Tag Archive for: english

Austen Ivereigh: The church has been changed

The biographer of Pope Francis participated in the Synod on synodality as a theologian expert. He explained why this assembly was exceptional and how to move forward in the synodal renewal.

– After the first session of the Synod on synodality, what impressions are in your heart?
– Most of us feel that something important has happened, grace has been operating, the Spirit has been active. We have the feeling that we are part of each other – in spite of our differences, which is a sign of the Spirit. The conclusion of the assembly, with the marathon of the 35-hour-long reading of the final document followed by the voting was incredible – the numbers of the votes in favour were very striking, over 95 per cent, on every paragraph of the document.The only exceptions were the two paragraphs on women deacons, but neither of those was close to being opposed by a third. This shows that there was far more unity we hoped for. Something has changed during the session. The assembly ended with a spirit of openness. I think there’s a feeling that “we did it”. What actually happened is harder to explain, because if you look at what has been decided, everything is expressed in terms of proposals: commissions to look at this, we need to explore that. But thinking about where we were at the beginning of October, when the global church assembled for the first time to have conversations in the Spirit at a universal level, which has never been possible before, it is quite remarkable that we ended the session like this. If we had ended with “okay, we all think differently”, if there had been no agreement on the document summarizing the assembly, we would have to say it had failed. But it’s clear that, in spite of our many, many cultural differences and the incredible diversity of perspectives on the faith, there is a consensus that we must act as a body to wrestle with these complex questions, and find common paths forward.

– So you’re not dissatisfied with the Synod.
– No, I am not, but the real work begins now, and of course, by next October, many of these issues will not have been resolved. The fact that we have committed ourselves to this journey together, we are committed to looking at these issues together from canonical, moral, theological, pastoral perspectives, as the decision has been made to deepen our understanding, shows that we are in a process of ecclesial discernment together, and I find this remarkable. The church has been changed by this and will be changed by this.

We have chosen a vehicle, that is a very different vehicle from what we used to have.

Austen Ivereigh (Photos of this article made by Balázs Gégény)

– Thanks to the media briefings I had the chance to follow the first session of the synod from a distance. I have realised, that one important fruit of the conversations is the recognition that Europe isn’t the centre of the church anymore, the Catholic church is more diverse and multipolar than many of us imagined. Do you think that respecting, or even celebrating this diversity will be a challenge?
– Yes. It’s easy to say that we should celebrate our diversity. The phrase can sound very nice. To choose to stay together and work together despite our differences is quite hard work, and it demands an existential displacement which was painful to some during the assembly. What I mean is, we had a format and a method. This was the first time we had had a Synod of Bishops which had 25% of non-bishops and a few of the bishops found it hard to accept that. Some of them questioned the authority of the synod. We had moments of tension, which shows how hard work it has been. This was also a Synod at which the global church asserted itself over the western church. Participants from Africa or from the Middle East were saying: your priorities are not my priorities; your churches are empty, ours are full; you have hardly anybody trying for priesthood, our seminaries are full; you use ‘LGBT’, that’s not our term – it’s a western, liberal, ideological term. These are difficult things to hear! Sometimes, you know, voices like this come with a certain arrogance. And the fact that LGBT is missing in the final document is a sign of that. It was in many continental documents, it was in the Instrumentum Laboris, but it got taken out in the revision of the synod synthesis. But this reflects what happened. In many ways, we didn’t begin a conversation on this issue because we couldn’t start having a conversation on it since we’re not ready for it; for some parts of the Church, even the term ‘LGBT’ is hard to use. You might say, ‘okay, there’s a failure there’, but I don’t consider as a failure since we have never had this kind of conversation, on this level, as a global church. It’s vital that everyone can say what they think and we are honest about our differences. Only then can we begin to come together. While on some issues, like the women’s issue, we worked hard, and the documents show some important breakthroughs, such as on the diaconate question, on some other issues the conversation began but never really developed. So we were able to work together on many issues, but not all. This is the first of two stages. My point is, that it’s a success itself that we were able to begin an honest conversation, and at the end, to agree to continue this conversation.

