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Synod, October 7-8: working groups submit first reports; leading African cardinal emphasizes listening, discernment

October 09, 2023

The first phase of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops drew to a close on October 7 as each of the 35 working groups submitted its report to the Synod’s general secretariat, led by Cardinal Mario Grech.

The reports summarized each working group’s discussion of the Synod’s first module, “For a synodal Church: An integral experience,” which guided discussion during the first four days of the Synod. The first session of the Synod began on October 4 and will conclude on October 29; the results of the Synod’s first session will form the agenda of the Synod’s second session in October 2024.

With the Synod on synodality being the most confidential—and least transparent—synod in decades, the Vatican has not released the reports of working groups. Instead, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and president of the Commission for Information of the Synodal Assembly, highlighted themes of the reports during an October 7 press conference.

Press conference

Ruffini mentioned that the following topics were mentioned in the working groups’ reports, according to a Vatican News synopsis of his remarks:

  • “formation at every level—of priests, in seminaries, in families”
  • “co-responsibility among all the baptized”
  • “how the hierarchy can place itself within [ecclesial] communion”
  • a need to “explore the term synodality from a lexical point of view in the various languages”
  • “the need to involve young people was also emphasized, with reports focusing, for example, on considering the modern digital reality, moving from the concept of power to that of service, and avoiding any form of clericalism”
  • “the role of laity and women within the ecclesial communion”
  • “how the Church can place itself at the service of the poor and migrants”.
  • “the relationship between the Church’s two ‘lungs’ the lungs of the East and the lungs of the West”

Listening and discernment, not “solutions”; synodal independence

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, OFM Cap, of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), also spoke at the October 7 press conference.

“There are a lot of people who believe that this synod will bring solutions to all problems,” Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa, Congo, said during a news conference at the Vatican Oct. 7. “But the synod will define the new way of ‘doing’ church, the new way of approaching problems, what the problem is but also how in the spirit of synodality we will approach that problem.”

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register asked Cardinal Ambongo about the blessing of same-sex unions. The prelate replied:

Well, first of all, we’re here for a synod on synodality and I wouldn’t want us to stray from the theme of synodality. Synodality is a new way for the Church to walk together, hand in hand, towards the shore where the Lord awaits us. This is what synodality is all about. How can we walk together to the shore where the Lord awaits us, and in walking together, how can we face the questions that confront us, and if one of the issues we face concerns the question of LGBT and all that—homosexuality? But when the time comes, the Lord Himself, through collective discernment, will tell us the direction to follow. But I wouldn’t wish, at this point, to fall into what might be called personal opinion because that would be to depart from the spirit of synodality.

In response to another question, Cardinal Ambongo denied that the Synod was being managed by the Synod’s general secretariat but defended the decision not to release the reports of the working groups.

“It is not the Synod secretariat that decides or does the Synod,” he said. “There will be a synthesis of all the reports. To consider only one would mean going out of synodality.”

Cardinal Ambongo, who attended the 2019 Amazon synod, added that in previous synods, “we knew more or less how things would end. But this one, no.”

Sister Leticia Salazar, a participant in the Synod and chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino (CA), also took part in the press conference.

“Synodality is not a concept,” she said. “It’s an experience of being listened, or being included.”

“I immigrated to the United States when I was 17 years old, with my family,” she continued. “And as you arrive to a new country, faith sustains you, but the Church welcomes you. And I think that’s exactly what happened to me and to my family, in the United States, and in California”.

The Synod, she said, is discerning “how to be a welcoming Church, a listening Church, which are the very characteristics of a synodal Church.”

No Synod sessions were held on Sunday, October 8; deliberations resume on October 9.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 09, 2023 12:51 PM ET USA

    I would like a Church that says "you can" to education, instead of one that consistently says "you cannot". The lone exception in 16 years has been Bishop Strickland, a visionary prelate who puts the good of the people people ahead of bureaucracy. I worked with another prelate like him 3 decades ago, but they are few and far between. The most "listening" prelate from another continent has been Cardinal Sarah. His "listening" to the laity resulted in 3 remarkable books on practice of the faith.