Synod briefing highlights: A Church with the Poor

Synod briefing highlights: A Church with the Poor

During Saturday’s Synod briefing, speakers highlight topics ranging from the role of women to the defense of minors and vulnerable individuals, as participants prepared to recite the Rosary and pray for peace in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday evening.

By Vatican News

At nine in the evening on Saturday in St. Peter’s Square, the recitation of the Rosary takes place with a prayer intention for peace. A special appeal for was launched on Friday in the Synod Hall “to help the young people, in a Middle East that is bleeding, not to lose hope and not to have as their only perspective for the future that of suffering or leaving their country”, and “to provide these young people, as a Church and as pastors, with the instruments to reach peace.”

Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and President of the Synod Information Commission, highlighted this at Saturday’s briefing with journalists, which was held in the Holy See Press Office, introduced by Deputy Director Cristiane Murray.

The fifteenth General Congregation that took place on Friday afternoon was characterized by “some very strong, passionate, and profound testimonies from places of war or suffering such as the Middle East, Ukraine, the Amazon, and beyond.” These “voices,” Dr. Ruffini said, were fraternally applauded by the entire Assembly (329 were present).

On Saturday morning, the reports of the 35 working groups were given to the General Secretariat, at the end of the twelfth session, regarding Module B3 of the Instrumentum Laboris.

There were 310 participants involved in the work, and at the samte time a meeting was held to prepare the Synthesis Document. On Monday, 23 October at 8:45 AM, the Synod participants will gather in St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass at the Altar of the Chair, presided over by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar.

Ruffini: In Communion with the Pope

In the addresses given in the Synod Hall, the Prefect noted that they addressed in a special way “the issue of discernment in decision-making relationships between authorities and co-responsibility.” It was noted that synodality “does not eliminate but contextualizes authority,” recalling “the need for authority” and “not to fear seeking to discuss or to be in disagreement.” They encouraged moving forward with dialogue, relying on “the Holy Spirit who transforms places of conflict into places of passage.”

Also noted was the priority of mutual listening for everyone. They emphasized the importance of listening to everyone, “starting with those who feel they cannot be welcomed in the Church or have been told that they do not belong to the Church,” such as “migrants belonging to other religions,” the poor, the discriminated, people with disabilities – who can teach how to communicate – or indigenous people. Regarding LGBTQ individuals, the Prefect noted that the duty of welcome and to “reject any form of violence against them” was recalled at the meeting.

Another significant point brought up in the addresses was “communion with the Pope.” Those not in fundamental communion with Peter, it was noted, “wound the body of Christ, which is the Church.” Communion, the Prefect concluded, is the best message that can be given to a world marked by polarization, xenophobia, and war.

Pires: For a Church with the poor

Sheila Pires, Secretary of the Information Commission, continued the briefing by highlighting that among the topics discussed in the Hall was the role of women and consecrated individuals, with particular emphasis on the possibility of having their voices heard in decision-making processes.

Ms. Pires explained that clericalism was once again at the center of reflections with recommendations for ongoing formation that also allows for addressing the issue of abuse. The need for appropriate structures to combat abuse was emphasized, and thanks were expressed to the Pope for introducing new structures to address the tragedy of abuse. The importance of promoting initiatives at every level to protect all individuals, both adults and children, was emphasised.

Another recurring theme in the addresses concerned mission in the digital age, which should not be purely virtual because it involves people in their real lives. The Secretary of the Information Commission concluded by noting that a common point in the addresses given in the Hall was the reaffirmation of the Church’s mission to serve the poor, with the awareness that the Lord will judge us based on how we have loved the least among us, not on accumulated knowledge.

Cardinal Barreto Jimeno: Unity in diversity

Peruvian Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, Archbishop of Huancayo, and President of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon, began by recalling that the Synod “was prepared over two years, first in parishes and then in dioceses, at the national and continental levels. We are not inventing anything,” he affirmed, “but we are gathering what the Holy Spirit has told the Church. And we bishops, responsible for a territory and at the same time co-responsible with Pope Francis for all the universal Church, are participating on behalf of the majority of bishops; in fact, we are experiencing a Synod of bishops. But there are also religious, laypeople, and priests.”

Cardinal Barreto praised the opportunity to “gather the lived experience but also to experience in small-scale the life of the universal Church: a diversity of races, cultures, languages, but all united in one Spirit, a Spirit whose source is the Holy Trinity. God is communion, mission, and participation; thus, this synodal experience opens us to the horizon of diversity in the unity of God.”

Drawing on his 52 years of priesthood and 23 years of episcopate, he concluded with optimism that “the Church, amidst the difficulties it faces, both internally and externally, is setting out, moving forward to serve Christ and humanity.”

Bishop Overbeck: Repentance and renewal

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Military Ordinary for Germany, spoke of the experience of the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany, which began in 2018 and concluded last year.

“The reason we started this path,” he said, “was the large number of abuse cases found in the country.” The work was carried out in collaboration with the Central Committee of German Catholics, which includes representatives from various professional groups in the Church. This “path of repentance and renewal,” the Bishop explained, involves the need to “self-critically examine the work of the Church, to address the issues urgently required for the renewal of ecclesial life.” It requires a “return to the sources of theological knowledge, beginning with the testimony of the Bible and Catholic tradition, through the findings of scholarly theology, to the faith of the faithful and the signs of the times to be interpreted in the light of the Gospel to make the Christian proclamation credible.”

