Francis opens the synod, encouraging the church to master the “art of encounter”


ROME – On October 10, Pope Francis officially launched the Vatican high-stakes two-year synodal process at an opening Mass where he urged the worldwide Catholic Church to master the “art of encounter”.

“Everything changes once we are able to have authentic encounters with him and with each other, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are,” Francis said in a homily at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Synod of Bishops, which emerged from Vatican Council II, was designed in part to provide a mechanism for world church leaders to come to Rome to face certain challenges in the life of the church. Now it’s The recently revamped model adds an additional element that begins with a listening stage with local churches at the diocesan level.

In inaugurating the new process, the Pope declared that the Christian community must reflect the “style of God, who walks the paths of history and shares the life of humanity”.

It is “a time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build relationships, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers,” said Francis.

While some world leaders have created mass appeal by promoting “The art of the market,” the Pope suggested that synodality was the complete opposite of transactional relations.

The “art of meeting”, said François, is marked by listening and the search for understanding of the other.

“Each meeting, as we know, calls for openness, courage and the will to let oneself be challenged by the presence and the stories of others”, declared the Pope.

After decades of ongoing financial and sex scandals plaguing the church, Francis is betting that the synod process – that of a participatory and listening church – will invite greater involvement from all its members and help purge his abuses. to be able to.

Despite the church’s vertical and hierarchical structure, Francis insisted on Sunday that the synod “listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every church, people and nation.”

“Let us ask ourselves: in the Church, are we good at listening? How good is our heart hearing? »François asked. “Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged?

“Let us not silence our hearts,” implored the Pope.

A day earlier, on October 9, Francis addressed delegates from around the world in the Vatican Synod Hall, telling them that this two-year process – which will end in Rome in October 2023 – must include all church members, especially those frequently marginalized.

“We must recognize the frustration and impatience felt by many pastoral agents, members of diocesan and parish consultative bodies and women, who frequently remain on the margins,” he said. “Allowing everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty.

In a room filled with men sometimes called “princes of the church”, the Pope said the synod process should not be an occasional experience but an experience of structural change “where all can feel at home and participate”.

Delegates also heard first-hand testimonies from international participants on Saturday, including Dominique Yon from South Africa, who said the synod must include “those on the periphery, such as those who are persecuted or oppressed because of their age. , their religion, their color or their sex “.

In a pre-recorded video, Dominican Sr. Donna Ciango, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, said the listening process must also include people who have left the Catholic faith.

Jesuit Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and will serve as the general rapporteur of the synod, said that listening “is a shift from a ‘me’ to a ‘we'”.

As general rapporteur, Hollerich will be responsible for drafting many working documents for the synod.

“I must admit that I have no idea what kind of work tool I am going to write,” he said on October 9. “The pages are blank, it’s up to you to fill them in. The only thing I can say is that I will not do it alone. A working tool on synodality can only come from a work of ‘team.”

Over the next two years, many hot topics in the church, such as priestly celibacy, the role of women, and LGBTQ outreach, are likely to become corner issues in the synod process.

Francis told delegates not to be afraid to ask questions and engage in honest and respectful dialogue, while warning that the synod is not a parliamentary or political process.

“It is not necessary to create another church, but to create a different church,” said Francis, drawing on the words of the influential Dominican theologian, Fr. Yves Congar.

“Keep us from becoming a beautiful but silent ‘church-museum’, with a lot of past and little future,” he pleaded.

More than 3,000 tickets were distributed by the Vatican for Sunday’s opening mass, with representatives from all continents present in one of the largest gatherings in the Vatican since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On October 17, bishops from all over the world were invited to celebrate a mass for the opening of the synod in their home dioceses.

“Let’s have a good trip together!” Declared Francis as he concluded his homily on October 10. “May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Spirit.

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