Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
As the proceedings of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops draw to a close, we want to thank God with all of you for the beautiful and enriching experience we have lived.
We lived this blessed time in profound communion with all of you.
We were supported by your prayers, bearing with you your expectations, your questions, as well as your fears.
As Pope Francis requested two years ago, a long process of listening and discernment was initiated, open to all the People of God, no one being excluded, to “journey together” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, missionary disciples engaged in the following of Jesus Christ.
The session in which we have been gathered in Rome since 30 September is an important phase of this process.
In many ways it has been an unprecedented experience.
For the first time, at Pope Francis’ invitation, men and women have been invited, in virtue of their baptism, to sit at the same table to take part, not only in the discussions, but also in the voting process of this Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Together, in the complementarity of our vocations, our charisms and our ministries, we have listened intensely to the Word of God and the experience of others.
Using the conversation in the Spirit method, we have humbly shared the wealth and poverty of our communities from every continent, seeking to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church today.
We have thus also experienced the importance of fostering mutual exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of Eastern Christianity.
The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities deeply enriched our discussions.
Our assembly took place in the context of a world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities resonated painfully in our hearts, infusing our work with a particular gravity, especially since some of us come from countries where war rages.
We prayed for the victims of deadly violence, without forgetting all those who have been forced by misery and corruption to take the dangerous road of migration. We assured our solidarity and commitment alongside the women and men all over the world who are working to build justice and peace.
At the invitation of the Holy Father, we made significant room for silence to foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit among us.
During the opening ecumenical vigil, we experienced how the thirst for unity increases in the silent contemplation of the crucified Christ.
In fact, the cross is the only cathedra of the One who, having given himself for the salvation of the world, entrusted His disciples to His Father, so that “they may all be one” (John 17:21).
Firmly united in the hope brought by His Resurrection, we entrusted to Him our common home where the cries of the earth and the poor are becoming increasingly urgent: “Laudate Deum!” (“Praise God!”), as Pope Francis reminded us at the beginning of our work.
Day by day, we felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion.
For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by focusing on itself, but by placing itself at the service of the infinite love with which God loved the world (cf. John 3:16).
When homeless people near St. Peter’s Square were asked about their expectations regarding the Church on the occasion of this synod, they replied: “Love!”
This love must always remain the ardent heart of the Church, a Trinitarian and Eucharistic love, as the Pope recalled on October 15, midway through our assembly, invoking the message of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
It is “trust” that gives us the audacity and inner freedom that we experienced, not hesitating to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions.
We hope that the months leading to the second session in October 2024 will allow everyone to concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word “synod.”
This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition.
As the Pope reminded us at the beginning of this process, “communion and mission can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality (…) encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all” (October 9, 2021).
There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: the synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed.
To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest.
This requires a path of conversion on its part, which is also a path of praise: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21)!
It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church; listening to people who are victims of racism in all its forms — in particular in some regions to indigenous peoples whose cultures have been scorned.
Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.
The Church also needs to listen to the laity, women and men, all called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal vocation: to the testimony of catechists, who in many situations are the first proclaimers of the Gospel; to the simplicity and vivacity of children, the enthusiasm of youth, to their questions, and their pleas; to the dreams, the wisdom and the memory of elderly people.
The Church needs to listen to families, to their educational concerns, to the Christian witness they offer in today’s world.
She needs to welcome the voice of those who want to be involved in lay ministries and to participate in discernment and decision-making structures.
To progress further in synodal discernment, the Church particularly needs to gather even more the words and experience of the ordained ministers: priests, the primary collaborators of the bishops, whose sacramental ministry is indispensable for the life of the whole body; deacons, who, through their ministry, signify the care of the entire Church for the most vulnerable.
She also needs to let herself be questioned by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, the watchful sentinel of the Spirit’s call.
She also needs to be attentive to all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth, and in whom the Spirit, who “offers everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et Spes 22, 5), is also present and operative.
“The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” (Pope Francis, October 17, 2015).
We do not need to be afraid to respond to this call.
Mary, Mother of the Church, the first on the journey, accompanies our pilgrimage.
In joy and in sorrow, she shows us her Son and invites us to trust.
And He, Jesus, is our only hope!
—Vatican City, October 25, 2023
[End, Letter of the Synod to the People of God]
Here is how the Associated Press analyzed this letter (link):
Pope’s big synod on church future produces first document, but differences remain over role of women
By Nicole Winfield
Updated 8:10 PM GMT+2, October 25, 2023
ROME (AP) — Pope Francis’ big meeting on the future of the Catholic Church headed into its final stretch Wednesday [October 25], with differences over the role of women still dividing the assembly even as it produced its first document after a month of debate.
