Church is not a monster, but a round table, without sharp edges

A workshop of the Taizé Meeting held in Ljubljana focused on the achievements and the open questions of synodality.

„Synodality in the Church – a new way of being together” was the title of the conversation on the 30th of December 2023 in the Slovenian capital. The guest speakers were: Grzegorz Ryś, Catholic cardinal, archbishop of Łódz, member of the Synod (Poland), Maksimilijan Matjaž, Catholic bishop of Celje, member of the Synod (Slovenia), Ove Sander, Evangelical Lutheran elected bishop (Estonia) and Matej Cepin, lay director of Socialna Akademija (Slovenia). The leader of the dialogue was István Gégény, Catholic lay theologian, president of Szemlélek Foundation (Hungary).

As a first step all the participants of the workshop were asked about 2 questions, so we got to know, that the majority already has some information about synodality, but a very few participated actively in the synodal process.

Cardynal Ryś expressed, that Synod on synodality is important, but their were also important synods before. He is convinced for example, that focusing on youth in the church is a core topic, because young people are not the future of the church, they are the present of the church.

Matej Cepin shared a story that goes back in the time before the synodal process: after organizing a „reading club” on the theme of Fratelli tutti during the pandemic period, he recognized that the synodal process is like a way how to put into action what they read and what they did with that group of people, as a model of ’togetherness’.

He also mentioned, that as a man of IT science, he believes that synodality based on the logic of synergy, that expressed like: 1+1=3. It means that

if 2 person enters to a mutual sharing, a real dialogue, the result will be more than if they shall stay alone, without being together.

Cardinal Ryś shared some details about his archdiocese: he is glad that 7000 Catholics participated in the synodal process’ local stage, but he is sad, that only 7000 Catholics participated from a few hundred thousands of believers.

As told by bishop Matjaž, Slovenian people – mostly the priests, bishops – was ’tired’ to participate actively in the process, we have to confess it. We heard also that the Slovenian Catholic Church is ’very clerical’.

Bishop Sander warned not to be unsatisfied, we have to be patient:

big things in such big structures like the church needs not months, not years, but decades to happen.

We heard that the participation of other denominations and ecumenical representers – like Brother Alois – in the Synod is not just a lovely gesture from Pope Francis. He is convinced that we can learn also from those who is not part of the Catholic church, but they also have some connection, experience with synodality.

In Hungary, a synodal survey highlighted that the majority of the participants (mostly devoted Catholics) did not participate in the local stage of the synodal process, because they were not informed that it is possible for them.

The Catholic communication is in crisis in our region – came out a strong sentence.

During the workshop we tried to understand, why is it important to join to the synodal process, what is this synodality exactly, what is this new way of being together.

One of the participants suggested – from Germany – to think on the word ’Geschwisterlichkeit’, what means ’brotherhood’ and ’sisterhood’ at the same time as a plural expression.

Cardinal Ryś quoted Cardinal Koch’s phrase, that synodality is not about being together as people, but walking together with the Holy Spirit. So without Holy Spirit there is no synodality.

It was also a common sentence from the guests that synodality is not such a process that has an ending point, and even more: synodality is not about creating documents.

Synodality is a way, that is not really new, better to say it’s ’the original way of the Church’.

We also tried to express the lack of synodality.

The moderator called the attention to the fact that this was the first synod where the organizers used dozens of round tables, not to collect all the members into a big audition halls, where a few ’leaders’ speaking at the ’front’ table. According to that, the model of synodality is like a round table, that has no sharp edges, where there are no few important leaders who are speaking and the majority has only right to listen and obey. In synodality we all counts, we all have talents, we all have the right to speak and being listened. Hierarchy is still useful, leaders will stay leaders, but model of making decisions shall be more fraternal, not clerical any more.

Cardinal Ryś warned us from being a ’monster church’ that has only a big head and fingers (based on the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux).

Bishop Sander shared his experience that as understanding better what is going on in the universal Catholic church, he recognized that even their Estonian Evangelical Lutheran church is on the way of such a synodal renewal in these years.

As the fruit of this workshop we recognized a great hiatus of the synodal process that shall be healed. Lay people are invited, involved. Religious orders, spiritual movements are invited, involved. Bishops are obviously invited, involved. Who are missing? The priest! A very few priest participated in the Synod, they are somehow forgotten, or they are at the end of the line.

If we want a real renewal, the church has to focus more on the priests, listen to their voice, involve them, motivate them,

and it is also important to form them, even in the meaning of synodal formation in the seminaries.

The main message we expressed through this workshop: their is no plan ’B’, the future of the church is synodality. If there will be no synodality, their won’t be church.