The Vatican

Keys and risks of a Synod that aims to involve the whole Church

The long-awaited Synod, which involves the universal Church, has begun. With the coordinates offered by the Pope at the opening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica this Sunday, the particular churches have the keys to the development of this synodal process.

Giovanni Tridente-October 12, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes
pope synod mass

Photo: ©2021 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On Saturday, October 9, 2021, the synodal process that will involve the universal Church until 2023 was officially opened with the theme "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission".

In his words, Pope Francis outlined the expectations of this new process of listening and discernment of the entire People of God, which in recent years has been substantially renewed also in its form, as we have already reported in other articles.

The Holy Spirit as protagonist

What stands out most in the Pontiff's vision and wishes for this three-stage appointment, which now begins with the participation of the local Churches, is the need to reserve a privileged place for the Holy Spirit. He must be the absolute protagonist, who "will guide us and give us the grace to go forward together". Without him, Pope Francis categorically said, "there will be no Synod".

Without the Holy Spirit there will be no Synod.

Pope Francis

In the end, it will be the Holy Spirit who will free us "from all closed-mindedness", revive "what is dead", loosen "the chains" and spread "joy": "He who will lead us where God wants us to go, and not where our ideas and our personal tastes would lead us".

As we can see, this is not an aspect to be underestimated, precisely because the attitude that should animate the Pope, the Bishops, the priests, the religious and the lay faithful should be that of openness to the newness that God wants to suggest to the Church, not to make it "other" but certainly to make it "different", not "a museum Church, beautiful but mute, with much past and little future".

The Holy Father repeated at the end of his words, that this be a synodal experience in which "we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by disenchantment, we do not dilute prophecy, we do not end up reducing everything to sterile discussions".

Three key words

In his address, the Pope then mentioned three key words that should animate this great gathering of people: communion, participation and mission. Communication and mission are part of the very nature of the Church, through which she contemplates and imitates, among other things, the Holy Trinity. But they could remain abstract concepts if they were not linked precisely to participation, which should be the ecclesial practice as an expression of "synodality in a concrete way," with the goal of truly involving every baptized person.

In fact, this is precisely what it is all about, so that everyone can participate: "it is an essential ecclesial commitment!

Three risks

This occasion of meeting, listening and reflection, which should be lived "as a time of grace," is not exempt from at least three risks, according to Pope Francis. The first of these is "formalism," reducing the Synod to a façade event, losing the opportunity for healthy discernment and ending up falling into the usual "verticalist, distorted and partial visions of the Church, of the priestly ministry, of the role of the laity, of ecclesial responsibilities, of the roles of government, among others."

Finally, there is the risk of "immobilism" - "a poison in the life of the Church" - which can lead to the adoption of "old solutions for new problems; a new piece of cloth, which as a result causes a bigger tear".

Three opportunities

Of course, all this also brings with it "three great opportunities," the Pope added in his address: To move "structurally" toward a synodal Church, a place where everyone feels at home and feels the desire to participate; to become a "Church of listening," learning first of all to "listen to the Spirit in adoration and prayer," since many have lost the habit and the notion of it; finally, the possibility of becoming a "Church of closeness," faithful precisely to the spirit of God, which always works with "closeness, compassion and tenderness." A Church, in short, "that does not separate itself from life, but takes on the frailties and poverties of our time".

Three attitudes

In the Opening Mass of the Synod -celebrated on Sunday, October 10, in St. Peter's Basilica, with the participation of more than three thousand faithful, many of them delegates from the International Meetings of Bishops' Conferences, members of the Roman Curia, fraternal delegates, members of consecrated life and ecclesial movements, and young people from the International Consultative Body, the Pontiff summarized the three attitudes that must ultimately animate this synodal process. They are encounter, listening and discernment, borrowing the Gospel story of the rich man who meets Jesus, offered by the liturgy.

Certainly, doing Synod "means walking together in the same direction," Francis said. And on this journey "we are called to be experts in the art of encounter", that is, not only to organize events, but above all to take "time to be with the Lord and to favor the encounter among ourselves", giving space for prayer and adoration and allowing ourselves to be "touched by the requests of women and men", receiving the enrichment of the diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries in the Church.

That said, a true encounter is born of listening, and in the case of the Synod this means listening first of all to the Word of God "together with the words of others" in order to "discover with disquiet that the Holy Spirit always speaks in surprising ways, giving rise to new directions and new languages". This requires, as the Holy Father said the day before, making oneself available "to the concerns and hopes of every Church, of every people and nation", and "to the world, to the challenges and changes it sets before us".

After having known and heard, one cannot leave things as they are, so discernment comes to the rescue, especially spiritual and therefore ecclesial, "which takes place in adoration, in prayer, in contact with the Word of God".

Openness in the dioceses of the world

With these indications of the Pontiff, which will serve as a compass for the development of the journey, and following the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum made available by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the synodal journey is ready to begin in each particular Church of the five continents, with the presence of the Bishop starting on Sunday, October 17, for the first stage that will conclude in April of next year.

The next stage, the continental stage, will take place from September 2022 to March 2023, during which the text of the first Instrumentum laboris will be discussed. In the last stage, the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in October 2023, followed by the implementation phase.

All the updates of this great involvement of the People of God can be followed on the multilingual site

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