– Let’s speak about your participation. There were two groups of non-bishops at the Synod: the voting members and a group of theologian experts. What were you doing during this session?
– There were 364 members of the Synod, meaning they had a vote and they had the right to speak. They took part in the small groups discussion meetings. There was another category of the fraternal delegates, invitees from other churches. They were also in the small groups; they could speak but they didn’t have a vote. And there was the group, known as experts, about 80 people in total. Most of them were facilitators who sat in on the small groups, guiding the process, but weren’t formally part of them. Their job was to facilitate the process. Finally, there was a smaller group of 24 theologians such as myself. We didn’t sit with the members, we sat at our own tables, in the same room when a plenary session was being conducted. When they were working in small groups, we did our work. It was to read everything coming out of the assembly or from small groups and as well as individual contributions. We worked on a synthesis to assist the writing of the Synthesis report. So we were the ones who were standing back, observing the process, helping the groups of writers to compose the final synthesis document. The writing of the report was also overseen by a commission elected by the assembly.

– As a theologian, what’s your answer to those who doubted the validity of the Synod?
– The answer to this question was very clearly given by Cardinal Grech in the assembly, who referred to Episcopalis Communio of 2018, which makes clear, first of all, that the Synod is a consultative body, called by the Pope to give him advice, and the Pope is free to arrange the Synod how he wants. It also says, as long as 75% of the voting members are bishops, it is a synod of bishops. What happened here was that 25% of the members were non-bishops. They were priests, religious men and women, deacons, and lay men and women, most of them delegates of 7 continents. Their contributions mattered very much. They were listed as “witnesses to the synodal journey”. According to Cardinal Grech,

this Synod had actually a greater authority because it was rooted in the “sense of faith” of the People of God. So the authority of the bishops is actually strengthened by the “others” present at the Synod.

The final document says there are canonical questions to be answered about how – at the end of the process – our bishops will be able to exercise their hierarchical charism of authority. Some think, for example, that should be a vote of only bishops at the end of the process next year. But I think there was a consensus that the Synod was richer because of the presence of non-episcopal members. You got a variety of people fulfilling a variety of roles in the Church from around the globe.

– I also heard many bishops, cardinals said that this Synod was much better because it wasn’t just one big hall of bishops, with some of them talking at the front table, but it was a fruitful conversation thanks to the roundtables.
– It was really better. In the former system, under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, it worked like this: in the first week, everyone could speak for 10 minutes on whatever topic they wanted. Literally, about everything! It was chaotic. One bishop described it as like being on a transatlantic flight without movies. There wasn’t really any discussion. Under Francis, the synods have become more dynamic, but no doubt, moving the whole event into the audience hall with the roundtables was a great breakthrough. I don’t think anybody wants to go back to the earlier system now. People also loved the retreat at the beginning, it really helped them to enter prayerfully into the process. At the heart of the roundtables was the conversation in the Spirit method, whichwas also new to the synod of bishops: each member speaking for 4 minutes, no discussion, just listening. Then silence. Then a second round during which you, rather than debating, shared what resonated in your heart about what you had just heard. At the third stage they would try to reach agreement on where the group agreed, where they disagreed, and what further steps were necessary to clarify and take things forward. This method means having to listen deeply to other people but, unlike a parliamentary system, you don’t seek to convince others; it wasn’t an attempt at negotiation or persuasion. The idea was to listen deeply, and hear what the Spirit was saying to us. And it worked! When someone tried to persuade someone of their point of view, there was a negative reaction to that. It’s not about persuading others, it’s trying to find out what the Spirit is trying to say to the Church. It’s a collective search for the truth which has a very different dynamic. Many have said, “hey look, we’ve got something here that the world needs”. In this time of war and polarization we’ve found a method, actually a very old method dating back to the early church which allows consensus, but also allows divisions to be generative and fruitful instead of being polarizing. We don’t have to settle our differences by majority-minority votes, we can grow into a consensus, which is neither A, nor B, but something else, a different horizon. It was a learning process for everyone, and it was hard for some; people got impatient. But by the end, In think the view was: this works and this is how we should operate, as a Church, at every level.

