CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 November 2017

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A listening synod can be a sign to the nations

VATICAN (SE): Pope Francis has described the process of synodal gatherings as a sign for our times, saying, “A synodal Church is a sign lifted up among the nations in a world which—while invoking participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration—often consigns the fate of entire populations into the greedy hands of small power groups.”

Although Pope Francis’ words may reflect aspiration as much as achievement, they are a clear indication of the way in which he wants the synod to evolve.

Speaking on October 17 at a ceremony held in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican to mark the golden anniversary of the opening of the first synod called by Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis said, “As a Church that is walking together with humanity, sharing the hardships of history, we must cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of the people and authority’s function to serve will also help civil society to grow in justice and fraternity, generating a world that is more beautiful and more worthy of man for the generations that come after us.”

He stressed that the development of the dynamic of the synod, with its emphasis on listening and a more responsible collegiality is the key to the conversion of the papacy. He called it a way of exercising primacy that is open to a new situation.

Significantly, he consistently referred to himself as the bishop of Rome and not the pope, saying that the synod is the most precious legacy of Vatican II, which even from its inauguration was always seen as a process in development and not a fait accompli.

He imaged the Church of the third millennium as being a listening Church belonging to the people of God, who in their entire body of laity, priests and bishops, cannot err in matters of belief.

He said that this means that from the laity to bishops, or the teaching and hearing Church, a true sense of faith and morals emanates. This is the Sensus Fidei (Sense of Faith).

“The flock has its own flair to discern new paths that the Lord reveals to the Church. It was this conviction that guided me when I hoped that God’s holy people be consulted in the preparation of the double appointment of the Synod on Family Life,” the bishop of Rome told the gathering.

Although he admitted that such a consultation does not discern the Sensus Fidei, he stressed that it is not possible to talk about families without first consulting with them.

He then described listening as being far more than simply hearing, but a mutual process from which everyone has something to learn.

“The synod of bishops is the convergence point of this listening dynamic conducted at all levels of the Church,” he said. “The synodal process starts by listening to the people.”

He described the role of the bishops as interpreters of and witnesses to the faith of the Church, saying that they must be able to distinguish changing trends in public opinion.

In conclusion, the bishop of Rome said that the final stage in the synodal process culminates in using this listening process with the successor of St. Peter—or himself—whom he described as the pastor and teacher of all Christians.

“It starts with his personal beliefs, but as the supreme witness of the faith of the Church in its totality, he is the guarantor of obedience and compliance of the Church to God, to the gospel of Christ and the tradition of the Church,” the bishop of Rome said.

The bishop of Rome said that this is not a limiting dynamic that restricts freedom, but a guarantee of unity—a permanent and visible force and foundation of unity and obedience to the Church of God.

The bishops are at the same time untied with the bishop of Rome through their collegiality and communion with each other, but also subject to him.

This was the function of the apostle, Peter. He was the one who affirmed his brothers and sisters in the faith.

The bishop of Rome stressed that those who exercise that role are the ministers, in other words the least of all. “It is in serving the people of God that each bishop becomes, for the portion of the flock entrusted to him, a vicar of Christ.”

The bishop of Rome pointed out, “Let us never forget! For the disciples of Jesus… the only authority is the authority of service.”

He said that this authority springs from the base of the Church, the people, and this is why he wants to see a process of decentralisation of authority take place.

“It is not appropriate for the pope to replace the local episcopacies in the discernment of the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense I feel the need of a healthy decentralisation,” the bishop of Rome stated.

He added that the concept of collegiality has ecumenical implications as well and the manner in which it is articulated will have a long-term effect on the advancement of relations among all Christian Churches.

He stressed that conversion of the papacy is an urgent matter, quoting Pope John Paul II as saying, “As bishop of Rome, I know… that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells.”