Synod vows to listen more to ‘everyone, starting with the poorest,’ in ‘Letter to People of God’
By Felipe F. Salvosa II
October 25, 2023
VATICAN– Delegates to the 2023 Synod of Bishops vowed to listen more, especially to the poor, those who had experienced abuses and felt excluded by the Church, and even to those of other faiths, in an open letter addressed to the “People of God.”
The letter was released near the conclusion of a month-long general assembly that charted pathways to make the Church more discerning and participative and confronted head-on hot-button issues such as women’s ordination and greater outreach to the LGBTQ sector.
“To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest,” the synod delegates wrote in the three-page missive.
It acknowledged that listening required a “path of conversion on its part, which is also a path of praise.”
“It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church; listening to people who are victims of racism in all its forms – in particular in some regions to indigenous peoples whose cultures have been scorned,” the letter read.
“Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again,” it added.
The Vatican meeting, formally called the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, gave voting rights to lay people, including 54 women, for the first time and utilized a method of discussion called “communal discernment” through small-group meetings characterized by periods of listening and silence.
Experts and spiritual advisers, including the former Dominican master general Timothy Radcliffe, set the tone of the synod. Meetings were held at the Paul VI Hall beside St. Peter’s Basilica to allow roundtable meetings, instead of the regular synod hall.
The “Synod on Synodality,” convoked by Pope Francis in 2021, had conducted global consultations at various levels: parish, vicariate, diocesan, national, and continental. It was supposed to conclude with this year’s assembly, but the pope called for another session in 2024 to allow for more discernment.
A hallmark of the Second Vatican Council, the expression “People of God” teaches that the Church is not just the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and priests, but also the laity.
The synod’s letter acknowledged the need to get more inputs from lay women and men, “all called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal vocation,” as well as the “words and experience” of ordained ministers – priest and deacons.
The Church also “needs to let herself be questioned by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, the watchful sentinel of the Spirit’s call.”
Moreover, the Church should pay attention to “all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth,” it said. The letter, citing the Vatican 2 document Gaudium et Spes, pointed out that the Spirit “is also present and operative” in them.
On Sunday, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said pursuing the “synodal path” meant that the Church must be serious about being consultative.
“We have to hear the voices that are not heard within the church. Normally, in a clericalistic kind of structure it’s just the bishops and the ordained presbyters making the decisions and people follow. It should not be like that,” he told CBCP News.
Apart from the letter, the synod will also craft a synthesis document that will be sent back to delegates’ home countries for feedback.
The October 2024 synod is expected to produce a final document, whose recommendations could be adopted by the pope in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
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