– What do you suggest for local and national churches in which the clergy and the lay people seem to be far from each other?
– The Church is in a state of crisis in the western world, because the structures and mindset in many ways were set up in a way to defend ourselves from modernity, from hostile states and so onThese structures were made to survive and even thrive in modernity. But modernity is breaking down and the Church is not well equipped for the listening and dialogue that a postemodern society of seekers demands. It is no longer enough to say to people, “we have the answers, don’t worry we’ll tell you what to do and what to think” by the bishops and the pope. It just does not work anymore. The question arises: how do we proceed?

Patriarchalism, authoritarianism don’t work any longer. But nor does a parliament-like system at a time when democracy itself is breaking down. We rather need to recover the way given by Jesus to the Church. He said to the disciples: do not worry, the Spirit will lead you,

and that is what happened when the apostles all assembled at the Council of Jerusalem, 20 years after Pentecost. There was a breakthrough, a coming-together around a new horizon opened by the Spirit. But it required all to assemble, and all to be involved in the listening and discernment, and the authorities to decide only at the conclusion fo that listening and discernment. This is what synodality is, putting into practice what Lumen Gentium says about us being the People of God, by the virtue of our baptism, and about the Spirit being poured out on all of the baptized. We have to start to take this seriously in the structures and in the culture of the Church. That’s what this really is about, what the whole Synod on synodality is about. This assembly is an attempt to act like this at a global level, with the Synod of Bishops, making the participation of all important. It is the reason why we have a religious sister alongside a deacon or a layman or a bishop and a cardinal. We are all engaged in this together although we have different functions, different roles. However, we’re, first of all, the people of God, engaged in this collective discernment, listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church..

– How can we use our time best between the two sessions of the synod?
– As Cardinal Grech said at the last briefing: we hope that the participants will now go back to their churches, with their feelings, transformations, testimonies from the Synod, to suggest having conversation in the Spirit at every level in the Church – diocesan level, pastoral councils, parishes. When people participate in the Church, they take responsibility, the Church can become missionary, evangelizing. The three go together: missionary, evangelizing and participating. Now we have a year, and if you look through the document, a lot has to happen this year. Realistically, I think, much of it isn’t going happen because we’re at the beginning of this journey. The trouble is that our local churches, whether in Hungary or in the UK or in America or in France, are not ready for this. We don’t have the proper mechanisms and culture at hand. No parish is going take this document and suddenly form groups to debate, I doubt it. It’s going be more difficult. But we can begin to open windows identified by the assembly, to create commissions, and come up with proposals, and bring those experiences to the next assembly.

– My last question is based on the title of your book, Let Us Dream. What could lay people do to achieve their dreams within the Church?
– I often tell this story when I’m asked about how all of this works in practice. In February ‘22 I gave a workshop in my parish on the conversation in the Spirit. People loved it, and said we need to use it in the parish. And then everyone went away and nothing happened. Some time passed, Putin invaded Ukraine, and my parish priest, the abbot of a monastery, asked what we should do. I proposed to call a synodal meeting. What makes it synodal, and not a business meeting, was that we didn’t ask, how do we help Ukrainians? The question was: what is the Holy Spirit asking us to do? We need to begin there, it’s a discernment question. So I advertised the day, and on the occasion, we had people coming to our parish, but not just from our church. Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists participated, too… They had no idea about the conversation in the Spirit method, so I had to teach them first. As a result, we were gathered in four different groups, made up of Catholics, Anglicans etc. all discussing what we are asking from the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the whole morning of discernment was the realisation: yes, we should open our houses to the refugees, but more importantly, that in the future we should work together as churches in the whole area, we should build unity among us. We realized that the main challenge for us was not having the material resources, but are we capable of working together? Do we have communion? It shows the essence of the synodal method: the Spirit would point at things you hadn’t expected. As the result, we did create a group, which is ecumenical, and at the moment various families are housing six families in the area.

