By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY — The monthlong experience of synodality with cardinals, bishops, religious and laypeople from all over the world created new and wider “spaces” for everyone to feel welcome, to listen and discern God’s will together, several synod members said at the conclusion of the synod assembly’s first session.
This new way of experiencing the church as “outgoing” and “creating spaces for everyone” has come about “because we are trying to live the Gospel,” Cardinal Mario Grech, synod secretary-general, said at a Vatican news conference Oct. 28.
“This is the attitude, the approach of Jesus: to create spaces for everybody and nobody can feel excluded, not accepted in his house,” he said.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the assembly, said at the news conference that the “conversation in the Spirit” in small groups whose membership changed each week “had the effect that we were a big community, that we were really disciples of Jesus together.”
“As disciples of Jesus, we have to look what would Jesus do? How would His behavior be? How would He welcome people? And I think that’s what the synod participants did,” he said.
Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, a consultant to the synod secretariat, said the synodal approach showed it is possible for different people with different perspectives and cultures “to talk to each other, listen to each other, to be not in agreement and then to come together, embrace each other and journey together; therefore, it’s a little seed of hope.”
Cardinal Grech said a synod member told him watching people let go of their fear, difficulty or reluctance to communicate was like seeing ice “melt.” Barriers came down because of each member’s “generosity” in creating the “space” needed to be open and willing to listen to the other.
While the first session is over, ending with a 41-page synthesis report, he said, “the synod did not end.”
Between now and the second assembly in October 2024, the report, detailing many different topics and degrees of agreement, will go back to the local churches and others for further study and discussion, Cardinal Grech said. Each paragraph of the document was approved with the necessary two-thirds vote, but in many places it also “confirms that these are open topics, that the discussion, the reflection, the follow-up is ongoing.”
There was “extraordinary harmony” in the way the members worked together, he said. “We’re a family, a unique family, and we have to respect everyone’s pace.”
“We can’t rush the pace or go backward. We walk together, this is the concept of synodality,” he said, where the “bigger voice” does not claim victory “over the other.”
Father Costa said, “I expect that not all the issues will even be resolved next year. But this synod gave us a new way to face them.”
Cardinal Hollerich said it will be easier to speak about issues with a more synodal church versus “the church as it was structured in the past.”
That does not mean a “synodal church will just embrace everything,” he said. But it means when people have a difference of opinion, no one takes out a “knife” and starts a fight.
Having “this freedom and this openness will change the church. And I am sure the church will find answers, but perhaps not the exact answer this group or this group wants to have but answers which most people could feel well and listen to,” Cardinal Hollerich said.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told Catholic News Service, synod members had been “looking for how the church can learn to bring Jesus Christ better to our unjust, war-filled and imperiled world: by being more open, more welcoming, closer to those who suffer, accompanying those in need.”
The most important lesson “we have learned about being followers of Jesus, and therefore missionaries of justice, peace, and care of our common home, is to listen, and to keep on listening, and then to listen until it hurts, and finally to listen all over again,” he said in a written statement Oct. 28.
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg and president of the German bishops’ conference, said at a news conference in Rome Oct. 29 that the synod “placed the questions of God’s people on the table.”
“The synod was very honest, and I’m grateful for that and am going home satisfied,” he said, according to DPA, the German press agency.
But he said the fear of change was also present at the synod and he called for the courage “to identify evident questions and to bring to them a clarity that changes the church for the sake of the people” when the synod meets again next October.