Participants in the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops have approved a Letter to the People of God giving thanks for their experience, detailing the work of the past few weeks, and expressing the hope that in the coming months, everyone will be able to “concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word ‘synod'”.
Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
As the proceedings of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops draw to a close, we want to thank God with all of you for the beautiful and enriching experience we have lived. We lived this blessed time in profound communion with all of you. We were supported by your prayers, bearing with you your expectations, your questions, as well as your fears. As Pope Francis requested two years ago, a long process of listening and discernment was initiated, open to all the People of God, no one being excluded, to “journey together” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, missionary disciples engaged in the following of Jesus Christ.
The session in which we have been gathered in Rome since 30 September is an important phase of this process. In many ways it has been an unprecedented experience. For the first time, at Pope Francis’ invitation, men and women have been invited, in virtue of their baptism, to sit at the same table to take part, not only in the discussions, but also in the voting process of this Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Together, in the complementarity of our vocations, our charisms and our ministries, we have listened intensely to the Word of God and the experience of others. Using the conversation in the Spirit method, we have humbly shared the wealth and poverty of our communities from every continent, seeking to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church today. We have thus also experienced the importance of fostering mutual exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of Eastern Christianity. The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities deeply enriched our discussions.
Our assembly took place in the context of a world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities resonated painfully in our hearts, infusing our work with a particular gravity, especially since some of us come from countries where war rages. We prayed for the victims of deadly violence, without forgetting all those who have been forced by misery and corruption to take the dangerous road of migration. We assured our solidarity and commitment alongside the women and men all over the world who are working to build justice and peace.
At the invitation of the Holy Father, we made significant room for silence to foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit among us. During the opening ecumenical vigil, we experienced how the thirst for unity increases in the silent contemplation of the crucified Christ. In fact, the cross is the only cathedra of the One who, having given himself for the salvation of the world, entrusted His disciples to His Father, so that “they may all be one” (John 17:21). Firmly united in the hope brought by His Resurrection, we entrusted to Him our common home where the cries of the earth and the poor are becoming increasingly urgent: “Laudate Deum!” (“Praise God!”), as Pope Francis reminded us at the beginning of our work.
Day by day, we felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion. For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by focusing on itself, but by placing itself at the service of the infinite love with which God loved the world (cf. John 3:16). When homeless people near St. Peter’s Square were asked about their expectations regarding the Church on the occasion of this synod, they replied: “Love!”. This love must always remain the ardent heart of the Church, a Trinitarian and Eucharistic love, as the Pope recalled on October 15, midway through our assembly, invoking the message of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. It is “trust” that gives us the audacity and inner freedom that we experienced, not hesitating to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions.
And now? We hope that the months leading to the second session in October 2024 will allow everyone to concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word “synod”. This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition. As the Pope reminded us at the beginning of this process, “communion and mission can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality (…) encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all” (October 9, 2021). There are multiple challenges and numerous questions: the synthesis report of the first session will specify the points of agreement we have reached, highlight the open questions, and indicate how our work will proceed.
To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest. This requires a path of conversion on its part, which is also a path of praise: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Luke 10:21)! It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church; listening to people who are victims of racism in all its forms – in particular in some regions to indigenous peoples whose cultures have been scorned. Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.
The Church also needs to listen to the laity, women and men, all called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal vocation: to the testimony of catechists, who in many situations are the first proclaimers of the Gospel; to the simplicity and vivacity of children, the enthusiasm of youth, to their questions, and their pleas; to the dreams, the wisdom and the memory of elderly people. The Church needs to listen to families, to their educational concerns, to the Christian witness they offer in today’s world. She needs to welcome the voice of those who want to be involved in lay ministries and to participate in discernment and decision-making structures.
To progress further in synodal discernment, the Church particularly needs to gather even more the words and experience of the ordained ministers: priests, the primary collaborators of the bishops, whose sacramental ministry is indispensable for the life of the whole body; deacons, who, through their ministry, signify the care of the entire Church for the most vulnerable. She also needs to let herself be questioned by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, the watchful sentinel of the Spirit’s call. She also needs to be attentive to all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth, and in whom the Spirit, who “offers everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et Spes 22), is also present and operative.