I encourage you to always start with the question: what is the Holy Spirit asking of us at this time? The ‘us’ can be a parish, a school, it can be a diocese. First of all, you have to start facing the reality you’re living in.

Make sure you listen as widely as possible, listen to as many different people as you can. Have a consultation phase when you’re just listening. Later, have another phase when you’re discerning, using the conversation in the Spirit method so you’ll listen for what the Spirit is saying to you through all of this. It should be one or two things, don’t make a long list, find the most important issues. Finally, the last question is how to do it, how to move forward, but this really should be the last question, and only if there is consensus in the earlier ones. Any organization, any school, any institution, can do this. Begin with prayer, begin with the word of God, learn to listen, use the conversation in the Spirit method, be aware of the temptation to always have to have a debate and to turn into a business meeting. The church is not a corporation, is not an NGO. If you want a business meeting, go into business. If it’s the church, you do it in the church’s way, meaning: synodally. I believe we are all called to do that: it is only by practice you get to discover what it means. You’ll see its fruits. And we, who lived it in Rome, we know how hard work it is, sometimes painful and difficult, it requires commitment but its fruits are very, very great. It is transformative. Most people, when they do it, realise: this is how the church should be.

Written by István Gégény

* * *

Austen Ivereigh’s new book, First Belong to God: On Retreat with Pope Francis is published by Messenger Press in February.

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.

James Martin: Even though we disagree, we are still brothers in Christ

The American Jesuit became a worldwide known pastor of those who are feeling persecuted out of the Catholic church because of their sexual orientation. He is convinced that this is not only a “Western” topic.

– What are your reflections on the first session of this synod, how do you feel about the proceedings so far?
– I’m feeling very grateful for having been invited by the Holy Father to participate. It was really quite an honor. And the four weeks was both fascinating and exhausting! So mainly I’m filled with gratitude.

– Can you recall a particularly interesting detail of this 4-week-long meeting and did you miss something you had expected to happen or be discussed?
– Perhaps the most important facet of the Synod was how we were able to dialogue with one another at our tables, through the method of „conversations in the spirit,” which emphasized listening and discernment. In the first round at our tables, everyone was able to speak without any interruptions, which meant that everyone else had to listen. In the second round, everyone spoke about what moved them or challenged them, again without interruption. And, finally, in the third round we were able to have a more free-flowing dialogue. So there was a lot of listening involved. Then we summarized our conversations under the headings of „convergences,” „divergences,” „questions” and „tensions,” so there was not a move towards a false consensus, but on truly recounting what had happened at the tables. It was very fruitful.

– You are a well-known pastor of LBGT+ people. How did you come to terms with the fact that the expression ‘LGBT’ is missing from the Synthesis report – although all the 7 continental documents and even the Instrumentum Laboris contained it and, all in all, the topic is not excluded at all?
– This was not a surprise to me. Some of the delegates, from various places, objected to that term „LGBTQ” or „LGBT+.” So the drafters felt it would be better to leave it out. But still in the final document there is a strong call to accompany those who feel excluded because of „identity or sexuality” (in the Italian it is because of „gender identity and sexual orientation”) and to deepen our reflection and study of their situations, as well as of others who feel excluded. For me, I think it’s important to use that term, since that’s what most LGBTQ people use. But in the end it was more important for the idea of accompaniment of the group to be included. Also, I want to say that

I was happy throughout the Synod to speak to people who did not agree with me on LGBTQ issues in a cordial and open way: for example, Archbishop Péter Fülöp Kocsis,

the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Hajdúdorog and the head of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church. We had a good and honest discussion and afterwards took a photo together. It was a reminder that even though we disagree, we are still brothers in Christ. I was very grateful to him for our conversation.

