The European Bishop’s Synodal Assembly in Prague on 7 – 9 February, 2023
The European Assembly of the Bishops’ Synod was held in Prague on 7 – 9 February, 2023. Four Bishops or Delegates from each of the 39 Episcopal Conferences participated. I took part in my capacity as moderator of Together for Europe, and it turned out that I was the only Evangelical to be invited; together with Margaret Karram and Francisco Canzani (Focolare Movement), Cesare Zucconi and Hilde Kieboom (Sant’Egidio), Fr Heinrich Walter e Maria Pelz (Schönstatt), Matthew and Luce (Taizé), we represented the spiritual Movements. The organizers did a good job in allowing the continental Assembly to be a listening journey. Indeed, the plenary sessions were dedicated to listening to the reports from every Episcopal Conference. This was also true during the small group meetings, during which our mutual listening meant that we were all journeying together.
The word Synod comes from the Greek σύνοδος Syn hodos, that is, journeying together, which is precisely what pope Francis in inviting the Catholic Church to do.
Among the topics that many Countries underlined, and which the Synod must tackle, there are: equal rights for women and their participation in the ecclesial decision-making processes; priestly celibacy and the ordination of married persons; new ways of how to deal with homosexual persons, and clericalism.
What does synodality really mean? The issue remained open, albeit brought about several times. Will the Synod end with a common decision on this open issue, or is this Assembly just a consultative body and the ultimate decision will be eventually taken by the Bishops? Can the hopes that arose during the synodal journey be fulfilled?
We, as Together for Europe, can surely provide valid experiences of synodality, because in many Communities and Movements the synodal process has shown its validity, and Together is always characterized by common decisions. Our foundations and our rich experience are not based on hierarchy, by on mutual listening and harmony. I was really glad that we were invited; we were able to contribute in many personal conversations and encounters. Moreover, we surely contributed toward an atmosphere of openness and encounter through our basic attitude and our experience.
Rev. Martin Michalíček, the General Secretary of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), was struck by this when he participated in our Meetings for the Friends of Together for Europe in Augsburg and Porto, and that is why he invited us to Prague.
Keeping sight of the Word of God
While delivering a brief public declaration to the Synod, I offered three thoughts which I deemed to be important:
- I’m aware that the synodal process has unleashed an enormous potential of hope. And for this, I must express my congratulations.
- I wish that the Synod will have the courage to formulate several points that represent necessary steps for change. Without any concrete steps, the potential of hope can easily become resignation.
- To make concrete steps I augur to the Synod the light of the Word of God. In Psalm 119, 105 we read: “Your Word in a lamp for my feet and a light for my journey”. During these days I was upset seeing that, in some contributions, sociology often took the place of the Word of God as the normative basis.
Prayer vigil in Rome
I augur that the potential of hope provided by the world synodal journey may bring about courageous steps for change, which will help the Church on her journey toward the future. It is important that we accompany this process with prayer. On the eve of the Synod, the Taizé community is organizing a day of prayer. This will be on September 30, 2023, and the theme chosen is: “Together. A gathering of the People of God”. As Together for Europe, we wholeheartedly support this initiative and invite you all to participate.
Photo: Gerhard Pross with Margaret Karram