The most influential woman in the Vatican explains the future of our Church

By Christina Gretton, 11 April 2023
Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, Undersecretary to the Synod of Bishops, speaks during a public lecture at St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta, in February 2023. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


In February, Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta heard what the Church could look like in the future from the most senior woman in the Vatican, Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ.

Visiting the Diocese, Sr Nathalie, a French Xavières sister, described a Church where everyone was heard, everyone played a part, and as a result, everyone participated in our Church’s Mission.

Sr Nathalie is the only woman in the Vatican to have a vote at the upcoming Synod on Synodality. Pope Francis appointed her as Undersecretary of the Synod in 2021. In forums and lectures in the Diocese of Parramatta and other dioceses in Australia, she explained what all Catholics need to do in order for our Church to become ‘synodal’.

What is a Synod?

A Synod is a gathering of clergy and lay people in the Church to discuss particular topics. They are held regularly and can be at Diocesan and Vatican levels. The Synod of Bishops on Synodality, called by Pope Francis, commenced in 2021. Its meetings will be held in October 2023 and again in 2024. This Synod will focus on everyone in the Church working together in decision-making about the future of the Church. And “everyone”, according to Sr Nathalie, means everyone, including young people, women, and others who may feel on the margins. Pope Francis has particularly stressed this, saying “enabling everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty,” and the structure of the Synod must enable this to happen.

What would a synodal Church be like?

“It is a new style of Church, in which everybody is called to be a protagonist. It is a Church that calls for the participation of everybody in the Mission,” Sr Nathalie said.

“It requires humility, learning together, teamwork, deep listening, daring to speak.”

She likened it to a long journey. “As you know, when you travel from Europe to Australia, it’s a long journey. There are beautiful moments, but also those that are not. It’s tiring. You know that you will receive a lot of joy, but it’s difficult when you are tired. That is the life with Christ when we come together to be missionary pilgrims on the road.”

Sr Nathalie spoke about how the synodal path celebrates and welcomes diversity. “Synodality is dynamic,” she said, explaining that the Church in the French diocese from where she hails is different to the Church in Parramatta because of its people.

At the same time, Sr Nathalie said, the Eucharist is what brings the Church together. “The Eucharist is a kind of ‘matrix’ of our system that is about being together as brothers and sisters in Christ, being in communion.”

Those with concerns

Sr Nathalie acknowledges there are people who are worried about the Church taking a synodal direction which places a lot of trust in the Holy Spirit. Sr Nathalie said their voices, along with all voices, should be listened to. Listening to all voices and opinions is a challenge she admitted, but, she said, synodality is “an open creative path that can be full of surprises, and we have to be open to that.”

In his welcome to Sr Nathalie at her lecture at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, on 3 February 2023, Bishop Vincent said Catholics had an obligation to be open to learning about synodality.

“If, as Pope Francis affirms,” said Bishop Vincent, “synodality is the new way of being Church for the third millennium, then we must seek to understand more deeply what it means to be a synodal Church.”

Joining Sr Nathalie at her lecture, Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, Chiara Porro, and CEO of Caritas Australia, Kirsty Robertson, spoke on their experience with synodality. “The BBC recently named Sr Nathalie as one of the top 100 Women of 2022,” said Ambassador Porro. “And they spoke about how a door had opened for women following her appointment.

“That’s indeed a pretty momentous decision that’s really set the tone and importance that Pope Francis attributes to ensuring that all voices are heard, whether they’re women, minorities, indigenous people, or those on the margins of society.”

The synodal journey for the Diocese of Parramatta

In thanking Sr Nathalie, Bishop Vincent announced that the Diocese of Parramatta is embarking on a two-year synodal journey from 2023 to 2025.

“All members of our Diocesan community are invited to participate in prayer, listening, dialogue, discernment and action, with the hope of deepening our commitment to witnessing to the Gospel and responding to the needs of our time,” he said.

More information about the Diocesan Synod’s first gathering, to take place from 12 to 15 October is found at

Sr Nathalie’s messages on synodality

  • The spirit of synodality is an attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit. It takes us back to the spirit of the early Church.
  • While there is great diversity of people in the Church, the Eucharist brings brothers and sisters together in communion.
  • Everybody in a synodal Church has a voice in deciding the direction of the Church.
  • Synodality is a process, which is ever evolving and always moving. There is no end date.
  • The synodal journey will be different according to who you are and where you come from.
  • The Church exists in the current moment. That means the Church is for now, it exists in the current context and needs to be what the people of the current time need.
  • The only way to be a synodal Church is to get on and do it. It takes practice and “learning by doing.”

The Diocese of Parramatta has created several videos of Sr Nathalie’s speaking engagements. You can find links to all her talks, and articles about her at

This article was originally published in the 2023 Lent and Easter | Autumn edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.


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