Ferenc pápa

Let the Holy Spirit speak

Gábor Mohos, auxiliary bishop and parish priest of the Saint Stephen’s Basilica, representing the Hungarian Roman Catholic community, attended the synod. In our interview we discussed his personal experiences and the papal encouragements during the event.

– You were personally present at the synod. Please tell us about the background. When did you learn that you would represent our community at this extremely important event?
– About a year before the synod I received the honorable invitation. The Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as its membership does not exceed 25 individuals, was allowed to delegate one representative and the members of the episcopal brothers designated me for this task. I personally considered it a great opportunity as it allowed me to reconnect with a global church event. I fondly remember my first global church experience when, as a third-year seminarian I continued my studies in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where students from more than a hundred countries gathered. Experiencing that we are members of a culturally diverse global church united by our common faith in Jesus Christ was a tremendous gift. This unity was palpable during the synod as well as we were deeply connected through our shared faith although there were some fundamental differences of opinion as well.

– Did you have the opportunity to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis?
– During public masses I had the opportunity to concelebrate, but I did not attend his private masses. It was a grace-filled time and I fondly remember the months leading up to the synod when, as a parish priest, I had the opportunity to welcome Pope Francis to the Saint Stephen’s Basilica with the members of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Hungarian priests celebrating mass on the 8th of October 2023, during the Synod on synodality in the Hungarian chapel of the Vatican (Photo: Vatican Media)

– Many consider the synod as an entirely new ecclesiastical perspective. What is its historical background?
– The Synod of Bishops was established by Pope Saint Paul VI in the period following the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, it is not something entirely new but an institution that has been functioning for over fifty years, convening regularly. It’s essential to mention the extraordinary synods as well, like during the time of Pope Saint John Paul II when synods were organized continentally in preparation for the jubilee year 2000. The institution has been known for almost half a century, so it’s not a novelty. However, there have been modifications initiated by Pope Francis during the last few years. Previously the synods dealt with well-defined issues such as priestly formation, episcopal service, youth, family, or specific issues of a continent.

Synodality is a more general topic that, in a certain sense, concerns the entire Church. This is the reason why Pope Francis decided that now laypeople are also allowed to attend, seventy individuals precisely.

Understandably, this change raised many questions, including whether we would still call it the Synod of Bishops or rather the Synod of God’s people. The Vatican has firmly stated that it will continue to be called the Synod of Bishops but it is undeniable that there have been several changes.

– So, renewal did not begin recently?
– The Synod is the fruit of the Second Vatican Council. Renewal is an ongoing process and the goal is not complete alteration but to remain on the path so that we may continue to be God’s people in history as it has been for 2000 years. Recall that in the 1960s, a new missal was introduced, and mass began to be celebrated in the vernacular instead of Latin. In 1983, a new code of canon law was issued to incorporate the council’s changes into ecclesiastical legislation. Later, in 1992, Pope Saint John Paul II released the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These changes were all part of implementing the decisions of the Second Vatican Council in practice. I would also like to mention the importance of papal encyclicals which have addressed contemporary issues such as social or fundamental doctrinal questions.

Progress did not begin recently; we have been on this journey for two thousand years.

The Church is not renewed by us, humans but by the Holy Spirit. The central theme of the October synod was to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. This was tangibly realized by praying among the interventions and participating in a common mass at St. Peter’s Basilica before each new session. Pope Francis himself emphasized that we are not conflicting with our human perspectives but discussing certain issues with the suggestion of the Holy Spirit. We must understand that renewal is impossible without the Holy Spirit.

Gergely Kovács, archbishop of Alba Iulia and Gábor Mohos auxiliary bishop on the 30th of September 2023 participating the Together event (Fotó: Boldizsár Szefcsik )

– What message does synodality convey?
– In connection with this, the question arose about how unified of a community we can form, whether we can listen, pay attention to each other. Pope Francis wanted to draw attention to this with the term synodality, a term that many of us are still getting used to. Personally, I can best grasp its meaning through the Acts of the Apostles, where we read about the very first community of believers being of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). However, this did not exclude the presence of leaders in the community. We also read that the apostles were the economic and spiritual leaders of the community, acknowledged by the believers (cf. Acts 4:34). The apostles were chosen by Jesus Christ himself and endowed with a grace that made them suitable to lead the Church with supernatural support. It should be noted that this still applies today. Bishops are endowed with the same special grace in serving the Church. Not because they understand theology better or are better speakers, although in some cases this is also true, but because God called them, called us.

– In your experience, can the synod have an impact on the sad fact that, according to statistics, the number of Catholic believers is decreasing?
– It’s an interesting question depending on how we look at this statistic. While surveys unfortunately show a decline in the number of Catholic believers throughout Europe, in other parts of the world more people are joining the Catholic Church even as the number of priests remains stagnant. Take Africa or the Far East, where dynamically growing communities operate. What impact the synod will have on this, remains to be seen. It was interesting when the leaders of the synodal secretariat were asked the same question and their response was: we don’t know as we are led by the Holy Spirit. If we had planned everything in advance, we would not have allowed the Holy Spirit to speak.

The essence of renewal is to be open to God; He is the one who renews us,

who touches us in a creative way and brings out the creativity within us.

Written by Nikolett Vermes

Photo at the top: Magyar Kurír