Pope to Synod: The Holy Spirit guides us toward harmony and respectful listening

Pope Francis reminds the Synodal Assembly that the Holy Spirit is the Synod's protagonist, no one else, and calls for expressing one's self freely, while respectful listening to all, as he addressed the Opening of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality, which opened today in the Vatican.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

"The protagonist of the Synod isn't us, but the Holy Spirit," says Pope Francis, insisting that if the Spirit is in charge, it is a good synod, and if He is not, "it is not."

The Pope gave this powerful reminder during the Opening of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which began today in the Vatican, in his opening remarks.

The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in two moments, that is, in two sessions, spaced one year apart: the first from October 4 to 29, 2023, the second in October 2024.

The Holy Father began his remarks welcoming those before him and thanking them for their work, as he recalled Pope St. Paul VI's initiative to set up the General Secretariat of the Synod after the Second Vatican Council to facilitate the Synod of Bishops' consultations. He acknowledged that the Church had not always been ready to have this conversation, but that it has become more and more important to the world's bishops and people of God, now, to speak about synodality.

"It is not easy, but it is beautiful. It is very beautiful," he said.

The Holy Father made a special recommendation to the assembly to read a collection of Patristic texts that would help them as they embark their synodal journey.

Protagonist of the Church guides us by the hand

The Pope reminded those before him that the Holy Spirit is the "protagonist of Church life" that "leads the Church forth," and is "maternal."

"The Holy Spirit," he said, "guides us by the hand and consoles us."

The Holy Father called for working toward "harmony," highlighting that harmony inevitably will leave a space for "nuances."

He suggested that if we finish the Synod exactly in the same way, "without a nuance, then it's not a Synod."

'Done by the Holy Spirit, not us'

"Particularity," he said, "needs to be incorporated into the Church," underscoring, "this needs to be done by the Holy Spirit, not by us."

The Pope warned against mischaracterizations of the Synod, stating it "is not a parliament," "nor a meeting for the Church's pastoral care."

While praising the press for the good work they do, he lamented that, at times, they focus on hot-button issues, and urged them to work to transmit the Church's interest in the "priority of listening."

"Everyone needs to express themselves freely," the Pope said, noting that the Holy Spirit will confirm them in their faith along the way.

'Centrality of Christ - Synod's guiding thread'

Prior to the Pope’s remarks, the ceremony in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall began with a greeting from the President Delegate, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria, Egypt, who emphasized how the Lord continues to show His love for the Church and has inspired the Synod.

Patriarch Sedrak admitted that this synodal process was not always simple, especially at the beginning, or clean-cut, because this Synod on Synodality was prepared “as a consultation of the people of God, of each baptized person, each with their own charism, in a way even more lively, real, and concrete.”

The world, he acknowledged, “awaits from us the witness of the Risen Christ, of life and hope.”

“Let the centrality of Christ therefore be the guiding thread of this synod. Let him be the Alpha and Omega of our discussions, let him be the light that illuminates our debates, let him be the final put of all our efforts. I am praying so the synod will succeed in achieving His own goals."

Opening Mass and Exhortation ‘Laudate Deum’

The Holy Father had presided at the Holy Mass in St Peter’s Square Wednesday morning for the Synod Assembly’s opening, and invited the faithful to walk with the Holy Spirit, “in trust and with joy.”

Also, this October 4th, which marks the Feast of Pope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope published a second part of his 2015 landmark encyclical on the environment,  Laudato si’: on care for our common home.

Today’s document, Laudate Deumis an Apostolic Exhortation that Pope Francis has described as a look at the current environmental situation and what needs to be done.