Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, the most senior woman in the Vatican, commenced her Australian tour in Melbourne yesterday. As Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops she has given her perspective on synodality, its challenges, and the future of the global Church.
RELATED: Australian Catholics prepare to welcome the most influential woman in the Vatican
“This is a very special time for the Church, and, as you know, we are altogether, everywhere in the world, living this synod now,” she said.
In a public forum hosted by Newman College in Parkville, in Melbourne’s inner north on 31 January 2023, Sr Nathalie shared her reflections on the topic, ‘Walking together: What lies ahead on the journey to a synodal church?’
She explained the synod is “at the service of an ongoing call to deepen the reception of the Second Vatican Council”, that “we are called to live synodality today as a fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and to retrieve the style of the early Church.”
“It’s very clear that where we are going now with this synod is to become at all levels, a synodal church, and to live synodality as an integral ecclesiology,” she said. “It has to shape the life and mission of the church, in all its dimensions. So, what lies ahead is that each of us must become a synod—we must become a synodal sister, a synodal teacher, a synodal priest, a synodal bishop.”
The biggest challenge to becoming a synodal Church, said Sr Nathalie, is the need to “learn by doing” synodality and being open to the process. “We can’t become a single, unified Church just by listening, having nice talks, or reading a book…” she said.
“It’s really about experiencing it. And it’s only when you reflect back, or you reread your experience of turning together that you can discern what will be the way ahead,” she said. “It’s an open, creative path that can be full of surprises and we have to be open to that.”
Sr Nathalie noted synodality requires patience, and she was open about the diversity of voices within the Catholic Church, stemming from the many cultures and contexts within which Catholics live their faith at a concrete, grassroots level.
Questions from the audience ranged from how to increase the role and dignity of women in the life of the Church, the engagement of young people in the Church, to balancing social justice with becoming closer to God.
Addressing a question from Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Rector of Newman College and chair of the afternoon forum, about the recently publicised criticisms of the Synod raised by the late Cardinal George Pell, Sr Nathalie explained that criticisms should be welcomed as part of the synodal process.
“Doing synodality is not a matter of ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’, ‘I agree, or I disagree’,” said Sr Nathalie. “It’s normal that when you are in a process like this, it is a process of conversion, a process of change. Everywhere, in every human organisation, when you have change, you have all kinds of fears, and you have to listen to that. Some are afraid that the Church will change, some are afraid that the church will not change. I think it’s good that we can express our fears, and even our critics. When you want to listen to everybody, you must be open to listen to the diversity of voices.”
Sr Nathalie is hopeful that the Church can realise “more and more” that through all the synodal processes to date, and dating back to Second Vatican Council, “it has been discerned as a collective discernment that synodality is a call of God for the Church. There is no other way than to become a synodal Church. It’s the call of God for the Church today. And if it’s really the call of God, we can be confident that God will give us the grace to become a synodal church.”
“If we understand synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church, the Church as body of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, and people of God, then it’s a roadmap for the church today.” Sr Nathalie spoke about the importance of discernment and deep listening, and the need for humility, but also the need to “dare to speak”. “Tensions are part of the synodal process,” she said. “In a synodal church, we are all learning, and we are all called to be protagonist.”
Helder Camara Lecture
Yesterday evening, following the forum at Newman College, Sr Nathalie delivered the 2023 Dom Helder Camara Lecture on the topic, ‘Toward a spirituality of synodality’, outlining the key spiritual elements that lie at the heart of synodality. She pointed toward both the logo and theme of the Synod on Synodality, “Enlarge the space of your tent”, from Isaiah 54:2.
“The spirituality of synodality is one of journeying together, of being Church on the move,” explained Sr Nathalie. “If you look at the logo, you can see the diversity of the people of God, just as we are today, but the main protagonist and the most important, is the Holy Spirit leading us, and also Christ.”
Sr Nathalie said the best example of the spirit of synodality is through lived experience, and through encounter. “It’s about life,” she said. And one of the best examples, according to Sr Nathalie, which speaks to the essence of the spirit of synodality, is the encounter of Jesus and the apostles on the road to Emmaus.
“In a way, to embody a spirituality of synodality is really to follow the synodal style of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus goes to meet them where they are. He begins by asking a question. He didn’t begin by teaching them all the catechism, but just by walking and being with them—just with his presence, listening to them, he starts to dialogue. And through this process of listening to them, he reaches something very deep within them. And so, at the end, the disciples ask Jesus to stay with them. Jesus didn’t impose himself, but he enlivened in them, this deep desire. And then this encounter led the disciples to a path of conversion.”
In concluding, Sr Nathalie said, “what is maybe the most important for synodality is to have this deep faith and trust in God with this attitude of listening, humility, prayer, dialogue, and sharing, trusting others, and interior freedom.”
Though “not a prophet who can predict what lies ahead”, through her experience in the synodal process to date, and her work at the Vatican, Sr Nathalie feels hopeful that change is already taking place.
“From this very interesting and enriching place at the Vatican, being in contact with the diversity of the local churches, and what we are contemplating at the grassroots in so may places, I can say that the synod is already bearing fruit and is already changing things.”
“If there is one thing that I want to share with you, it’s that the Holy Spirit is blowing everywhere and will continue to blow,” she said. “And we can be very confident that if we are living this journey together, being altogether in our diversity, trying to find ways to build processes that build us as people of God, that fosters us as a missionary community on the road, to serve people, then something will continue to happen.”
This is the second time Sr Nathalie has been to Australia, having visited once before to attend World Youth Day in Sydney, in 2008.
Sr Nathalie will continue her speaking engagements in Adelaide today. Having been invited to Australia by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta she will conclude her visit to Australia with two events in the Diocese of Parramatta. You can read more about Sr Nathalie Becquart at the Catholic Outlook hub which has been put together for her visit to Australia.
There is still availability to see Sr Nathalie speak at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta on Friday 3 February at 7pm. Book tickets to the free event here.
A video of the Helda Camara lecture is available here, and the public lecture in Parramatta on Friday will be livestreamed at this link.
Fiona Basile is a freelance Catholic writer.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since publication this morning.
View images from Sr Nathalie Becquart’s presentation in Melbourne here or below: