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Synod on Synodality: Gathering and Listening to Diverse Voices

A leaning freeform tree with sun above it on the left. A group of people in silhouette walking together.  They are different colors and sizes.  One person is using a wheelchair. One person is the pope. The youngest is a child and the oldest is an elderly person. It says Synod 2021-2023. Under this picture it says Archdiocese of Newark with its logo. Below that it says For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.

Continued Work in Progress

This page will provide information and resources to help parishes support the participation of individuals with disabilities in the synod process.  Return often for updated resources and references, including adaptations with images and picture exchange communication symbols.

Concerns For A Synod Process Marked By Synodality

These recommendations provide a combination of general guidelines for best practices to adapt and plan accessible events and materials. It will also offer some specific examples for adaptations for individuals who require simpler language and/or pictures. Perhaps you will consider offering a range of options for parishes. The same principles of adapting can be applied to other event plans. 

Ideal Listening Sessions will support diverse gatherings of individuals with and without disabilities and many other diverse characteristics. The suggestions that follow seek to mirror synodality, listening to each other to discern the presence of the Spirit, while “walking together.” 

Don't Individuals with Disabilities Benefit From Separate Environments with Focused Supports?

No. We all learn from each other. More learning and growth happens when we interact with people who are different from ourselves. People from different cultures, people who have different experiences, ways of thinking, processing information and learning. We are one human family. When individuals with disabilities are restricted to segregated spaces, the Church misses the benefit of the increased presence of the Spirit amongst us, within the interactions between the diverse members of the Body of Christ, as well as the missed opportunities for relationships.​*   And individuals with and without disabilities miss opportunities for growth and diverse relationships.  Data shows that they are at significantly increased risk of bullying, physical and sexual violence, and poverty. 

Disability, the Person, and Community

Disability has been with us throughout human history, but the way it is understood has varied and continues to change. Today it is recognized that the experience of disability disability results from the interaction a particular condition and the environment, which includes the physical environment, attitudes of people in the community, and the processes for participation. It is also an ordinary part of being human. These elemnts, as well as respect for the innate dignity of persons with disabilities is a core principle of the ADA, as well as in international statements the World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (WHO ICF) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

More importantly though, it’s a primary understanding within Catholic Social Teaching that individuals with disabilities are all created in the image of God, and therefore equal in dignity within the human family and require access to all that is necessary for a fully human life.  Catholics with disabilities belong to the Church by virtue of their baptism with all that this means, including to participate in the mission of the Church as promised at Baptism.  This also means to be supported by the Church to do this, as the Church promised at their Baptism.

Pope Francis is calling us to take on the mode of synodality as we engage in this process. Throughout all the documents from the Vatican and others it recommended from the Latin American and Australian Churches, the emphasis has been engaging the many diverse voices of the Church and those who have been marginalized within the Church.  This is consistent with the vision and purpose of this Office, that individuals with disabilities be appreciated as integral members of the Body of Christ, which is also based in the mission of the Archdiocese of Newark.

See "What Is Disability" and "Language and Imaging" for more understanding of the diversity across disabilities and what kinds of support will be helpful to facilitate participation in the synod process.  

Source: Materials to be adapted is based on the following source material: the Vatican Vademecum, Preparatory Document and Tools; Latin American and Caribbean Church: Methodological Guide and support materials. Australian Church: Plenary Key Documents and Synodal Documents.

Updated 9/2/2022