On the morning of Thursday 25 May, in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the national meeting of diocesan representatives of the Synodal Path and
addressed to them the speech that we publish below.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning and welcome!
I greet all of you, Bishops, together with the diocesan representatives, the Committee and the Presidency: thank you for being here.
This meeting takes place in the heart of a Synod process which is involving the whole Church and, within it, the local Churches, in which the Synod Workshops have been set up as a beautiful experience of listening to the Spirit and of comparing the different voices of the Christian communities. This has generated the involvement of many, especially on some issues that you recognize as crucial and priorities for the present and for the future. It is a unique spiritual experience of conversion and renewal which can make your ecclesial communities more missionary and better prepared for evangelization in today’s world. This journey began 60 years ago, when St. Paul VI, at the end of the Council, realized that the Church in the West had lost synodality. He created the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops. In recent years a Synod has been held every four years; in the 50th year a document on synodality was drawn up – that document is important -; and then in the last ten years we have moved forward and now a Synod is being held to say what synodality is, which as we know is not seeking people’s opinions or even reaching an agreement, it’s something else.
I would therefore like to exhort you to continue along this path with courage and determination, above all by making the most of the potential present in the parishes and in the various Christian communities. Please this is important. At the same time, since, after the two-year period dedicated to listening, you are about to face what you call the “wisdom phase”, with the intention of not dispersing what has been gathered and of starting an ecclesial discernment, I would like to entrust to you some deliveries. With them I try to answer, at least in part, the questions that the Committee sent me on priorities for the Church in relation to society, on how to overcome resistance and concern, on the involvement of priests and lay people and on experiences of marginalization.
So here is the first delivery: keep walking. It must be done. While you reap the first fruits while respecting the questions and issues that have arisen, you are invited not to stop. The Christian life is a journey. Keep walking, letting yourself be guided by the Spirit. At the ecclesial convention in Florence I indicated in thehumilityIn the disinterest and in bliss three traits that must characterize the face of the Church, the face of your communities. Humility, selflessness and bliss. A synodal Church is such because it has a lively awareness of walking through history in the company of the Risen One, concerned not with safeguarding itself and its own interests, but with serving the Gospel in a style of gratuitousness and care, cultivating the freedom and creativity proper to those who bear witness to the good news of God’s love by staying grounded in what is essential. A Church weighed down by structures, by bureaucracy, by formalism will find it difficult to walk through history, in step with the Spirit, it will remain there and will not be able to walk towards the men and women of our time.
The second delivery is this: church together. It is an urgent need that we feel today, sixty years after the conclusion of Vatican II. In fact, there is always a lurking temptation to separate some “qualified actors” who carry out pastoral action, while the rest of the faithful remain “only receptive to their actions” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120). There are the “heads” of a parish, they carry things forward and the people receive only that. The Church is the faithful holy People of God and in it, «by virtue of the Baptism received, every member […] became a missionary disciple” (ibid.). This awareness must make a style of ecclesial co-responsibility grow ever more: every baptized person is called to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church, starting from the specifics of his own vocation, in relation with the others and with the other charisms, given by the Spirit For the sake of all. We need Christian communities in which space expands, where everyone can feel at home, where the structures and pastoral means favor not the creation of small groups, but the joy of feeling co-responsible.
In this sense, we must ask the Holy Spirit to make us understand and experience how to be ordained ministers and how to exercise the ministry in this time and in this Church: never without the Other with a capital “A”, never without others with whom to share the path. This applies to bishops, whose ministry cannot do without that of priests and deacons; and it also applies to the same priests and deacons, called to express their service within a we wider, which is the presbytery. But this also applies to the entire community of the baptized, in which each one walks with other brothers and sisters at the school of the one Gospel and in the light of the Spirit.
The third delivery: be an open Church. Rediscovering yourself as co-responsible in the Church is not the same as putting into practice worldly logics of distribution of powers, but it means cultivating the desire to recognize the other in the richness of his charisms and his uniqueness. Thus, those who still struggle to see their presence in the Church recognized, those who have no voice, those whose voices are covered if not silenced or ignored, those who feel inadequate, perhaps because they have difficult or complex life paths, can find a place. Sometimes they are “excommunicated” a priori. But let us remember this: the Church must let the heart of God shine through: a heart open to all and for all. Let us not forget, please, Jesus’ parable of the failed wedding feast, when that gentleman, the guests not having come, what does he say? “Go to the crossroads and call everyone” (cf Mt 22.9). All: sick, not sick, righteous, sinners, all, all inside.
