ORLANDO, Fla. At the U.S. Catholic bishops’ June assembly, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal representative to the U.S., laid out the Vatican’s case for how embracing synodality – with Jesus Christ as their “true north” – can help bishops carry out the Church’s evangelizing mission with their people.
And he said that the U.S. bishops already have examples of synodality at work among them and in their local churches.
“The purpose of walking this synodal path is to make our evangelization more effective in the context of the precise challenges that we face today,” Archbishop Pierre said in his June 15 address.
The archbishop referred to Pope Francis’ homily opening up the synod nearly two years ago, remarking that synodality is a way of being church following the example of Jesus Christ. He listed three key ways: “encounter with the Lord and one another”; listening to people, particularly the religious and existential concerns behind their questions; and discern(ing) with them what change is needed “to live a more abundant life.”
The papal nuncio challenged the bishops to ask themselves the following questions: “Do we know what are the true needs of our people? Through our encounters with others, how have we been changed? What have we discerned? What old ways need to be abandoned, and what new ways must we adopt in going forward? Are we prepared to give our people the insights we have gained?”
Synodality, he explained, “is a way of being church that allows us to discern the path on which the Spirit of God is calling us.”
The papal nuncio acknowledged that this way of being church “can be a challenge to us,” and that many bishops may still be struggling to understand what synodality is or have concerns about the unknown.
Archbishop Pierre assured the U.S. bishops that synodality “is not a new ‘program’, nor is it a disguise for a plan to change Church doctrine.”
Archbishop Pierre explained that “Jesus Christ and His kingdom are the ‘true north,’” but the Church can only find its proper path when bishops “immerse ourselves in the reality of our people and listen carefully to the questions and concerns of their hearts.”
“Like Christ himself, we must go on mission into the world with an openness to discovering what is actually there – not merely imposing what we already know,” he said. In order to do this, Archbishop Pierre continued, “requires close proximity with the one we are encountering.”
The Church must “engage with people’s real experiences,” he said. That way, he added, “If they ‘come to church’ to encounter Christ, it will be because Christ has first come to them. Let us, therefore, be ambassadors for Christ.”
The archbishop explained that “listening with the goal of uniting” is at the heart of synodality, and can both serve to overcome the Church’s polarization and, like the first gathering of bishops in the Acts of the Apostles, “build us up as church and to equip us for mission” through the Holy Spirit.
“This present gathering is an occasion to be the kind of Church that we are called to be: to assemble together, to listen to one another and to the Holy Spirit, and to let our differences not divide us but enrich and strengthen our unity,” he said.
“It is only through a courageous and humble synodal unity that we, as bishops, will be fully equipped to apply divine power to the problems that weigh heavily on our people today,” he said.
Archbishop Pierre also said the bishops can recognize examples of synodality that have already taken place: the work of Catholic charitable service organizations, the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro), and “the numerous small, grassroots apostolates which have sprung up in your dioceses and parishes, offering things like family formation, spiritual accompaniment, and social connections for people who are marginalized and misunderstood.”
“My point in highlighting these few examples is to show that the call to synodality need not strike us as something unfamiliar or feel like an impossible burden,” he said. “Important works within the Church have already been unfolding on a synodal path.”
He also pointed to the late Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell of Los Angeles, who was found shot and killed in his home in February, as “a model of synodal service, combined with Eucharistic charity.”
“Here was a shepherd who immersed himself in the reality of his sheep, who walked with them, and was with them in finding a way no matter the difficulty of their circumstances,” the archbishop said, because “he followed the compass that always pointed him to Christ.”
Referring to the Eucharistic Revival, the archbishop pointed out that the Eucharist is “a sacrament for mission.”
“To teach the doctrine of the real presence, to promote Eucharistic adoration, and to take our Lord in procession: these initiatives will undoubtedly bear fruit in the lives of the faithful,” he said. “But the fruit will multiply only if the faithful learn that the Eucharist which they receive is meant to make them missionaries.”
Finally, Archbishop Pierre appealed to the bishops to be open to recognizing where walls once set up to protect the faith may actually be preventing, rather than safeguarding, the spread of the Gospel.
“Have we exhausted all of the new ‘ardor,’ ‘methods,’ and ‘expressions’ which John Paul II said we would need for the new evangelization?,” he said. “If we are to love our contemporaries ‘to the end,’ we must allow Christ’s presence to take us through any walls that block us from delivering peace to his people.”
The full text of Archbishop Christophe Pierre’s speech is linked here: https://www.usccb.org/resources/June%202023-Archbishop%20Christophe%20Pierre.pdf