“A Synod is celebrated”, and thus it is not appropriate to subject it to “the mechanism of ‘scoop’, of sensational news”. At the same time, this is the key factor and the invitation to be considered for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be based on the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”. These comments were made by the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, streaming live from the Holy See Press Office to present the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum for the Synod on synodality: two instruments developed by the General Secretariat to enliven the first phase of the synodal itinerary in view of the assembly’s celebration.
“And if at last the Synod is no longer reduced to an assembly event”, the Cardinal noted, but is instead articulated in a step-by-step process, then all the more, “the meaning of the celebration must be affirmed and preserved”. Not because the Synod should be confined to a ritual dimension, but rather in order to highlight its spiritual dimension in this journey of the Church. A Synod, he added, is understood only “in light of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church in her journey through history”.
When the Pope opens the synodal journey on 10 October in Saint Peter’s, an analogous event will follow in every diocese the following Sunday. It is a matter of liturgical celebrations, Cardinal Grech said: in addition to the moments that will prepare and accompany it, there will be two celebrations, one at the level of the universal Church, and the other at the level of the local Church, to build the heart and reveal the sense “of what we are going to do”.
The Secretary General then explained the significance of the two biblical icons that have been chosen: one presents Jesus, with the crowd and his disciples around him. Indeed, a Synod is a journey of discipleship, of following, and a progressive approach to Jesus, entering ever deeper into the logic of the Gospel. The Synod, Cardinal Grech underscored, is a reading and re-reading of the Gospel.
The second icon presents Peter in the home of Cornelius: it is that commencement of a process that will find its solution in the Council of Jerusalem. In this regard, the Cardinal observed that the entire journey of discernment on the question that truly “shook the primitive Church to its foundations is understood only as obedience to the Holy Spirit”.
Indeed, without the Holy Spirit, the Synod would become a game of roles, and the consultation of the People of God, which constitutes the first moment of the synodal journey, “would end up being reduced to an opinion poll, forcing the sensus fidei of the People of God into the mechanism of public opinion”. Not by chance, the Adsumus, Sancte Spiritus — the prayer that was recited at the beginning of every session of the Second Vatican Council — is situated at the beginning of the Vademecum “as the most necessary indication”. The Synod, said the Cardinal, “will succeed or fail to the extent that we trust in the Spirit and entrust to the Spirit all our choices and our projects”.
To understand communion, participation and the mission in light of the principal of synodality, it is important to consider that it is a matter of “a true and proper conversion — not just pastoral but also spiritual — in the footsteps of the Second Vatican Council”. Indeed, synodality is revealed more and more as “the mature fruit of the reception of the Council”, which includes its fundamental ecclesiological principal: the synodal journey begins with the consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches.
On this subject, the Cardinal highlighted that “the consultation of the People of God and the discernment of pastors at the level of national and continental Conferences” are both spiritual moments, that is, “in the Spirit”. The Cardinal then called for reflection on the fact that the task of a journalist is to read reality in the light of correct communication. But this is precisely what provides “the courage to emphasize that it is correct communication to say that a Synod is not a parliament”. And also that “a synodal process is not a game of roles, in which the stronger one conditions and subjugates the other”. A Synod is an experience and exercise in listening to the Spirit by listening to one another.
What the Holy Father expects from this assembly and what the Secretariat intended to do by preparing the synodal journey is to put the entire Church in a position to live an authentic synodal experience; a time of listening to the Spirit in which everyone will learn a form and style of Synodal Church; in which it assumes the choice that is most valuable in a synodal Church: “Journeying together”. To reduce the Synod to issues that have always been debated is to divert or put obstacles in the way of a process that has a single and indispensable objective: to listen to the Spirit while listening to one another, Grech concluded.
Augustinian Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, Under Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, spoke of the diocesan phase of the journey, highlighting four key words: coherence, enthusiasm, creativity and courage. This phase, he said, is already a Synod rather than preparation towards it. It is oriented towards listening and consulting the People of God in every particular Church in order to discern while listening to the Spirit, how to undertake the journey together in one’s own particular Church, as well as what measures should be taken to improve it. True consultation and truly listening to the People of God are indispensable conditions for fruitful listening and discernment of the Spirit, he pointed out. The consultation should be as broad as possible, involve all those who want to contribute to the common good and those on the margins should have the opportunity to express themselves and be listened, the Bishop added. Diocesan bishops will have two instruments to help them: they will be able to appoint a representative and a team for synodality in every diocese, and convene a synodal assembly to help with the final discernment. The Under Secretary also highlighted that the Document and the Vademecum help but do not condition because they are not an imposition but rather an open possibility. Moreover, he continued, the basis of the participation is the experience of Christ, listening to the Spirit and the shared evangelizing mission. It is thus not a battlefield but a joyful and renewing ecclesial experience.
Father Dario Vitali, ordinary professor at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Consultor of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, explained the Preparatory Document, which he defined as a conceptual map that allows us to understand the challenges. What we expect from the Spirit, he said, is to become a Synodal Church.
Professor Myriam Wijlens, who teaches canon law at the University of Erfurt, Germany, also a Consultor for the Synod of Bishops, spoke of the different aspects of synodality. There is the style which is the modus vivendi and operandi with which the People of God live and work, and there are the structures and processes regulated by theology and canon law that must facilitate listening and discernment. The Preparatory Document reminds us that journeying together can be understood in two interconnected perspectives. The first, she said, has to do with the internal life of Churches, including lay people, clergy and religious. It also has an ecumenical dimension because we share the gift of baptism. The second dimension, the professor continued, explores journeying together with the whole human family and is focused on relations with people from other religions, with people who are distant from the faith and with people from specific areas and social groups, such as the poor and the excluded ones.
Sister Nathalie Becquart Xavière, Under Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, presented the Vademecum at the press conference, the result of many good practices gathered from around the world, that is, synodal experiences at different levels. She explained that a commission of 10 people from all the continents and with different responsibilities had worked in a synodal way to edit it. The aim is that the Vademecum will involve people in a spiritual process and the objective of the first few months is that of reaching bishops, diocesan pastoral councils and religious congregations. The challenge, she stressed, is to create the time and space for a synodal experience of listening and discernment.