We should ask ourselves how much space we make and how much we really listen to the voices of young people, women, the poor, those who are disappointed, those who have been hurt in life and are angry with the Church. As long as their presence remains a sporadic note in the whole of ecclesial life, the Church will not be synodal, it will be a Church of a few. Remember this, call everyone: righteous, sinners, healthy, sick, everyone, everyone, everyone.
Sometimes one gets the impression that religious communities, curias, parishes are still a little too self-referential. And self-referentiality is a bit like the theology of the mirror: looking in the mirror, make-up, I comb my hair well… This is a beautiful disease, a beautiful disease that the Church has: self-referential, my parish, my class, my group, my association… It seems that a sort of “defense neoclericalism” – clericalism is a perversion, and the bishop, the clerical priest is perverse, but the lay man and woman clerical is even more so: when clericalism enters the laity it is terrible! –: the defensive neoclericalism generated by a fearful attitude, by complaints about a world that “no longer understands us”, where “young people are lost”, by the need to reiterate and make one’s influence felt – “but I will do this… ”. The Synod calls us to become a Church that walks joyfully, humbly and creatively in our time, aware that we are all vulnerable and need one another. And I would like a synodal process to take this word “vulnerability” seriously and talk about it, with a sense of community, about the vulnerability of the Church. And I add: walking trying to generate life, to multiply joy, not to put out the fires that the Spirit lights in hearts. Don Primo Mazzolari wrote: «What a contrast when our life extinguishes the life of souls! Priests who suffocate life. Instead of turning on eternity, let’s turn off life.” We are sent not to extinguish, but to light up the hearts of our brothers and sisters, and to allow ourselves to be illuminated in turn by the flashes of their consciences that seek the truth.
In this regard, I was struck by the question of the chaplain of an Italian prison, who asked me how to ensure that the synodal experience lived in a correctional facility can then find a welcome sequel in the communities. On this question I would insert one last delivery: to be a “restless” Church in the anxieties of our time. We are called to gather the anxieties of history and to allow ourselves to be questioned, to bring them before God, to immerse them in Christ’s Passover. The great enemy of this path is fear: “I’m afraid, be careful…”.
Forming synodal groups in prisons means listening to a humanity that is wounded but, at the same time, in need of redemption. There is a prison in Spain, with a good chaplain, who sends me messages so that I always see their meetings… But these prisoners are in a permanent synod! It is interesting to see how this chaplain brings out the best in themselves, to project it into the future. For a prisoner, serving his sentence can become an opportunity to experience the merciful face of God, and thus begin a new life. And the Christian community is challenged to get away from prejudices, to seek out those who come from years of imprisonment, to meet them, to listen to their testimony, and to break the bread of the Word of God with them. This is an example of restlessness good, which you gave me; and I could mention many others: experiences of a Church that welcomes the challenges of our time, that knows how to go out to everyone to proclaim the joy of the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us continue this journey together, with great trust in the work that the Holy Spirit is carrying out. He is the protagonist of the synodal process, he, not us! It is he who opens individuals and communities to listening; it is he who makes dialogue authentic and fruitful; it is he who enlightens discernment; it is he who directs choices and decisions. It is he above all who creates harmony, communion in the Church. I like how St. Basil defines him: He is harmony. We are not under the illusion that we are doing the Synod, no. The Synod will go ahead if we are open to Him who is the protagonist. affirms the Lumen gentium: «He – the Spirit – introduces the Church into the fullness of truth (cf John 16:13), unifies it in communion and in the ministry, provides and directs it with various hierarchical and charismatic gifts, embellishes it with its fruits (cf. Eph 4,11-12; 1 Cor 12.4; Gal 5,22)» (n. 4).
Thanks for the work you are doing. When I entered, one of you said to me a very silvery expression, which I won’t repeat, but it has a nice translation into Italian, which perhaps he will say… Something that seems messy… Think of the trial of the Apostles on the morning of Pentecost: that morning it was worse! Total mess! And whoever has caused that “worse” is the Spirit: He is good at doing these things, disorder, to move… But the same Spirit who has caused this has caused harmony. Both things are done by the Spirit, He is the protagonist, it is He who does these things. There is no need to be afraid when there are disturbances caused by the Spirit; but be afraid of them when they are provoked by our selfishness or by the Spirit of evil. Let’s rely on the Holy Spirit. He is harmony. He does all this, the disorder, but He is capable of making harmony, which is something totally different from the order that we could make by ourselves.
The Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you. And please don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.