’m looking forward to spending time. All in all, I’m very much looking forward to it.