In a letter addressed to all the diocesan and eparchial bishops throughout the world, the General Secretary and the General Relator of the Synod offer considerations on the role of Bishops in the synodal process.
By Christopher Wells
Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich – respectively the Secretary General and the General Relator of the Synod – have addressed a letter to all the Bishops of the world in which they share “a few considerations for a common understanding of the synodal process, its progress, and the meaning of the current Continental stage.”
The Cardinals begin by noting that, as Vatican II teaches, each Bishop has “responsibility” for their own particular Church as well as “solicitude for the Universal Church.” The very reason for the synod, they explain, is “to enable the exercise of the latter,” with the current synodal process making “the role of Pastors and their participation in the various stages even more crucial.”
“For a Synodal Church”: the sole theme of the Synod
In their letter, the Cardinals highlight the sole theme of the Synod: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.”
“This is therefore the sole theme we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process.”
The exclusive focus on this theme precludes the possibility of other themes being “surreptitiously introduced” by those who would “exploit the Assembly and disregard the consultation of the People of God.”
The Cardinals say “it is understandable” that in the initial phase of the synod, “the scope or margins of the theme were not clearly defined”. However, they say, these have been gradually clarified in subsequent steps. “It is important to remember,” they say, that the syntheses produced in the diocesan stage “are the result of the discernment of the Pastors regarding the contributions made during the consultation of the People of God.”
The Working Document for the Continental Stage, in turn, is meant to give the local Churches the opportunity to listen to others. The themes proposed in that document, they add, “do not constitute the agenda of the next Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.”
This process of listening will allow the local Churches to determine what resonates with each of them, allowing the Bishops to identify “the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action” that can be shared and discussed at the General Assembly in October.
The hope is that “in the Continental Assemblies, the voice of the particular Churches will resound with even greater strength.”
“The more we grow in the synodal style of the Church, the more all of us as members of the People of God – faithful and Pastors – will learn to feel cum Ecclesia [“with the Church”], in fidelity to the Word of God and Tradition.”
This Synod, the Cardinals maintain, aims to respond first and foremost to “the great question challenging the Church since the Second Vatican Council: ‘Church, what do you say of yourself?’ ” They say the answer to this question can be found in “the Church that is ‘constitutively synodal’, where all are called to exercise their ecclesial charism in view of carrying out the common mission of evangelization.”
The subject of the synodal process: the People of God
The synod process, they continue, shows how this is possible: “the holy People of God is the subject of the synodal process” precisely through the listening process conducted by each Bishop in his own Church.
The Bishops, then, have a two-fold role in the process: they guide the consultations in their own local Churches, and they exercise their charism of discernment in the succeeding stages, always under the Pope, who has the “prerogative to convoke, preside over, and confirm the synodal assemblies.”
In this way, they say, the Bishops’ ministry “becomes even more decisive for the journey of the People of God.”
In conclusion, the Cardinals emphasize that Bishops, united among themselves and with and under the Pope, represent the “the entire Church in the bond of peace, love, and unity.”