– As I see it, the main aim of the synodal process is to change the form of discussion from the ‘judging from above’ style into a ‘listening beside you’ style. What does synodality mean for you, and do you believe that the dream of Pope Francis can actually be realised?
– Synodality is a confusing word–and concept–for many people. At heart, it means coming together to listen to one another, and it is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is at work in all of us, not just cardinals, archbishops and bishops. Of course this new way of „being a church” will take time for people to understand and to put into practice. It’s very ancient–after all, the Council of Jerusalem, in the Acts of the Apostles, was perhaps the earliest such gathering. But doing it in modern times–with priests, members of religious orders and lay men and women, and not just bishops, having voting rights–is brand new. Synods were revived after the Second Vatican Council, but only with Pope Francis do „non-bishops” have the right to attend and vote. So all this will take time.

– As the first session had ended, news about the 6 answers of the Discastery for Doctrine of the Faith arrived. As declared in them, being transgender or gay poses no problem to people to be godparents, witnesses of a marriage, being baptized, given the appropriate circumstances. What is your reaction to this statement?
– It was a very positive step in seeing transgender people not as categories or stereotypes, but as real people, and also as Catholics. I’m no expert in this area but, at the very least, these people need to know that they are part of the church, just like everyone else is. They need the church a great deal, given all the violence and hatred that they face. And of course the church needs everyone too, no matter who they are. I know the whole phenomenon may be confusing to some people, but I know many transgender people and they just want to be part of the community.

– I participated in almost every media briefing during the first sessions and clearly, the most frequent questions asked by journalists from all over the world focused on LGBT issues. How do you feel about this fact and can you share your opinion about what message it delivers?
– Well, some people might say it’s just a „media issue,” but I would say that the media covers it because people are obviously interested in it. And, more and more, the issue affects a greater number of people around the world, as more and more people have family members and friends who are LGBT. Also,

some people say it’s just a „Western issue,” but LGBT people are in every country. So while it’s not the most important issue discussed at the Synod, it was certainly an important one,

as the church continues to reflect on how to minister to this community, who are so often the victims of violence, harassment and bullying.

– What is your message to the LGBT people who expected a bigger step by the universal church towards them, and what would you tell to those who fear that the Catholic church may be too ‘liberal’, even ‘self-destructive’ if it becomes more open/inclusive regarding LGBT people?
– To LGBT people who were expecting more, I would say that the Synod is not juridical–that is, it does not make laws. It is consultative. But I’d also say that the concerns of LGBT people were discussed on a universal level for perhaps the first time in church history. Also, I would point to many positive steps forward that have happened for LGBTQ people under Pope Francis, the most recent one being, as you said, the openness to transgender people. As for people who fear that the church is being „self-destructive” by welcoming LGBTQ people, I would invite them to come to know LGBT people as human beings. Some of this fear, I believe, is from a certain lack of knowledge or from seeing these people simply as categories or stereotypes. And for people who are concerned that LGBTQ people may not be following church teaching in one or another area, I would say that no one’s life is in perfect conformity with church teaching. Consider, for example, straight married couples who use birth control, which is a large percentage of Catholics, at least in the US. This too is considered sinful by the church, yet no one is saying that they are „destroying” the church. Some of the animosity against LGBTQ people is seeing them primarily as a result of an „ideology,” which I think is inaccurate. Gays and lesbians–as most psychologists, biologists and scientists will tell you–are largely born that way. It’s a complicated topic, and while the media may influence some impressionable teenagers, in the end, a person does not become gay by reading a book or watching a video on YouTube. (There were gay people long before social media, after all.) Second, some of the opposition comes from seeing them as a result of „Western colonialism,” when in fact they exist, and have probably always existed, in every country. And, by the way, another form of colonialism comes from American media outlets and other wealthy political groups spreading anti-LGBTQ hatred overseas. We have to understand that kind of „colonialism” as well. But beyond these more intellectual arguments, the main thing is to see them as human beings.

