A Synod participant watches the choir leading morning prayer on a monitor in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall. CNS photo/Lola Gomez

Pope Francis makes clear: ‘the Church is here for you’

By  FR. DAMIEN MACPHERSON, SA, Catholic Registger Special
  • October 11, 2023

With the completion of the opening days of the Synod on Synodality having taken place in Rome, a few observations can be offered.

Not surprisingly, prayer is the first stepping stone for Pope Francis as the Synod begins. Following completion of a three-day retreat and a prayer vigil, the Synod opened with a Solemn Mass on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, with Pope Francis.

The opening days of the Synod broke the gathering into small group discussions. Their task was to discuss the beginning segment of the working document, Instrumentum Laboris. Though no initial summary of these discussions are yet available, one would have to expect such conversations were overshadowed by Pope Francis’ homiletic remarks.

His opening words are thunderous. He reminds the delegates that they are invited to be a Church which “does not impose burdens” and instead are recipients of the invitation to “come you who have lost your ways or feel far away; come you who have closed the door to hope, the Church is here for you.”

A question that might arise is who the “you” is meant to include. An answer might be found in the Book of Revelations, chapter seven, where we read: “I saw before me a huge crowd … from every nation and race, people and tongue.” Such an image, to some degree, is indicative of the present gathering in Rome for the 16th General Assembly for the Synod on Synodality.

For those tuned to contemporary developments, within the Roman Catholic Church, the Synod on Synodality, called by Francis, is of imminent and universal interest.

There will be two global assemblies of the same delegates, now chosen from throughout the world. The first assembly, already begun, runs from Oct.  4-28. The second session is scheduled for October 2024.

Some equate this Synod as being equal  to the importance of the Second Vatican Council 1963-67.

Briefly, the Synod has been shaped by Instrumentum Laboris. The document has been under careful study and review by dioceses globally for the past three years.

The theme arrived at for the Synod is For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission. Unlike ever before, membership of the Synod includes not only bishops, but priests, deacons, lay men, women, members of religious orders and university students. All 364 members have an equal vote in the Synod proceedings. In addition, Pope Francis has invited a number of important ecumenical guests as observers.

It is expected the Synod will call the global Church to new acceptance and growing understanding of contemporary issues not yet resolved within the Church today. Included are such issues as women deacons, priestly celibacy, LBTQ+ outreach and style of future Church governance.  These topics have never been given such high profile importance within such  a universal ecclesial setting.

It should calm the fear of any knowing that doctrinal issues are not on the table, though doctrinal rigidity may indeed be the concern of some delegates. The aim of the Synod is intended to reflect on the Church we have and in a spirit of discernment, seasoned by prayer, silence, listening and open discussion, seriously address how we want the Church to be and to become.

The balance exists between those who fear change and those who fear that nothing will change. It can be agreed that a horizon opened to the future is a Church living in hope.