Archbishop Gintaras Grušas (archive photo by Mariusz Krawiec) Archbishop Gintaras Grušas (archive photo by Mariusz Krawiec) 

Looking for the Catholic way of synodality

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich present Europe’s continental phase of the Synod, one more step in the process of “walking together, striving to be a Church of listening and closeness”.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

On Wednesday afternoon, Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, President of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE); and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, Vice-President of the CCEE and Relator General of the Synod, held a press conference in Vatican Radio’s Sala Marconi. Together, they presented the Continental Synodal Assembly for Europe set for 5-12 February 2023 in Prague.

The continental phase - a synodal 'first'

Archbishop Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania, began his statement noting that for the first time there is a continental phase in a synod, picking up on the national phase. “We want to walk together”, he stated, striving to be a Church of listening and closeness.

He then went on to explain that about 200 people will attend the first part of the Continental Assembly (5-9 February) in person. Each national delegation will consist of the president of the Episcopal Conference and three other people. An additional 44 people will be present as invited guests, representing various ecclesial realities in Europe. Other invitees, numbering 390, will participate online (10 from each bishops' conference). The presidents of the 39 Episcopal Conferences that make up the CCEE will participate in the second part of the Assembly (9-12 February). Archbishop Grušas also explained that monasteries of nuns have been asked to offer silent adoration throughout the assembly.

Jesus: The only response to the needs of Europe

He could not ignore the current conflict taking place in Ukraine. “Nearly ten months have passed since the attack began and, not only that no ceasefire has come but the risk of conflict escalation is increasingly looming”. He then noted that the network of solidarity across Europe demonstrates the “spirit of solidarity of the peoples of Europe”, springing from the belief that all people are made in the image of God. He also recalled the two Synods on Europe called by John Paul (1991 and 1999) – the first “to reflect on the new Europe that was breathing with two lungs”, and the second, “to consolidate Europe, which was breathing, yes, with two lungs, but which was beginning to fall prey to secularization”.

Jesus, Archbishop Grušas said, is the only response to the various needs Europe is experiencing. “Europe is still Christian, even when it does not know it is”, he said. The synodal process is part of the journey to continue proclaiming that “Christ is the hope” of Europe and the world.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ (archive photo)
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ (archive photo)

'What is God telling me?'

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, then introduced the process undertaken so far. He began with a story regarding a question he fielded recently regarding who is making the decisions in the Synod. “It’s the Holy Spirit”, he said was his answer. This is manifested in the way the local consultations contributed to the national syntheses, and the national syntheses to the Continental Document. This meant, he said, that many people had to put aside their own ideas in order “to listen to what the People of God” had said.

The cardinal also said he was astonished at the similarity present in the national syntheses. “What is God telling me? What could God want?” he said, are the questions to keep in mind when reading the documentation that the Synod process has produced so far. This means that “we listen to the Word of God”, and are “rooted in tradition, fully living in our times, to see how the Spirit is at work in our times”, in order to understand to what future the Lord is inviting the Church.

Living Vatican II

The Continental Assemblies will be discerning the particular experiences, problems, intuitions and questions, and pastoral priorities present in Europe. Therefore, he said, the participants in the Continental Assembly will be engaged in a “prayerful” reading and reflection of the Continental Document. The Instrumentum laboris, which will be the result of the six Continental Assemblies, will definitely then reflect all of the syntheses contributed by all the continents.

Bishops gathered in St Peter's Basilica during the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council
Bishops gathered in St Peter's Basilica during the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

The Pope wants us to “live Vatican II and Lumen Gentium”, the Cardinal continued, in a time and at a point in history when the Church is vulnerable, a moment of great change in which young people also need to be allowed to “have their say” at the Continental Assembly, for the future of the Church. “The synod will help us be a real missionary Church”, he noted, to a society in which the Church has declined. He foresees a proclamation of the Gospel not just in words, but in deeds, “a missionary attitude, not just on the part of bishops, priests and religious, but by the whole People of God”. The contribution to the synod from members of religious life is important, he said, because they live synodality in their Congregations. “We received a lot of input from religious”, he said, "more from women than from men". Their responses, he said, revealed both simplicity as well as a sense of service.

Seeking greater lay involvement

Expanding on how this Synod is allowing the Church to “live Vatican II”, and Lumen gentium, Cardinal Hollerich highlighted how the collegiality of the Bishops desired by the Council became a reality in the Synod of Bishops. However, he acknowledged, the People of God, to which the Bishops also belong, have as yet to be involved completely in the synodal process. He then cited how the involvement of the laity has been increasing, first with the Synods on Families and Youth, and then with the involvement of REPAM in the Amazon Synod. He also noted that Pope Francis did not use the term “General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops” in Praedicate Evangelium, but “General Secretariat of the Synod”. This does not mean that roles have been changed, he clarified, but that the laity are now involved in the process along with the bishops.

Listening to the listeners

Cardinal Hollerich described his own role as Relator General of the Synod as “the listener of the listeners” who will then need to put into words what the Holy Spirit has inspired people to say. He also asked for prayers so that he might be faithful to this role he is called to play in this “synod about synodality…about our way of being Church and how this Church should walk together, together”. Tension is part of the journey, he acknowledged, which can be positive since tension is needed in order to “keep the tent up”. The hope is that “something new will come out of the tensions”, rather than one group’s tensions dominating over others. These include new ways of working together, he said.

Summing his remarks up, the Cardinal ended by saying that we are “looking for the Catholic way of synodality”.

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14 December 2022, 16:17