Get to know them. Ask them what their lives are like, how they suffer, who God is for them.

Then you’ll see them as your brothers and sisters.

Written by István Gégény

Opening photo: László Német, archbishop of Beograd

You can reach the Hungarian translation here.

Myriam Wijlens: The members of the church need to talk with each other

The Dutch-born professor of the University of Erfurt is not only participating in the synod, but also taking an active role in the preparation. At the end of the first session, we sat down to talk about cultural diversity, lonely bishops and wall-breaking walks.

– What is your task during the synodal process?
– In 2021, I was invited by Cardinal Mario Grech to participate in the work of the steering committee. I was the only woman in this team, along with three Italian priests and a bishop. From the very beginning of the synodal process, I actively participated in the preparation of the documents, I was present at the expert meeting preparing the continental phase in Frascati in September 2022, and at the European continental meeting in Prague in February 2023. In the meantime, Pope Francis appointed me as a consultor to the synod itself. I was also invited to participate in the first synodal session held in October 2023, where I assisted the assembly as an expert. There are four canon lawyers in this team: one of my colleagues, Péter Szabó arrived from Hungary, one person originates from Belgium and another from Spain. I was part of the English-language working group, and our task was to read the summaries of the discussions of the synodal members and examine on which topics there was agreement, where tension might have arisen, what issues require more theological deepening, and what further steps are needed.

– It seems that very active work took place during this session. Those who followed the event from a distance may feel that little of the expectations and desired renewal steps appear in the synthesis report issued at the end of October.
– We are witnessing a tremendous change. The synod itself is implemented in a completely different way than previous similar meetings. It had never happened before that the local churches were not told something from above, from Rome – now Pope Francis decided: you, the members of the local communities, will start the process. The first step was to establish mutual sharing and direct interaction between the local churches and the universal church. And when the dioceses sent their comments to the bishops’ conference, the focus was on whether the pastors had heard and understood well what the other faithful said. Clarification and feedback therefore played an eminent role. During the next step we wanted to enable the people in the dioceses to listen to what others in other parts of the world had said: in this way the faithful from e.g. Budapest could listen to the message of the faithful living in New York, Kinshasa, and Mumbai. This is what is expressed with the notion of being catholic as Vatican II articulated it.: each part of the church shares its own gifts with the others. This was the essence of our work in Frascati:

the representatives of the individual areas should not only tell their thoughts, but we should listen to each other, so that the voice of the Holy Spirit as heard through the whole church could reach everyone.

With this, everyone can explore how their own community can become a part of the symphony in a huge orchestra. Some people can play this or that instrument very well, but it is important to be tuned in the same way. And it is not enough to have a dialogue between the universal church and local communities, we must recognize that each continent has unique features. The Catholic communities of Asia, for example, have two thousand years of experience about how they can live together and be in contact with other religions that are the same age or even older than Christianity. Europe is characterized by the dominance of Christian culture, but our continent also has many differences in this regard. We therefore invited the Catholics of the world to listen to each other. I just published a book containing the results of all the continental conferences. It contains not only what the Catholics of the world formulated, but also how they arrived at the stated realizations. True diversity characterized the synod, in which we used the same method – conversation in the Spirit – that also characterized the continental councils. It was not by chance that we used round tables for the conversations instead of square tables, because in the latter case there is always one most important person who sits at the head of the table. The round table expresses a kind of Christian equality that based on our baptism. Another innovation is the fact that people from completely different cultures listened to each other. They did not preach to each other, but listened to each other. Everyone had the same amount of time to share their thoughts. And just as different communication cultures met – for example, we, Dutch people are outspoken, while a woman from Asia is more likely to being silent until she is given permission to speak – it is also true from an ecclesiastical point of view that some cardinals were very willing to speak, while some believers wondered: who am I, could I dare to comment? The rule that everyone had the same 4 minutes in the same sharing round helped ensure that those sitting at the tables heard each other.