“The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium” (Pope Francis, October 17, 2015). We do not need to be afraid to respond to this call. Mary, Mother of the Church, the first on the journey, accompanies our pilgrimage. In joy and in sorrow, she shows us her Son and invites us to trust. And He, Jesus, is our only hope!
Vatican City, October 25, 2023
Pope: I like to think of the Church as God’s faithful people
In an intervention delivered at the beginning of Wednesday afternoon’s General Congregation of the General Assembly, Pope Francis highlights the description of the Church as God’s faithful people, infallible in believing.
Intervention of Pope Francis at the 18th General Congregation of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
I like to think of the Church as God’s faithful people, saint and sinner, a people convoked and called with the force of the beatitudes and of Matthew 25.
Jesus, for His Church, did not take up any of the political schemes of his time: not the Pharisees, nor Sadducees, nor Essenes, nor Zealots. No “closed corporation”; He simply takes up the tradition of Israel: “You shall be My people and I will be your God”.
I like to think of the Church as this simple and humble people who walk in the presence of the Lord (the faithful people of God). This is the religious meaning of our faithful people. And I say faithful people so as not to fall into the many ideological approaches and schemes with which the reality of the people of God is “reduced”. Simply faithful people, or also, “God’s holy faithful people” on the way, saind and sinner. And this is the Church.
One of the characteristics of this faithful people is its infallibility; yes, it is infallible in credendo (“In credendo falli nequit”, says LG 12) Infallible in believing. And I explain it like this: “When you want to know what Holy Mother Church believes, go to the Magisterium, because it is in charge of teaching it to you; but when you want to know how the Church believes, go to the faithful people”.
An image comes to mind: the faithful people gathered at the entrance of the Cathedral of Ephesus. The story (or legend) goes that the people stood on both sides of the road to the Cathedral as the Bishops in procession made their entrance, and in chorus they repeated: “Mother of God”, asking the Hierarchy to declare that dogma to be true which they already possessed as the people of God. (Some say that they held clubs in their hands and showed them to the Bishops). I don’t know if it is history or legend, but the image is valid.
The faithful people, the holy faithful people of God, have a soul, and because we can speak of the soul of a people we can speak of a hermeneutic, of a way of seeing reality, of a conscience. Our faithful people are conscious of their dignity, they baptize their children, they bury their dead.
We members of the Hierarchy come from that people and we have received the faith of that people, generally from our mothers and grandmothers, “your mother and grandmother” Paul tells Timothy, a faith handed down in a feminine dialect, like the mother of the Maccabees who spoke “in dialect” to her children. And here I like to underline that, among God’s holy and faithful people, the faith is transmitted in dialect, and usually in the feminine dialect. This is not only because the Church is Mother and it is precisely women who best reflect her; (the Church is woman) but also because it is women who know how to wait, who know how to discover the resources of the Church, of the faithful people, who risk beyond the limit, perhaps with fear but courageous, and in the light and shade of a day that is beginning, they approach a tomb with the intuition (not yet hope) that there may be some life.
The woman of God’s holy and faithful people is a reflection of the Church. The Church is feminine, she is a wife, she is a mother.
When ministers go too far in their service and mistreat the people of God, they disfigure the face of the Church with macho and dictatorial attitudes (it is enough to recall the intervention of Sr. Liliana Franco). It is painful to find in some parish offices the “price list” of sacramental services in the manner of a supermarket. Either the Church is the faithful people of God on the way, saint and sinner, or it ends up being a company of various services. And when pastoral workers take this second path, the Church becomes the supermarket of salvation and the priests mere employees of a multinational corporation. This is the great defeat to which clericalism leads us. And this is very sad and scandalous (it is enough to go to ecclesiastical tailor’s shops in Rome to see the scandal of young priests trying on cassocks and hats or albs and lace-covered robes).
Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages the face of the Lord’s bride; it enslaves God’s holy and faithful people.
And God’s people, God’s holy faithful people, go forward with patience and humility, enduring the scorn, mistreatment, and marginalization of institutionalized clericalism. And how naturally we speak of the princes of the Church, or of episcopal promotions as career advancement! The horrors of the world, the worldliness that mistreats God’s holy and faithful people.
The Holy Father delivered his remarks in Spanish.