Greetings from Rome! I arrived here a little over a week ago to participate in the Synod on Synodality.
Last Saturday, everything began with an ecumenical prayer service in St. Peter’s Square. Prayer is at the very core of our work during this synod. (Please keep that in mind.) In the square that evening was a large replica of the cross of San Damiano from which the Lord spoke to St. Francis: “Go and rebuild my church.” After the prayer service, the cross was moved to the entrance of the Paul VI Hall where we gather each day for the working sessions of the Synod. That too is highly symbolic of this particular Synod on synodality.
After the prayer service, all the delegates (which totals around 350 – 400) loaded buses and traveled to Sacrofano outside of Rome to our retreat center, Fraterna Domus for the next three days of prayer and study. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP gave a series of powerful talks, complimented by several spiritual reflections by Sr. Maria Grazia Angelina, OSB.
We took time each day to break into small groups of 10 – 12 members to practice how to have the essential ‘conversations in the Spirit’. Note, these are not spiritual conversations, but conversations which begin with the Word of God, include several periods of silence, and sharing among the members what has surfaced in their own prayer and reflection related to a particular question or Scripture passage. There is no engaging at this time, building on what someone else said, or interrupting or interjecting while someone is speaking. It is simply sharing the fruit of one’s own prayer with the group while everyone else listens attentively.
After more silence, the members then, according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, seek to go ”deeper” in identifying and sharing what they ‘heard’ in the first round of sharing. Then, after another period of silence, there is an effort to identify what the Holy Spirit is raising as the fruit of the session.
All the members are encouraged to speak courageously, honestly, even speaking to topics that may even seem difficult, but with respect.
One great blessing of those three days was the opportunity to meet all the delegates and begin to form relationships and a sense of fraternity for the work ahead.
On Wednesday, October 4, the Synod began with Mass in St. Peter’s Square with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He gave a powerful homily. Then, we moved to the Synod Hall to begin our work. We spent some time first in the large group, and then began our small group work.
Once the small groups completed their work, we spent an entire day listening to the reports from all the small groups, and then individuals were given an opportunity to make their own ‘interventions’ no longer than 3 minutes. The Holy Father spent a day and a half with us in the hall, listening attentively.
The Regulations for the Synod binds “all delegates to confidentiality and discretion regarding both their own interventions and the interventions of other participants. This duty remains in force once the Synodal Assembly has ended.” (Article 24 of Regulations) The reason for this is 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.” (Article 24) In other words, to safeguard the integrity of the process of discernment, this respectful confidentiality is beneficial for our work.
We are working long days, earnestly, prayerfully, with great love for the Church. What I can share with you is the universal Church is gathered here, and it is quite moving to work and pray with bishops, consecrated men and women and laity from literally all over the world! In this gathering one hears about the rich diversity of experiences and cultures as well as challenges.
The ‘format’ of Conversations in the Spirit we are using for this Synod is entirely new to all previous synods. It is also the first time in which lay men and women are voting members. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is present and active and the Risen Lord is in our midst, as he promised!
There is a line in the Gospel of St. Luke which is part of a canticle the Church prays every day, which is my image to share with you.
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
There are moments in prayer, and in the Synod hall when I get a brief glimpse of this ‘new horizon’, this ‘new day’ where the magnitude and mystery of God renews all things, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace and life of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
Keep praying for us and know that we hold all of you in our hearts and prayers as well.
Hope in the Lord and invoke the Holy Spirit upon our days and efforts, that the will of God be made known and accomplished in our work.
This afternoon, Saturday, I took a nice stroll in the Vatican gardens. You can enjoy some of the pictures in the slideshow above.