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Pope Francis with leaders of various Christian churches and ecclesial communities in Assisi (archive photo) Pope Francis with leaders of various Christian churches and ecclesial communities in Assisi (archive photo) 

Christian leaders welcome Ecumenical Prayer Vigil ahead of Synod

Representatives of various Christian churches and ecclesial communities share their thoughts on the relationship between synodality and ecumenism in the context of the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil that will precede the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

By Christopher Wells

Representatives of Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches and ecclesial communities took part in a press conference presenting the Ecumenical Vigil of Prayer that Pope Francis has proposed will take place ahead of next fall’s General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

A good step

“The fact that we start this [synod] in an ecumenical way is quite new,” said Frère Alois, the prior of the ecumenical Taizé Community, which is helping to organize the event. Frère Alois, whose intervention at the opening of the Synod on Synodality helped inspire the initiative, noted, too, that “the fact that we start with a prayer vigil is also new in the history of synods.”

He said it is “a good step” that can help people understand that the synod is not intended simply to be a meeting where Church leaders discuss their problems, but is instead, a meeting of Christians coming together.”

Frère Alois was one of several ecumenical leaders who spoke with Vatican Radio about synodality and ecumenism on the sidelines of Monday’s press conference.

Press conference on the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil
Press conference on the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil

The spirit of humility

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Holy See highlighted the “spirit of humility” that can be seen in the invitation to other churches – such as the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches – “to present their traditions, their experiences.” He added that listening to others and being open to learning from them is already a “wonderful spirit.”

The Archbishop pointed to the Armenian Church’s centuries-long experience of synodality, saying that synodality in his community “is all for the growth of the Church, for the good of the Church.” He praised the Catholic Church for its openness to learning, while noting that Armenian Church can also learn from Catholics: “Learning from each other is a great way of carrying [forward] the mission of Christ,” he said.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

Giving space to different voices

The Anglican Communion was also represented at Monday’s press conference, in the person of Archbishop Ian Ernest, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Personal Representative to the Holy See. He, too, pointed to his community’s experience of synodality. The synodal process in the Catholic Church, he said, “is for me very positive in the sense that we, who from the Anglican Communion have lived through synods and the synodal process, we’ve seen how the Church has been giving space to different voices.”

Referring to comments by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who responded to questions about tensions in the synod process, Archbishop Ernest said, “These voices have brought tensions… But when the tensions are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and brought into prayer, definitely it will bring fruit.” He said the Catholic Church is definitely on a pathway where voices which have not been heard are being heard today, where the cries of the people… are being heard.”

He welcomed the initiative of an Ecumenical Prayer Vigil, saying he would be “inviting people to pray for it and inviting people to join us on that day,” adding that it would also be an opportunity for “ a sort of introspection of our own selves as a communion.”

Archbishop Ernest added, “These are exciting times for the church worldwide, not only for the Catholic Church. But we have to expect that there will be challenges, difficulties, threats. But: God is in charge.”

Archbishop Ian Ernest
Archbishop Ian Ernest

Let’s come together

The Ecumenical Prayer Vigil pioneered by Pope Francis is an example of the joint paths of synodality and ecumenism in action. How those journeys will proceed has yet to be discovered, said Frère Alois. “For the moment, we have this first step in the beginning,” he said, explaining that it will be up to the leaders of the synod “to find out how to give space to these moments of unity and prayer during the synodal process.”

In the meantime, he offered an invitation to all those interested in the Synod, saying, “Let’s come together. Let’s be more aware that we are a people, that we are the people of God all together.”

Frère Alois
Frère Alois
24 January 2023, 16:54