A "Patient Church”: in Cyprus Pope Francis sheds light on the synodal process
By Andrea Tornielli
Speaking to the small, but vibrant, Catholic community in Cyprus on Thursday, Pope Francis offered some precious suggestions on the Synodal path that the universal Church has just begun. In recalling the attitude of St. Barnabas, Patron saint of the island, the Pope described his faith, equilibrium, and, above all, his patience.
When he was assigned to visit the new Christian community of Antioch, made up of new converts from pagan religions, the Apostle met people coming from another world, another culture and another religious sensitivity. They had an enthusiastic faith, but it was still fragile. However, Barnabas welcomed them, listened and waited. He knew how to wait "for the tree to grow": with the patience needed “to enter into the lives of hitherto unknown individuals; the patience to accept what was new without rushing to judgment”. It was the “patience of discernment that is capable of perceiving the signs of God’s work in every place”.
Above all, Pope Francis is struck by Barnabas’ patience of accompaniment, “the patience to accompany and allow growth to occur” without overwhelming “the fragile faith of the newcomers by taking a rigorous and inflexible approach, or by making excessive demands about the observance of precepts”.
The epochal changes we are presently living perhaps show some similarities with those times: are we not going through a time in which the proclamation of the Gospel struggles to shed light on the "other worlds" and "other cultures" in which we are immersed?
In the face of the old world crumbling down, we are tempted to yield to nostalgic attitudes, to complaining, or to dreaming of a Church that is “relevant” in society as it used to be in the past. Pope Francis, instead, explains that amid the crisis of faith shaking Europe today, the Church should draw inspiration from Barnabas’ attitude and proclaim the Gospel anew with patience, especially to the new generations, through the witness of mercy.
The Church of patience is not static but is open to the unpredictable action of the Holy Spirit. It is not homologating, because it knows that the fundamental ground for any dialogue is the spiritual attitude of listening, that is, welcoming and making room for those with different sensitivities or views, valuing the richness of diversity that the Spirit brings back to unity. It welcomes others to make room for the Other.
It is a Church where discussions can be heated, but that does not divide. “We argue not for the sake of fighting or imposing our own ideas, but in order to express and live the vitality of the Spirit who is love and communion. We may argue, yet we remain brothers and sisters", just like it happens in any family, Pope Francis reminded the Catholic communities in Cyprus.
This is the path to follow so that the Synod doesn’t become the usual bureaucratic duty to be included in pastoral plans by default, or in religious marketing strategies - which are the modern version of proselytism - but an opportunity to experience fraternity. The Pope reminds us that “we need a fraternal Church, one that is an agent of fraternity in our world”.