Ten Fordham undergraduates and one graduate student arrived in Rome on Saturday to observe Pope Francis’ historic Synod on Synodality and participate in related events.

The gathering was convened by the pope so that representatives from all areas of the church, from cardinals to lay people, could focus on synodality–the process of working together on how the church will move forward. This meeting is the first of its kind to include women as voting delegates.

“I feel so blessed to be a part of this,” said Mollie Clark, a Fordham junior.

“Women’s voices are being honored and heard for the first time in the synodal process. This is such an affirming thing,” said Clark, who acknowledged “a lot of internal struggle at times” with the church’s stance on women’s participation. “I know that God is listening to my voice.”

A Global Conference

David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture and a former Vatican reporter who will accompany the group, said, “It’s simply a global conversation that is the fruit of two years of listening.” 

Pope Francis asked for churches and dioceses all over the world to survey clergy and lay members alike as a prelude to the meeting, which he opened on Oct. 4. As part of this process of synodality, or “journeying together,” the same discussions were happening in nations across the globe about how to be a more inclusive church, a less clerical church, said Gibson, as well as how to increase the role of women and young people.

Fordham is the only Jesuit university to send a student group to Rome for this synod convened by Pope Francis–the first Jesuit pope.

Students and faculty in Rome, group shot

Church on the Go

In the spring, Vanessa Rotondo, Fordham adjunct professor and deputy chief of staff to the  University’s president, Tania Tetlow, organized a screening of the Hulu documentary The Pope: Answers and was amazed at the high student turnout.

That event inspired her to propose a course called Church on the GO: Theology in a Global Synod to further “develop student understanding of the postmodern church in tandem with and in light of the Synod on Synodality.” Earlier this year, she traveled to Rome to pursue permission for its students to take part in synod-related events.

Student Itinerary

Rotondo and Gibson developed a series of activities for the students while they are in Rome. They will hear from synodal leaders such as Sister Nathalie Becquart, a voting member who helped facilitate the pope’s canvassing of church members worldwide; join press conferences; and take part in community engagement projects with both Villa Nazareth, a house of humanistic and spiritual formation for college students, and Sant’Egidio, a social service agency focused on global peace and interfaith dialogue. The group will also spend time at the School of Peace, where they will participate in an interfaith prayer service and prepare and distribute meals to people experiencing hunger and homelessness. 

Rotondo also devised two leadership sessions with the grassroots organization Discerning Deacons that are rooted in active listening and the synodal process. The goal is to give the students a sense of how the synod is working and train them in Ignatian reflection so they can devise an action plan to enhance Fordham’s mission and Catholic identity when they return.

Former Vatican reporter David Gibson speaks with students ahead of their trip to Rome.

‘Our Church is Alive’

AnnaMarie Pacione, a Fordham sophomore in the group, said the synod gives her hope.

“Our church is alive, and it’s growing, and it’s breathing and listening to everyone, as it should,” she said. “It’s more reflective of God’s love, Jesus’s love, as I know it, with this commitment and responsibility to listen to voices that have been suppressed in the past.”

A Blog for Dispatches

The students will post to the Sapientia blog of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture throughout their weeklong trip and will document their experience on the Instagram account @synodalfordham.

In addition to Clark and Pacione, the Fordham students include Eli Taylor, a theology master’s student; Fordham College at Rose Hill seniors Augustine Preziosi and Sean Power; Fordham College at Rose Hill junior James Haddad; Fordham College at Rose Hill sophomores Abigail Adams, Seamus Dougherty, Jay Doherty, and Kaitlyn Squyres; and Fordham College at Lincoln Center junior William Gualtiere.

John Cecero, S.J., Fordham’s vice president for mission integration and ministry, and Michael Lee, Ph.D., director of the Francis & Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, are accompanying the group.


Jane Martinez is director of media relations and deputy University spokesperson at Fordham. She can be reached at [email protected] or (347) 992-1815.