On Wednesday, October 25, 2023, the over 300 members of the Synod voted to publish a letter addressed to the “people of God” in which they express reflections as the first Roman phase of the Synod on the future of the Church draws to a close on Sunday. The two-and-a-half-page letter does not contain any concrete announcements, but urges Christians to listen “to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church.”
The members of the Synod of Bishops – a quarter of whom are not bishops – have been meeting in Rome since September 30 and wanted to share a compilation of their experience so far, before going their separate ways for a year, to continue the synod journey with Christians all over the world.
This first working session will end on Sunday, October 29, 2023, with a closing mass and the members are due to release a summary report on Saturday. There will be a second Roman phase of the Synod in October 2024.
The letter was put to the vote and 336 members approved it out of the 348 present. There were 12 who voted against it.
A historic assembly
“It has been an unprecedented experience,” the members say in the letter, of which Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille (France) is apparently one of the main architects. “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,” the letter says in the first paragraphs, emphasizing the historic nature of this assembly.
“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,” the letter says, while highlighting the contexts of war, inequality and violence that have been affecting the world.
Room for silence
Briefly outlining the way in which they have worked, using “the conversation in the Spirit method” in particular, the members emphasized the “significant room [made] for silence to foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit.”
“There are multiple challenges and numerous questions,” the letter acknowledged, without specifying what they have been. “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 does not mention any of the sensitive issues discussed during this month, such as the role of women, the authority of bishops, welcoming LGBT people, migration, etc., which may have been sources of tension. “We experienced how the thirst for unity increases in the silent contemplation of the crucified Christ,” the members state.
“This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition,” the letter continues. “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.”
Listening to the excluded, the victims, laity and priests
The Synod began in 2021 and has already gone through a local and a continental phase. Looking ahead to the concluding session in October 2024, the synod fathers and mothers explain that in order “to progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest.” They cite the “excluded,” the “victims of racism” and the “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 letter highlights.
Then there are the “laity, women and men, all called to holiness,” “catechists,” “children,” “young people” and “families.”
As Archbishop Timothy Broglio, President of the US bishops, pointed out to the press briefing at the Vatican on Wednesday, the Church must also be attentive to the experience of priests, “whose sacramental ministry is indispensable for the life of the whole body” of the Church. The letter goes on to mention also deacons and consecrated people, and finally those who do not share the Christian faith “but who are seeking the truth.”
The letter concludes with mention of “Mary, Mother of the Church, the first on the journey, [who] 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!”