– This was the first synod of bishops where lay people, including women, were given the right to vote, and their voices were heard in the same way as those of church leaders. How did the bishops and cardinals accept this new situation?
– I can tell you what I heard myself from the bishops who had participated in six or seven episcopal synods. They all expressed that the current method was quite different, because personal statements did not clash with each other, but they said all paid attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to us about how to be a Church. I heard from many bishops how enriching this one month was for them, they got to know many new perspectives about the church. I think it was especially valuable to pay attention to the testimony of religious women, because they don’t just talk about the poor, they live there and serve among them. They live with the dying, those with rockets exploding overhead, who had to leave their homes. If anyone understands and knows the feelings of homeless, poor and needy people, it is the nuns. They live in a world that is foreign to many of us. I also hear about it, read about it, but I have no personal experience.

The participation of women in the synod and the hearing of their voices is extremely important because the majority of church communities are made up of women,

and we mainly meet them in the service of caritas. The obvious question arose for the bishops: how can we leave women out of such an important conversation?

– So the church leaders welcomed the presence of women in the synod session?
– I believe so, and the same is true in connection with lay men. There was, for example, an online communication expert who is familiar with the digital world. He communicated to us in what world the Church is operating or not operating while we can see how people are moving on the internet and what the church has to discover there. We are talking about a rapidly developing area where young people feel most at home, and bishops cannot avoid the question of how we can bear witness to our faith in an environment about which we currently know very little of. It is as if we are entering a new mission era, where we are not travelling from Europe to Africa, but are moving from the real world to the digital world. For this we must take the necessary steps. This requires appropriate media and communication training. You have to go where people are, because they don’t care where you are.

Prof. Dr. Myriam Wijlens meets Pope Francis

– The central theme of the current synod on synodality is the reality and function of the church itself. As our conversation shows, clerics and lay people used to live side by side. When I had a conversation with Cardinal Grech a year ago, it became clear that it is an important task to say goodbye to clericalism, religious selfishness, which can tempt lay people as well. This, however, would require much more dialogue, listening, and openness on the part of the members of both groups. I don’t know how common it is, but in Hungary a particular fear can be felt by the church leaders regarding the laity, while the laity do not really look for the possibility of dialogue due to a kind of disappointment. How can we break down these invisible walls?
– The first thing that comes to mind is how it struck me, when bishops shared their feeling of loneliness.

– Really?
– Yes, many bishops feel lonely. And they feel a lot of expectations that they are unable to meet. They should be present in the church as fathers and judges at the same time – the latter role arises, for example, in connection with abuses committed by members of the church. The mentioned clericalism is closely related to abuse issues. I was also a member of the Pontifical Committee for Protection of Minors between 2018 and 2022, I participated in 100 procedures, so I know quite well what I’m talking about. My answer to the question is that, because of all this, we must definitely find ways of dialogue.

We need to talk with each other. Sometimes it is difficult to sit down at the same table. But why can’t we walk, why can’t we literally walk together?

A trip, a pilgrimage, a walk together in which we ask each other: what about you, how are things going? In this way, we can invite each other to look together at the blisters that lie in our souls, to open up mutually to each other for help, for being served. I know that winter is coming, but even then we will surely find time, a nice afternoon, when we can organize a parish walk, a joint walk with the young people, to listen to them, priests can also walk with each other. The great thing about walking is that you don’t have to constantly look at the other person, and this situation often makes it easier to open up and listen to each other.

Written by István Gégény

Opening photo: Anthony Tynan-Kelly

You can reach the Hungarian translation here.