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Synod, October 4: Pope emphasizes role of Holy Spirit; Cardinal Hollerich calls for ‘new insights’

October 05, 2023

Following a two-year period of preparation, the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops opened on October 4 with Mass in St. Peter’s Square, an Italian-language greeting by Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sedrak, an address by Pope Francis, and an Italian-language report by Cardinal Mario Grech, before the longer introductory talk delivered by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ.

The official theme of the Synod, which will continue with a second session in October 2024, is “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”

“Let the centrality of Christ be the guiding thread of this Synod,” said Patriarch Sedrak, one of the Synod’s presidents-delegate, who preside over the deliberations in the place of Pope Francis. “May He be the Alpha and Omega of our discussions, may He be the light that enlightens us our debates, may He be the final goal of all our efforts. Only in this way the Synod will be able to achieve his own goals.”

Pope Francis

“It was Saint Paul VI who said that the Church in the West had lost the idea of synodality, and for this reason created the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, which has held many meetings, many Synods on various themes,” Pope Francis said in his address. “But the expression of synodality is not yet mature ... And so, slowly, over almost 60 years, the journey has taken this direction, and now we are able to arrive at this Synod on synodality.”

The Pope then revealed that the world’s bishops would have preferred a synod on priests to the Synod on synodality:

In the survey that was carried out after the Synod for Amazonia, among all the world’s bishops, the second preference was this: synodality. In first place came priests, and in the third, I think a social question. But [this was] in second place. All the bishops in the world saw the need to reflect on synodality. Why? Because they had all understood that the fruit was ripe for something of this nature.

Later in his address, Pope Francis emphasized that the Holy Spirit is the protagonist of the Synod.

“The Church, a single harmony of voices, in many voices, in many voices, conducted by the Holy Spirit: this is how we must conceive of the Church,” he said. “Every Christian community, every person has their own particularity, but these particularities must be integrated into the symphony of the Church, and that correct symphony is made by the Spirit: we cannot make it. We are not a parliament, we are not the United Nations, no, it is something else.”

“Moreover, the One who guards the Church is the Holy Spirit,” he continued. “Then, the Holy Spirit has a multifaceted paracletic way of working. We must learn to listen to the voices of the Spirit: they are all different. Learn to discern.”

The Pope added:

I insist on this: please, do not sadden the Spirit. And in your theology, make room for the Holy Spirit. And also in this Synod, to discern the voices of the Spirit from those which are not of the Spirit, which are worldly. In my opinion, the worst ailment we see in the Church today—always, but today as well—is what goes against the Spirit, that is, spiritual worldliness. A spirit, but not holy: worldliness. Beware of this: let us not take the place of the Holy Spirit with worldly things—even good ones, such as good sense: this helps, but the Spirit goes further.

In his conclusion, the Pontiff compared the experience of the Synod to that of Holy Saturday.

“The Church has paused, just as the Apostles paused after Good Friday, on that Holy Saturday, locked away: but they did it out of fear, we do not,” Pope Francis said. “But it is paused. It is a pause for all the Church, to listen. This is the most important message.”

Cardinal Grech

Cardinal Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, recalled the synodal process and expressed satisfaction with it.

“Today the Church finds herself at a crossroads,” he said. “The urgent challenge strictly speaking is not of a theological or ecclesiological nature, but how the Church can in this moment of history become a sign and instrument of God’s love for every man and woman.”

Cardinal Hollerich

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, the Synod’s relator general, then delivered the introductory relatio: the talk that traditionally sets the tone for a synodal assembly.

The round tables in the Paul VI Audience Hall around which the Synod’s participants were sitting “remind us that none of us is a star in this Synod,” said Cardinal Hollerich. “The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, and only with a heart fully open to the Spirit’s guidance will we be able to respond to the call we have received as Synod members.”

Cardinal Hollerich continued:

We are called to learn the grammar of synodality. Just like the grammar of our languages changes as they develop, so does the grammar of synodality: it changes with time. Therefore, reading of the signs of our time should help us discover a grammar of synodality for our time. In grammar there are some basic rules which never change. For us, these are the rules of Catholicity, such as the dignity stemming from Baptism; the role of Peter in the Church; episcopal collegiality; ordained ministry, the common priesthood of the faithful and their interrelation (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 10). With these fundamental elements of our Catholic grammar, we have to find the way to express the new insights the Holy Spirit gives us ...

We have one text to start from: the Instrumentum laboris [working document]. It is the fruit of the synodal process which has involved the whole People of God. The process is not finished; it is now entrusted to our discernment. It should not be a battle between position A and B. Through genuine discernment, the Holy Spirit opens our minds and our hearts to new positions, leaving A and B behind!

“My heartfelt hope is that during this month’s work we can develop a road map for the following year, that we will then entrust to the Holy Father,” he concluded. “Ideally this road map should indicate where we feel consensus has been reached among us and above all within the People of God, laying down possible steps to undertake as a response to the voice of the Spirit. But it should also say where deeper reflection is needed and what could help that process of reflection.”

Following Cardinal Hollerich’s address, Cardinal Hollerich introduced Synod participants to the first module (For a synodal Church: An integral experience). Variously called Module 1 and Module A , this first module will guide the synodal discussions until October 7.

In his presentation, Cardinal Hollerich—who once described Catholic teaching on homosexuality as “false”—emphasized that “our goal is to formulate an answer to this question: Starting from the journey of the local Churches to which we each belong and from the contents of the Instrumentum laboris, which distinctive signs of a synodal Church emerge with greater clarity and which deserve greater recognition or should be particularly highlighted or deepened?”


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  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Oct. 06, 2023 2:41 PM ET USA

    The fundamental flaw in Hollerich's train of thought is that it only allows for, it only expects, the Holy Spirit to introduce new ideas, but it does not allow for the possibility that the Holy Spirit could guide the Church to stay the course. And it seems to me especially ironic that the call for synodality, to recover something that the Church had somehow lost, is at the same time, being discounted as a valid direction open to the Holy Spirit.

  • Posted by: TreeRing - Oct. 06, 2023 4:24 AM ET USA

    There are certainly lots of "spirits" gathering around the synod. Not all of them are holy and cannot possibly be THE HOLY SPIRIT, the third person of the Holy Trinity, regardless of what certain individuals call them. I remember after the close of the Second Vatican Council as we discussed the council and read some of the documents of the council in high school religion class the key takeaway was the universal call to holiness. I think some have forgotten this unchanging call.