Four pieces of advice from Pope Francis to the Church

By Dr Anne Benjamin, 20 September 2023
Pope Francis during the weekly General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican, 18 January 2023. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News


Recently, Pope Francis spoke to the bishops and diocesan representatives from across Italy[1] and gave some advice that can also apply to our local Church here in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

He said that the Synodal journey leading to the Synod of Bishops in 2023-2024 is “a unique spiritual experience of conversion and renewal.” By conversion, he meant, turning and reorienting our Church back to ways of “listening to the Spirit”.

The Pope then offered four pieces of advice to people in the Church.

1. Continue to walk

Parishes and parishioners are called to continue along the synodal pathway that they have begun. Some parishes might be familiar with this journey of walking together; others might just be beginning. That doesn’t matter. What matters, according to the Pope, is that “it must be done… Christian life is a journey. Continue to walk, letting yourselves be guided by the Spirit.”

This will be a challenging journey and will need determination. Parishes are asked to journey with a keen sense of walking in the company of the Risen Jesus. What does that mean? We must, said Pope Francis, be church communities that cultivate freedom and creativity in sharing the good news of God’s love. We will need to take stock of ways to do this. Parishes cannot be self-serving, cannot operate simply in their own self-enclosed world; they cannot be institutions protecting and defending themselves nor places burdened by structures and bureaucracy. The creative Spirit of life calls parishes to free themselves so they can walk closely with all women and men of our time, with “humility, selflessness and beatitude.”

2. Be a Church together

One challenge for parishes is to resist the temptation to leave all pastoral action and initiatives to the “experts” (the parish priests). Because of baptism, all members of the faithful in a parish are “experts” as missionary disciples, according to their individual gifts and vocations and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church is not just clergy with inexpert unordained members: the church is all the faithful, the People of God and each “baptised person is called to participate actively in the life and the mission of the Church.” Parishes that are synodal are Christian communities in which space is created so that “everyone can feel at home,” where everyone can experience “the joy of feeling co-responsible” and each member of the faithful can share their gifts in living the Gospel, just as at Pentecost, when all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. (Acts 2:4)

3. Be an open Church

A parish that is journeying towards synodality is a place of openness for everyone. This includes those who feel unrecognised or unheard by the Church – it makes room for those who have complex life stories that leaves them vulnerable and for those who have been cut off from the Church. The “Church must let God’s heart shine: a heart open to all and for all.”

How much space do we as parishioners make for “the young people, women, the poor, those who are disappointed, those who have been hurt in life and are angry with the Church”? Do we really listen to them? As long as parishes are not open to all, especially those in anyway distressed, “the Church will not be synodal, it will be a Church of the few.”

The Pope’s call to synodality is a call to each parish “to become a Church that walks joyfully, humbly and creatively within this time of ours, in the knowledge that we are all vulnerable and need each other.”

4. Continue this journey with great confidence in the work that the Holy Spirit is performing

The synodal journey can be messy. Pope Francis reflected that the first Pentecost must have been quite chaotic and disorderly. The Spirit’s intervention would have surprised and disturbed the Apostles, but the Spirit who disturbs is the same Spirit who creates harmony and order as well. The Spirit “does not eliminate differences or cultures but harmonises everything without reducing them to bland uniformity”. The People of God can draw consolation from this, when their parish embarks on the synodal journey: they can be confident, that amidst debate, discussion and differences, the Spirit is present.

Parishes can expect to be surprised by where the Spirit will lead them as they move forward to honour their mission to spread the Word of God.

Dr Anne Benjamin is a writer, educator and a parishioner of St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie. She is on the Writing Committee for the Diocesan Synod and is a former Executive Director of Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese (formerly Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta).


[1] Pope Francis, Address to the participants in the national meeting of diocesan representative of the Italian synod path, Paul VI Hall, Thursday, 25 May 2023, summary of this can be read at Lisa Zengarini, “Pope to Italian Bishops: A synodal Church is open to everyone”, 27 May 2023, from Vatican News republished in


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