Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has incessantly sort to stimulate the Church to continuous regeneration. The rallying cry of his inspiring programme has been, “An outgoing church” from the outset. However, one does not go out to go out, to escape, to disperse; instead, one goes out to meet others, to walk together, and to find oneself.
At No. nine of the Pope’s encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was written together with Benedetto XVI, it states “Faith sees to the extent that it walks.”
Synod, walking together, the shared way (sun - together, odòs - way) is the method Pope Francis has chosen for the renewal of the church. Today more than ever, regeneration is necessary. As María Zambrano, a poet and philosopher, reminds us, what is not reborn never lives fully.
It is in this framework that Francis’ insistence on synodality should be read. This process, which began in 2015 with the synod on the family, will culminate in October 2023 with the synod on the universal church.
It is difficult to ask every parish, every diocese, every Bishops’ Conference to listen (truly) to reality in order to start again, but necessary nonetheless.
This passage is difficult for two reasons: on the one hand, the culture of active and proactive participation is still largely to be constructed, while on the other hand, the ecclesial world tends to synthesize more often according to its own convictions than from listening to reality outside.
However, this step is necessary, because only by coming together as a people on a journey, and by paying attention and listening to the laity, to families, to the concrete lives of people can the Church - but also every other contemporary institution - regenerate itself and respond to the disorientation of the world with a word that is sorely needed today.
It is precisely because it is not a formalism – the reality comes before the idea - the synod inaugurated a method and opened a path the outcomes of which cannot be predicted in advance - time is more important than space. The reason for this is the journey together, and what comes from it, cannot be controlled, in security. After all, a living, dialogic journey is open to the surprises of the spirit, and permits itself to be guided and taught by them.
To walk together requires the wisdom of diversity in unity, while at the same time increasing it. This journey requires the ability not to lose the sense of a common belonging, of a bond that comes before any protagonism (unity is more important than conflict), and which is able to bind people and communities together in a marvelous polyhedron made up of many particular-universals (the whole exceeds each part).
With the resolute determination with which he has inaugurated and pursued this path, which has caused more than a few discontented and perplexed among the clergy, Francis has sent two powerful messages.
The first is to the Church itself: it is time to return to the freshness of the origins, and break away from the “instituted” with a breath of fresh “instituting” air. To worry less about doctrine and orthodoxy and more about listening, welcoming, mercy, because in Jesus truth and love are the same thing.
From the very beginning, the Catholic Church has been a network of local realities -parishes and dioceses- linked by the universal good news. A network of communities, which are very concrete and very human, in continuous tension between the particularity of a place, of a history, of a relational context and the universality of the word “for the whole man and for all men”. Even today, the universal Church is an extraordinarily rich global network, rooted in the concreteness of the local. Yet, she herself struggles to be fully aware of this. How topical would it be today to give a sense of a great universal journey made up of so many diversities, which still manage to speak to each other?
The second message is for contemporary society, which is desperately searching for new points of equilibrium to absorb the lacerating tensions that run through it. Indeed, it is clear that the institutional forms we have –for example, states, companies, markets-are very important but also now inadequate with respect to the issues we face. To start with democracy - the great conquest of western modernity - which is in danger of foundering under the blows of the massifying and depersonalizing impulses from which reactive populisms derive. The ongoing war on Europe’s doorstep is surely proof of this.
The Church of Francis does not have all the solutions to these questions. Nor does she intend to embark on a battle of identity.
Instead, the Church of Francis, like the leaven of the Gospel, points to a new path that one can begin to tread, while attempting an unprecedented experience on a communitarian and institutional level.
It will not be easy. It will take time. Nevertheless, as always, the important thing is to get up and start walking.
That a path has been constructed, and not only in words, is evident. Tt the 2018 youth synod, in one of the informal concluding moments, the young people had greeted the synod fathers and mothers with affectionate provocation.
At the end of the journey, in 2023, there were 54 women who were entitled to vote in the synod, and among them Nathalie Becquart, who in 2021, became the first woman appointed undersecretary of the synod. This is a sign that the church is being shaken by the breath of the (young) spirit, and that the synod is a path of transformation and not just a façade.
By Chiara Giaccardi