“If theology, the magisterium, or tradition and the signs of the times,” he said, “have unmediated and irreconcilable contradictions, this will not convince anyone and cannot provide guidance to Catholics,” who in Germany are only 30 percent, while 30 percent are Protestants, and 40 percent non-believers.

He outlined four fields of reflection: power, priesthood, the role of women, and sexual morality. Five major conferences were organized in Frankfurt to study these issues and provide a list of actions to be taken. The results were published in a series of documents by the German Bishops’ Conference.

“In this way, we have chosen a form of work that was a new way of coming together, almost a form of synodality experienced at the level of the German Church,” he observed. However, he clarified that these are not canonically binding synodal decisions, but to give them more weight, it was decided to adopt only those voted on by at least two-thirds of the bishops; over three years, 15 decisions were approved in this manner.

“This path,” he added, “has always been a learning experience and practice of synodality; not everything always worked well,” but in the end, they committed themselves to “develop a concept of an ecclesial assembly that continues the work of synodal assemblies.”

Finally, Bishop Overbeck, who is also the President of Adveniat, emphasized the value of the experience of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon, where bishops, priests, religious, and laity work together on issues of creation and the protection of local populations. He concluded that it remains essential “to always place Jesus at the center of faith, without clinging to habits and traditionalism that, when critically examined, have no priority in the hierarchy of truth.”

Bishop Eychenne: In the “French Amazon”

Bishpo Jean-Marc Eychenne of Grenoble-Vienne in France began his presentation by speaking of his experience in the southern part of Toulouse, in a peripheral area known as the “French Amazon.” This territory is marked by widespread poverty but also encourages the spiritual search for Christ and the Gospel.

From there, an area with 150,000 inhabitants, he recounted how he then moved to his current diocese with a million inhabitants with different economic and social situations but many similarities because the challenges are the same. The main challenge, he stressed, is co-responsibility. Therefore, “the Synod on synodality means reflecting together and seeing how the Church can embrace this concept,” moving “from a Church of a few responsible individuals to one where everyone is responsible for the proclamation of Christ and the Gospel, a Church that is truly the Body of Christ where everyone expresses their opinion for a final decision that concerns all.”

Bishop Eychenne also talked about his experience in the prisons. “We gather with inmates, read the Word of God, and each one comments on the Gospel reading. Many of them are illiterate or deeply marginalized, but it can happen that the most enlightening words about the passage read come from these individuals.” 

Co-responsibility, the Bishop emphasized, means having “a real synodal experience.” It is like what they practice “when a new parish priest arrives in their diocese: on such occasions, they perform the foot washing ritual to emphasize that he is a servant.”

In the community, he pointed out, “it’s not one person giving orders, but a ‘we’ composed of young people, the elderly, the disabled, symbolically showing that there is common responsibility.” Furthermore, in the small diocesan teams, “we have also included the female presence with a woman who holds the position of Vicar General, supporting the prelates in decisions concerning the community.”

Sister Nirmalini: A continuing “journey”

Sister Maria Nirmalini, an Indian sister, General Superior of the Apostolic Carmel Congregation, and President of the Conference of Religious in India, addressed the gathering. The Conference she heads up represents the largest group of Catholic religious in the world, with over 130,000 members.

Sister Nirmalini, who participates in the work of the International Union of Superiors General, emphasized the prayers and support from her fellow consecrated individuals in India, who are accompanying her in this “beautiful experience and wonderful journey” that is the Synod. She spoke of how each participant, despite differences in culture and background, freely shared their experiences and ideas with cardinals, bishops, theologians, young religious, laity, and individuals like herself, without fear or pressure.

Sister Nirmalini noted that when she returns to India, she will carry with her something that did not stay in Rome: the Synodal journey is an ongoing process that will “involve all members of the communities.”

She stressed the importance of every moment of sharing and prayer for peace, migrants, and refugees. “Regardless of our origins, we are all members of the family of God,” she concluded.

The reality of vocations

Responding to a question about the issue of female deacons and the possibility of married deacons having a “priestly” role, Cardinal Barretto Jimeno recalled that this Synod is the result of the experience culminating in the Amazon Assembly, a region with 7,500 square kilometers, 33 million inhabitants, including 3 million indigenous people, spread across nine countries.

One important aspect was the creation of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (Ceama), which includes all the baptized. Therefore, it is necessary to gather this experience, which is the first in the history of the Church.

Bishop Overbeck echoed this, noting that all the questions raised in the German synodal process, including the issue of abuse, arose in the context of a post-secular country where people no longer have a clear idea of who Jesus Christ is and religion has no references in daily life. In Germany, half of the Protestant pastors are women. The permanent diaconate has existed since 1968, and questions are being raised about the role of women in the diaconate and their future presence. The permanent diaconate is important, he emphasized, and it is a vocation, not just a right.

He was also asked about the effect of the German synodal path on the current Synod and its impact in Germany. The impression, according to Bishop Overbeck, is that everything done in the synodal journey of the Church in Germany has had an effect on society. He noted the need for reflection on inculturation and the role of theology in addressing emerging questions. Regarding the possibility of the ordination of married men, the Bishop explained that steps have been made over many years: there are almost no more seminarians and the challenge is not only saving the sacramental life of the Church, but also living it.