The Vatican

Francis urges a "Church open to all" at the start of the Synod

The Holy Father outlined this morning, in memory of St. Francis of Assisi, the profile of the Church he desires, at the opening Mass of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod in Peter's Square. A "Church with doors open to all", that sees humanity with mercy, that listens and dialogues, that welcomes, and that "is neither rigid nor lukewarm, nor tired". The Synod "is not a polarized parliament, but a place of grace and communion," he said.

Francisco Otamendi-October 4, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes

Synod working groups gathered in the classroom ©CNS photo/Lola Gomez

Pope Francis presided this morning in St. Peter's Square, accompanied by the new cardinals and the members of the College of Cardinals, the Opening Mass of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in which he offered to the 464 participants in the Synod and to all the faithful a profile of the Church he desires in these times, whose central characteristic must be a "Church with doors open to all, to all, to all", he repeated on three occasions.

In the Pope's homily, based on the merciful gaze of Jesus and in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, whom he called "a witness of peace and fraternity," perhaps two or three paragraphs stand out in which he outlines in a particular way his vision of the Church.

"This is the fundamental question. This is the main task of the Synod," he pointed out at a central moment of his reflection: "to put God back at the center of our gaze, to be a Church that sees humanity with mercy. A Church that is united and fraternal, that listens and dialogues; a Church that blesses and encourages, that helps those who seek the Lord, that healthily shakes the indifferent, that sets in motion itineraries to instruct people in the beauty of the faith".

Dispelling "fears

"A Church that has God at the center and, therefore, does not create division internally, nor is it harsh externally. This is how Jesus wants his Church, his Bride." "Jesus' gaze of blessing invites us to be a Church that does not face today's challenges and problems in a spirit of division and conflict, but, on the contrary, turns her eyes to God who is communion and, with wonder and humility, blesses and adores him, recognizing him as her only Lord." 

An idea that is completed with his final words in the homily of the Eucharistic Celebration: "And if the holy People of God with their pastors, coming from all over the world, nourish expectations, hopes and even some fears about the Synod that we are beginning, let us remember once again that it is not a political meeting, but a convocation in the Spirit; not a polarized parliament, but a place of grace and communion".

"The Holy Spirit often undoes our expectations to create something new that surpasses our forecasts and negativities. Let us open ourselves and invoke the Holy Spirit. He is the protagonist. And let us walk with Him, with trust and joy," the Roman Pontiff said.

A Church "that becomes a colloquy" (St. Paul VI)

"The welcoming gaze of Jesus also invites us to be a Church that welcomes, not with closed doors," the Pope pointed out. "In a complex era like the present, new cultural and pastoral challenges arise, which require a cordial and friendly interior attitude, in order to be able to confront each other without fear. In synodal dialogue, in this beautiful "march in the Holy Spirit" that we carry out together as the People of God, we can grow in unity and friendship with the Lord in order to observe today's challenges with his gaze; to become, to use a beautiful expression of St. Paul VI, a Church that "becomes a colloquy" (Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam, n. 34)." 

Meditating on the words of Jesus in the Gospel, Francis added: "It is a Church "of a gentle yoke" (Mt 11:30), which does not impose burdens and which repeats to all: "Come, all you who are afflicted and burdened, come you who have lost your way or who feel far away, come you who have closed the door to hope, the Church is here for you, the Church of doors open to all, to all, to all," he reiterated in various ways.

A Church that is "neither rigid nor lukewarm".

The traits of the Church according to Francis also warn about some temptations that can arise. This is how the Pope commented. "Brothers and sisters, holy People of God, in the face of the difficulties and challenges that await us, the gaze of Jesus, who blesses and welcomes, frees us from falling into some dangerous temptations: that of being a rigid Church, that of being rigid against the world and looking to the past; that of being a lukewarm Church, which surrenders to the fashions of the world; that of being a tired Church, turned in on itself. 

At this point he referred to the saint of poverty, St. Francis of AssisiLet us walk in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint of poverty and peace, the "madman of God" who bore in his body the wounds of Jesus and, in order to clothe himself with Him, stripped himself of everything. St. Bonaventure recounts that, while he was praying, the Crucifix said to him: "Francis, go and repair my house" (Legenda maior, II, 1)". 

Weapons of the Gospel: "humility, unity, prayer, charity".

"The Synod serves to remind us that our Mother Church is always in need of purification, of being "repaired", because we are all a People of forgiven sinners, always in need of returning to the source, which is Jesus, and setting out once again on the paths of the Spirit so that his Gospel may reach everyone", the Holy Father added.

"Francis of Assisi, in a period of great struggles and divisions between temporal and religious power, between the institutional Church and heretical currents, between Christians and other believers, did not criticize or attack anyone, but only embraced the weapons of the Gospel: humility and unity, prayer and charity. Let us do the same!".

"Jesus is not overcome by sadness."

In outlining this profile, the Pope relied in particular on a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in order to encourage in the face of sadness or discouragement. The Gospel recounts "a difficult moment in the mission of Jesus, which we could define as pastoral desolation," Francis said. Doubts of John the Baptist, cities that had not converted, people who accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard... However, "Jesus does not allow himself to be overcome by sadness, but raises his eyes to heaven and blesses the Father because he has revealed to the simple the mysteries of the Kingdom of God".

"Put God at the center of our gaze."

Francis cited some of his predecessors. In addition to St. Paul VI, in the reference to a Church "that becomes a colloquy", he also did so with St. John XXIII, in his opening address to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, on October 11, 1962, when he pointed out that "first of all it is necessary that the Church not depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers; but, at the same time, she must look to the present, to the new conditions and forms of life introduced in the present world, which have opened new paths for the Catholic apostolate".

Likewise, at the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father mentioned Benedict XVI, who, in addressing the XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2012, pointed out: "The question for us is: God has spoken, he has truly broken the great silence, he has shown himself, but how can we bring this reality to the people of today, so that it may become salvation?"

The answer was mentioned at the beginning of these lines, when Francis pointed out that "the fundamental question", "the main task of the Synod" is "to put God back at the center of our gaze, to be a Church that sees humanity with mercy".

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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