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U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore for their Fall General Assembly U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore for their Fall General Assembly 

Nuncio to US bishops: Synodality, discernment lead to action in concrete situations

Addressing US bishops on Tuesday during their General Assembly in Baltimore, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, spoke about the importance of synodality in facing the challenges confronting the nation and the Church, in openness to the Holy Spirit.

By Robin Gomes

Synodality does not involve changing “traditional truths of Christian doctrine”; rather, it is concerned with “how teaching can be lived and applied in the changing contexts of our times” through apostolic discernment. The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, made the point on Tuesday to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which is currently holding its General Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, November 15-18. He spoke to them about synodality and the need for apostolic discernment.

While remaining faithful to the living Tradition of the Church, synodality, which means walking together, must bring about true reform with concrete gestures involving the participation of the whole Church. The conversion, especially in our mentality, that the synodal process brings about leaves us in a better place, Archbishop Pierre said.

He pointed out that synodality helps provide answers to the challenges and to the confrontation that is threatening to divide the US, and whose echoes are felt also in the Church. Many are inadvertently involved in this confrontation, asserting themselves on the basis of certain truths that remain in the realm of ideas and are not applied to the experience of the faithful in concrete situations.

Pro-life issue

Speaking about the pro-life challenge, the Nuncio said “the Church must be unapologetically pro-life” and must defend innocent human life and vulnerable persons. In this regard, the synodal approach would seek to understand better why people seek to end pregnancies and make choices against life and form a consensus with concrete strategies to build the culture of life and the civilization of love.   

Archbishop Pierre commended the initiative Walking with Moms in Need, which seeks to walk in the shoes of local expectant mothers and their children in order to meet their needs, stressing this is a synodal approach.

Idea vs reality

“Realities are more important than ideas,” the Apostolic Nuncio told the US bishops, stressing the practical Eucharistic experience of synodality. “We can have all the theological ideas about the Eucharist – and, of course, we need this – but none of these ideas compare with the reality of the Eucharistic Mystery, which needs to be discovered and rediscovered through the practical experience of the Church, living in communion, particularly in this time of pandemic."

He said, "We can become so concentrated upon the sacrality of forms of the liturgy that we miss the true encounter with His Real Presence. There is the temptation to treat the Eucharist as something to be offered to the privileged few rather than to seek to walk with those whose theology or discipleship is falling short, assisting them to understand and appreciate the gift of the Eucharist and helping them to overcome their difficulties."

"Rather than remaining trapped in an 'ideology of the sacred', synodality is a method that helps us to discover together a way forward,” Archbishop Pierre said.

Approaching issues in synodality

Speaking about racial injustice in the US, which all the bishops condemn, he said the Church rather needs to tangibly respond to the lived reality of what some members of society must confront daily. While stressing the need for a “Samaritan Church,” he also said the Church herself needs healing from the wounds inflicted by the abuse crisis, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and the polarization afflicting society. He said the Church needs to involve everyone in concrete action that mediates the presence of Christ in the human reality of our hurting world. According to Archbishop, “The way this concrete action is actuated is through synodality”.

Synodality, he continued, is a way of living the faith in a permanent way in dioceses, parishes, the families, and in the peripheries, involving all Church members in the mission of evangelization.

Pope Francis described synodality as “nothing other than the ‘journeying together’ of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord,” which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.

The Holy Spirit in listening and discernment

Synodality involves listening, Archbishop Pierre said, which is more than simply hearing, as the Pope says. “A Church that listens and is close reflects God’s own 'style' of 'closeness, compassion, and tender love'.” Archbishop Pierre added, “A Church that teaches must firstly be a Church that listens.” This needs creativity to meet the demands of our times, in fidelity to tradition, in openness to a deeper conversion to Christ.

Pope Francis insists on the role of the Holy Spirit, who brings about conversion by speaking frankly and listening to others in a synodal process.  When we pay attention to what the Spirit has to say to us and open ourselves to change and new possibilities, the Pope says, the Synod becomes an experience of conversion for everyone. 

As an example of this, Archbishop Pierre pointed to the Second Vatican Council, where individual ideas, agenda,s and plans were abandoned for something new and better to meet the challenges and signs of the times.

To move forward in unity involves patience and discernment, which is why communion is integral to the upcoming synod in October 2023. The true synodal path must be rooted in Tradition, with local bishops serving as guarantors of the Truth, journeying in communion with the Pope, to encounter Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

God-driven synodality

Stressing that synodality is God-driven, the Nuncio to the US pointed to charity, conversion, truth, and salvation as the four dimensions of dialogue.  “Our dialogue and our listening,” he said, must involve, not only talking among ourselves – bishops, clergy, religious, and laity – but also listening to God – listening to what the Spirit has to say.” The Church in the US needs this attentive listening now more than ever if she is to overcome the polarization afflicting the country.

Mission-driven synodality

The synodal process should lead to missionary discipleship, whose model, the Nuncio said, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit, who is at the core of this ecclesial “walking together,” overshadowed her. Mary and the Spirit “journey together” from the Annunciation through Pentecost. 

In this regard, he shared a thought of Pope Francis, who said that when we are open to God amidst a disagreement or seeming impasse, usually a breakthrough or “overflow” of the Holy Spirit occurs, which “breaks the banks that confined our thinking, and causes to pour forth, as if from an overflowing fountain, the answers that formerly... did not allow us to see.” It is about humbly listening, to each other and to the Spirit, and being open to what the Spirit has in store for us.

Common apostolic discernment

Archbishop Pierre also underscored the need for apostolic discernment in synodality, not walking alone, but relying on each other as brothers and sisters under the leadership of bishops, with the aim of serving the people through the proclamation of the Gospel.   

"Three phrases that help understand discernment are: to recognize; to interpret; and to choose, which have also been described as to see, to judge, and to act. To confront situations and difficulties in life, dioceses need to form people and communities in listening to and recognizing the interior movements of the Spirit. Individuals, parishes, and dioceses must learn to interpret and judge experiences in the light of the Spirit. In this task, involving the laity is in not an abdication of authority but an invitation to shared responsibility."

Apostolic discernment in common, demands integrating our insights with those of the community or our brother bishops. Through others, we might more clearly, if not perfectly, discover the will of God. In the synodal process, after listening, praying, and carefully deliberating, bishops must make decisions or take concrete actions, which is never an assertion of power but a service to the Church.

“Listening to one another and to the Spirit and walking with our brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Pierre said, “we will emerge from the present crises together as the Church Christ has called us to be!”

17 November 2021, 13:02