Press conference on October 5, the morning after the formal opening of the 2023 General Assembly.
What can we expect from this current Synodal Process? Like in any process of authentic discernment that tries to hear God’s will, the short answer is that we don’t really know. There is no pre-set script to this synodal journey. It is a pilgrimage of praying together, listening to one another, and figuring out as a Church what God has to say to us in this period of human history. There are, however, some things that we can be assured will not come out of this Synod. Synods are not about changing our faith. It’s not about changing the Creed or revising the Gospel. For example, there is no question of no longer believing in the resurrection of Jesus. no one will question the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection. Rather, the current Synod is trying to help us become the Church that the Risen Jesus is calling us to be in today’s world, so that amidst the realities of our time we can fruitfully live and share the Gospel with all our brothers and sisters in humanity.In order to accomplish this ambitious task, Pope Francis wanted to involve everybody! That’s why, in a totally unprecedented way, he wanted to hear from everyone in the Church. This was the first Synod to begin with a diocesan phase, which took place starting in October 2021, to listen to the voices of people in parishes and local churches. Then there was a continental phase, so that the diverse cultures of all the countries of the world could add their input to enrich our understanding of how God is calling the Church across the globe. And finally, there are two Assemblies in Rome: one in October 2023 and the other a year later in October 2024. There is a year between these two Assemblies so that the participants can continue to pray, reflect, and speak with others about the direction that the Holy Spirit is calling us to take as a Church today. These two Assemblies are bringing together a larger number of participants than usual: it’s the largest Synodal Assembly ever held in Rome since Synods of Bishops were instituted by Paul VI in 1965. For the first time ever, laypeople have been appointed as full voting members of the Synod alongside bishops. This means that the concerns and perspectives of ordinary Catholic men and women will have a full voice in this process of discernment. The title of this Synod gives us insight into what it’s all about: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Becoming a Synodal Church involves deepening the communion by which God unites us together as his children; it means opening up spaces where everyone can participate, since we all have a role to play in God’s family; and finally, it means carrying out the mission that God entrusts to us as the Church in the 21st century, as a leaven in society in service to the coming of God’s kingdom.We can hope for a more welcoming, inclusive Church, a Church that is characterized by the mercy that Jesus shows us in the Gospel. At the same time, we must recognize that a more welcoming, merciful Church begins with us. It’s not just about documents that come from Rome, but more so about how we live out our vocations as Christians day in and day out, and about the kind of communities that our parishes and dioceses can be, both for us and for others. In terms of documents, we can expect that there will be a Summary Document emerging from this first session of the Synodal Assembly in Rome, then a Final Document following the second session next October, and probably an Apostolic Exhortation from the Holy Father, perhaps in 2025. These would be further steps forward on the basis of the rich resources that have already come from this Synodal Process since 2021, including:
The Synod is not about ideologies or slogans or changing our faith. Rather, it is about asking God to tell us how the Church that Jesus founded can continue to bear fruit amidst the joys and challenges of today’s world, and how our pastoral practices can be renewed and converted to better carry out our mission. It’s about becoming a Church that is capable of discerning the path forward and letting everyone’s gifts shine.God our Father, we ask you to take us by the hand and walk with us. Inspire us with boldness and humility, to live out your dreams for the Church in our times. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Amen.