From the Antilles Episcopal Conference
Every meaningful journey necessitates long and short-term preparations. The Synod Assembly in Rome, a milestone on the Synodal journey from October 4 to 29, 2023, is no different.
Q: What were the long-term preparations leading up to the Synod Assembly?
Imagine the life of farmers. When reaping, they hire additional labourers to reap and gather the produce to send to the markets. Since October 10, 2021, two years ago, the Church has gathered pastoral and spiritual fruits from the listening phase at the levels of parishes, dioceses, regions, and continents. These fruits were gathered into syntheses referred to as the diocesan syntheses, Document of the Continental Stage (DCS) and instrumentum laboris (Working Document).
Q: To what can we liken the four-day (September 30 – October 3) preparations for the Synodal Assembly?
Let us return to the metaphor of farming. After reaping and gathering, farmers travel to the market the night before market day, where the produce is unloaded, and stalls are prepared for customers. The Synodal Assembly can be likened to market day, where participants encounter diverse perspectives, experiences, dreams and hopes but will discern the Holy Spirit’s voice amidst the mosaic of fruitful voices.
Q: What were the preparatory activities for the October 4 opening of the Synodal Assembly?
The first pastoral activity was the Pre-Synod Ecumenical Prayer Vigil, celebrated in St Peter’s Square on September 30 and the second was a three-day retreat. Today, we reflect on the essential role of prayer as a vital preparation for listening, discerning and decision-making.
Q: Why a Prayer Vigil?
Do you remember Jesus’ immediate action before selecting His 12 Apostles? According to Luke 6:12, “In those days, he departed to the mountain to pray and spent the night praying to God.” Prayer is an experience of lifting hearts and minds to God and placing ourselves in a listening disposition to discern God’s voice to make decisions. As Jesus’ selection of Apostles was grounded in a night of prayer, listening and discerning, so must be the decisions of the Assembly participants.At the vigil, there were Christian faithful from various Christian denominations and heads of many Christian Churches. They gathered to commend the Synodal Assembly to the Holy Spirit. Their active participation is a sign that the Catholic Church journeys on a Mission, not by herself, but in communion with other disciples of Jesus Christ.
As the Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest, the Personal Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See said, “It’s all the baptised coming together in St Peter’s Square to pray for a Church which is engaging itself in a Synod to change the face of the world. This initiative comes out of a journey, a journey where there has been recognition of the other as a brother and sister in Christ…” Our non-Catholic brothers and sisters joined in prayer with and for us.
Q: What was Pope Francis’ significant message at the prayer vigil?
Pope Francis meditated on the theme of Silence – ‘Silence and God’s Voice’, ‘Silence and the Life of the Church’, and ‘Silence and Christian Unity’. Here are some salient points of Pope Francis.
First, silence exists from the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life in the manger to the end on the cross because God “does not need loud cries to reach people’s hearts”. Therefore, disciples must be free of noise to hear God’s voice.
Second, silence facilitates authentic discernment. At the first Council of Jerusalem, the “whole assembly kept silent” after Peter’s speech (Acts 15:12). An essential outcome of silence in the Church is that it facilitates “fraternal communication.” When we become silent, the Holy Spirit can “draw together points of view.”
Third, the more Christians turn together to the Lord in prayer, the more we discern God purifying and uniting our differences.
Appropriately, Pope Francis ends his message with the following prayer:
“Let us ask that the Synod be a Kairos of fraternity, a place where the Holy Spirit will purify the Church from gossip, ideologies, and polarization, and may we know, like the Magi, how to worship in unity and in silence the mystery of God made man, certain that the closer we are to Christ, the more united we will be among ourselves.”
As preparation is essential to farming, prayer is necessary for listening, discerning, and decision-making.