The Vatican released a letter from the 364-member synod, or meeting, to rank-and-file faithful, updating them in general terms on where things stand in their deliberations. It was approved 336-12 by the voting members of the assembly, which for the first time has included 54 women voting alongside bishops.
The letter said the church going forward must be committed to listening to everyone, especially the poor and marginalized and victims of abuse by clergy. The church, it said, must commit itself “concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.”
Francis called the meeting back in 2021 as part of his efforts to reform the church and make it more welcoming and responsive to the needs of the faithful today. During two years of preliminary consultations among Catholics around the world, there was a near-universal call for the church, which bars women from its highest ranks, to open up greater opportunities for women to take on decision-making roles and have their voices heard.
The whole process has generated tremendous hope for change among progressive Catholics and resistance from conservatives. In the letter released Wednesday, synod members made clear that those differences remain and will be outlined in more detail in a 40-page synthesis document that will be voted on Saturday night.
“There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: The synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed,” the letter said.
Delegates will return to Rome in October of next year to continue the debate and present final proposals or conclusions to Francis.
Women have long complained they are treated as second-class citizens in the church, barred from the priesthood and highest positions of power yet responsible for the lion’s share of church work. They have long demanded a greater say in church governance, at the very least with voting rights at Vatican synods but also the right to preach at Mass and be ordained as priests and deacons.
While ordination of women priests is off the table, the question of women deacons was an official agenda item for the meeting. Many delegates, male and female, have spoken out in favor of conferring onto women a ministry that existed in the early church, or at the very least acknowledging the crucial role women play.
“I have become so convinced in these days that a synodal church must be willing to sit at the foot of women, especially lay women who are from the Global South, to learn how to renew the church’s imagination,” said Nora Kofognotera Nonterah, a Ghanian theologian participating in the meeting.
In the letter released Wednesday, there was no mention specifically of women’s roles. But in his remarks to the assembly Wednesday, Francis spoke at length about the feminine nature of the church and the crucial role women play in passing down the faith. [See below for the text of this letter.]
And he blasted those in the male hierarchy who have abused their authority over them with their “macho and dictatorial attitudes.” Ridiculing young priests who shop for fancy cassocks and lace in ecclesiastical tailor shops in Rome, he denounced clericalism, or the placing of priests on a pedestal.
“Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages” the church, Francis said.
Despite such admonishments, the men attending the Vatican’s official press conference Wednesday made clear that anyone hoping for radical change for women would come away disappointed.
Cardinal Robert Prevost, the American head of the Vatican’s bishops office, said women were increasingly being given high-ranking jobs at the Vatican and were even being consulted in the nomination of bishops. But he insisted there was no changing the 2,000-year tradition of the church, which confers priestly ordination only on men.
“It’s not a given just because in society … a woman can be president, or women can have many different kinds of roles of leadership in the world,” he said. “It’s not like there’s an immediate parallel to say ‘In the church, therefore.’”
Cardinal Dieudonn Nzapalainga, archbishop of Bangui, Central Africa Republic, said women cannot be left behind. But he said including them more in church authority roles was a “work in progress.”
“They do not have a formal role, but I listen. I listen to women. I invite women to participate,” he said.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. bishops conference, said religious sisters in particular were important because often they are the ones who inspire men to become priests.
“I think if you talk to most diocesan priests, they will trace their first inklings of a vocation to the work of the sisters in the schools. And that was a tremendous source of influence,” he said.
[End, AP analysis of the Synod Letter to the People of God]
Here is an excerpt from the Pope’s address to the Synod today, which is cited in the AP report above, with a brief introduction and an additional comment, from this link:
Today, the day of the 18th Congregation of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis spoke. In his speech in Spanish (original text here), Francis touched on various topics. He concluded with this reflection:
Citation of the address delivered by Pope Francis on October 25:
“It is painful to find in some parish offices the supermarket-style ‘price list’ of sacramental services. Either the Church is the faithful people of God on a journey, holy and sinner, or it ends up being a company of various services. And when pastoral agents undertake this second path, the Church becomes the supermarket of salvation and the priests simple employees of a multinational. It is the great defeat to which clericalism leads us. And this with much shame and scandal (just go to the ecclesiastical tailors of Rome to see the scandal of young priests who try on cassocks and hats or albs and lace.)
“Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that dirties and damages the face of the bride of the Lord, and enslaves the holy and faithful people of God.”
[End, selection from the address to the Synod of Pope Francis today]