As the Italian Bishops conclude their 77th General Assembly, Pope Francis urges the Italian Church to continue journeying together on the synodal path to promote the “co-responsibility” of laypeople and clergy and build a less clerical Church.
Pope Francis on Thursday encouraged the Italian Church to continue its synodal process “with courage and determination”, above all by “valuing the potential” present in its parishes and Christian communities.
The Pope was addressing the bishops and diocesan representatives of the synodal path in Italy in the Paul VI Audience Hall, as the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) concluded its 77th General Assembly focused on the synodal process in the lead up to the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality.
A unique spiritual experience of conversion and renewal
The Holy Father introduced his speech by noting that the process is a “unique spiritual experience of conversion and renewal” which can make ecclesial communities “more missionary and more prepared to evangelize today’s world”.
As the Italian Church concludes the two-year listening phase and enters the discerning phase, he therefore offered four recommendations responding to some questions submitted by the CEI Permanent Committee regarding the pastoral priorities for the Italian Church, how to overcome objections and concerns, and the participation of clergy and lay people.
Keep walking guided by the Holy Spirit
The first indication he gave was to “keep walking guided by the Holy Spirit”, always serving the Gospel and cultivating “the freedom and creativity” of those who bear witness to the good news of God’s love by “staying grounded in what is essential”.
“A Church weighed down by structures, bureaucracy, formalism – said the Pope – will struggle to walk through history, in step with the Spirit, meeting the men and women of our time”.
The second instruction the Pope gave was to make Church together, that is enhancing “ecclesial co-responsibility” by involving all the baptized in the life and mission of the Church as called for by the Second Vatican Council.
“We need Christian communities in which space expands, where everyone can feel at home, where the structures and pastoral means favor not the creation of small groups, but the joy of being and feeling co-responsible.”
Church ministry – the Pope stressed – can never be exercised without others. This applies to bishops, whose ministry cannot do without that of priests and deacons and to priests and deacons themselves, but also to the entire community of the baptized, “in which each one walks with other brothers and sisters at the school of the one Gospel and in the light of the Spirit”.
“We must ask the Holy Spirit to make us understand and experience how to be ordained ministers and how to exercise the ministry in this time and in this Church: never without the Other with a capital “O”.”
An open Church
The third point highlighted by Pope Francis was to be a Church open to everyone., able to listen to the voices of young people, women, the poor, those who are disillusioned, those who have been hurt in their lives, as opposed to what is still perceived as “self-referential” and clerical Church.
Clericalism is a perversion and a clerical bishop or priest is perverse, but a clericalist layman or laywoman are even worse.
“The Synod”, the Pope insisted “calls us to become a Church that walks joyfully, humbly and creatively in our time, aware that we are all vulnerable and need one another”.
A “restless” Church
Finally, the last instruction Pope Francis gave to be a “restless” Church “that welcomes the challenges of our time, that knows how to go out to everyone to proclaim the joy of the Gospel”, without prejudices.
“We are called to collect the anxieties of history and to allow ourselves to be questioned, to bring them before God, to immerse them in Christ’s Passover.”
The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of the synodal process
Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis again encouraged the Italian Church to continue this journey together, trusting in the Holy Spirit, “ the protagonist of the synodal process”. “It is He who opens individuals and communities to listening; it is he who makes dialogue authentic and fruitful; it is he who enlightens discernment; it is he who directs choices and decisions. It is he above all the One who creates harmony and communion in the Church”, Pope Francis concluded.
“Let’s entrust ourselves the Holy Spirit. He is harmony. He causes all this disorder, but He is capable of creating harmony which is something totally different from the order that we could create by ourselves.”
With thanks to Vatican News and Lisa Zengarini, where this article originally appeared.