Synod begins work with focus on Holy Spirit and listening

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
Thursday, October 5, 2023

Pope Francis speaks at the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall during the first working session of the assembly Oct. 4, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis opened the work of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops asking members to meditate on ancient theological texts about the Holy Spirit, have the courage to be honest about their disagreements and focus much more on listening than on sharing their opinions.

The synodal process “is not easy, but it’s beautiful, very beautiful,” Pope Francis told some 364 other synod members and 85 non-voting experts, ecumenical delegates and facilitators the afternoon of Oct. 4 as the synod work began in the Vatican audience hall.

“A certain asceticism” is needed for the synod, the pope said. He asked forgiveness from journalists trying to cover the monthlong meeting but insisted “a certain fasting from public words” would be needed to ensure the proper spiritual atmosphere for the synod members.

And, in fact, the synod rules distributed that evening said, “In order to guarantee the freedom of expression of each and all regarding their thoughts and to ensure the serenity of the discernment in common, which is the main task entrusted to the assembly, each of the participants is bound to confidentiality and discretion regarding both their own interventions and the interventions of other participants.”

Pope Francis also repeated what he has said many times: “the synod is not a parliament” where the ideas of opposing parties will be debated and voted up or down along party lines. Neither, he said, is it “a meeting of friends” getting together to exchange opinions and try to solve problems they see around them.

“The synod is a journey that the Holy Spirit makes,” he said, so constant prayer and listening are necessary to follow the path the Spirit indicates.

“The Holy Spirit triggers a deep and varied dynamism in the Christian community, the confusion of Pentecost,” when people from every nation heard the disciples speaking in their own languages, the pope said. From the experience, the Spirit creates not uniformity, but harmony.

Differences of opinion will surface, he said. “If you don’t agree with what that bishop or that nun or that lay person says, say it to their face. That’s what the synod is for. To tell the truth, not the chatter under the table.”

Pope Francis also acknowledged how people outside the synod members are offering “hypotheses about this synod — ‘But what will they do there?’ ‘The priesthood for women?’ — these are the things that are being said outside.”

But what is happening, he said, is that the universal church has gathered in Rome to pause and to listen.

“The church has stopped, as the apostles stopped after Good Friday, on that Holy Saturday,” closed in the Upper Room, he said. “But they were afraid; we are not. … It is a pause for the whole church to listen.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the synod, told the members, “Today the church is at a crossroads, and the urgent challenge, strictly speaking, is not of a theological or ecclesiological nature, but how at this moment in history the church can become a sign and instrument of God’s love for every man and woman.”

“God’s love is the medicine that can heal today’s wounded humanity, and as the church our mission is to be a sign of this love,” he said.



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