Pope Francis explains "When the Church is a witness, in word and deed, of God's unconditional love, of his hospitable breadth, she truly expresses her own catholicity." FULL TEXT + Video




Paul VI Hall
Saturday, 18 September 2021


Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

As you know - this is nothing new! -, a synodal process is about to begin , a journey in which the whole Church is committed to the theme: "For a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission": three pillars. Three phases are foreseen, which will take place between October 2021 and October 2023. This itinerary was conceived as a dynamism of mutual listening, I want to underline this: a dynamism of mutual listening, conducted at all levels of the Church, involving all the people of God. The Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops must listen to each other, the priests must listen to each other, the religious must listen to each other, the laity must listen to each other. And then, everyone inter-listens. Listen to yourself; talk and listen to each other. It's not about gathering opinions, no. This is not an investigation; but it is a question of listening to the Holy Spirit, as we find in the book of Revelation: "Whoever has ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches" (2,7). Having ears, listening, is the first commitment. It is a question of hearing God's voice, grasping his presence, intercepting his passage and breath of life. It happened to the prophet Elijah to discover that God is always a God of surprises, even in the way he passes by and makes himself felt:

«There was an impetuous and strong wind that split the mountains and break the rocks […], but the Lord was not in the wind. 


 After the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, the whisper of a light breeze. As soon as he heard it, Elijah covered his face with his cloak "( 1Ki 19, 11-13).

This is how God speaks to us. And it is for this "light breeze" - which exegetes also translate "thin voice of silence" and someone else "a thread of resounding silence" - that we must make our ears ready, to hear this breeze of God.

The first stage of the process (October 2021 - April 2022) concerns the individual diocesan Churches. And that is why I am here, as your Bishop, to share, because it is very important that the Diocese of Rome is committed to this journey with conviction. It would be a fool for the Pope's Diocese not to engage in this, wouldn't it? A fool for the Pope and for you too.

The theme of synodality is not the chapter of a treatise on ecclesiology, much less a fashion, a slogan or the new term to be used or exploited in our meetings. No! Synodality expresses the nature of the Church, its form, its style, its mission. And therefore we speak of the synodal Church , avoiding, however, to consider that it is one title among others, a way of thinking it that provides alternatives. I am not saying this on the basis of a theological opinion, not even as a personal thought, but following what we can consider the first and most important "manual" of ecclesiology, which is the book of the Acts of the Apostles .

The word "synod" contains everything we need to understand: " walking together ". The book of Actsit is the story of a journey that starts from Jerusalem and, crossing Samaria and Judea, continuing in the regions of Syria and Asia Minor and then in Greece, ends in Rome. This road tells the story in which the Word of God and the people who turn their attention and faith to that Word walk together. God's Word walks with us. Everyone is the protagonist, no one can be considered a mere extra. This must be understood well: everyone is the protagonist. The Pope, the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops are no longer the protagonists; no: we are all protagonists, and no one can be considered a simple extra. The ministries, then, were still considered authentic services. And authority was born from listening to the voice of God and of the people - never separate them - which kept those who received it "below". The "base" of life, to whom it was necessary to render the service of charity and faith. But that history is not only in motion due to the geographical places it crosses. Expresses a continuation inner restlessness : this is a key word, inner restlessness . If a Christian does not feel this inner restlessness , if he does not experience it, he is missing something; and this inner restlessness arises from one's own faith and invites us to evaluate what is best to do, what must be maintained or changed. That history teaches us that standing still cannot be a good condition for the Church (cf. Evangelii gaudium , 23). And the movement is a consequence of docility to the Holy Spirit, who is the director of this story in which everyone is a restless, never stopping protagonist.

Peter and Paul are not just two people with their own characters, they are visions inserted into horizons larger than themselves, capable of rethinking themselves in relation to what is happening, witnesses of an impulse that puts them in crisis - another expression to always remember : to put in crisis -, which pushes them to dare, ask, change their minds, make mistakes and learn from mistakes, above all to hope despite the difficulties. They are disciples of the Holy Spirit, who makes them discover the geography of divine salvation, opening doors and windows, breaking down walls, breaking chains, freeing boundaries. Then it may be necessary to leave, to change direction, to overcome beliefs that hold back and prevent us from moving and walking together.

We can see the Spirit pushing Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, the pagan centurion, despite his hesitations. Remember: Peter had a vision that had troubled him, in which he was asked to eat things considered unclean, and, despite the reassurance that what God purifies should no longer be considered unclean, he was perplexed. He was trying to understand, and here came the men sent by Cornelius. He too had received a vision and a message. He was a pious Roman officer, sympathetic to Judaism, but he was still not enough to be fully Jewish or Christian: no religious "customs" would have allowed him to pass. He was a pagan, yet, it is revealed to him that his prayers have reached God, and that he must send someone to tell Peter to go to his house. In this suspension, on the one hand Peter with his doubts, and on the other Cornelius who waits in that shadowy area, it is the Spirit who dissolves Peter's resistance and opens a new page of the mission. This is how the Spirit moves: thus. The meeting between the two seals one of the most beautiful phrases of Christianity. Cornelius had gone to meet him, had thrown himself at his feet, but Peter picking him up said to him: "Get up: I too am a man!" (At10:26), and we all say this: "I am a man, I am a woman, we are human", and we should all say it, even the Bishops, all of us: "get up: I am also a man". And the text underlines that he conversed with him in a familiar way (cf. v. 27). Christianity must always be human, humanizing, reconcile differences and distances, transforming them into familiarity, proximity. One of the evils of the Church, indeed a perversion, is this clericalism which detaches the priest, the Bishop from the people. The Bishop and the priest detached from the people is an official, not a pastor. Saint Paul VI loved to quote the maxim of Terentius: "I am a man, I regard nothing of what is human as foreign to me". The meeting between Peter and Cornelius solved a problem, favored the decision to feel free to preach directly to the pagans,Acts 10:34). In the name of God one cannot discriminate. And discrimination is a sin even among us: "we are the pure, we are the elect, we belong to this movement that knows everything, we are ...". No. We are the Church, all together.

And you see, we cannot understand "catholicity" without referring to this large, hospitable field, which never marks the boundaries. Being Church is a way to enter this breadth of God. Then, returning to the Acts of the Apostles , there are the problems that arise with regard to the organization of the growing number of Christians, and above all to provide for the needs of the poor. Some report widows being neglected. The way in which the solution will be found will be to gather the assembly of disciples, taking together the decision to designate those seven men who would be engaged full-time in diakonia , in serving the tables ( Acts6.1-7). And so, with discernment, with needs, with the reality of life and the strength of the Spirit, the Church goes forward, walks together, is synodal. But there is always the Spirit as the great protagonist of the Church.

Furthermore, there is also the comparison between different visions and expectations. We need not fear that this still happens today. Maybe we could argue like that! They are signs of docility and openness to the Spirit. Clashes can also arise that reach dramatic peaks, as happened in the face of the problem of the circumcision of the pagans, up to the deliberation of what we call the Council of Jerusalem, the first Council. As is also the case today, there is a rigid way of considering the circumstances, which mortifies the makrothymía of God, that is, that patience of the gaze that is nourished by profound visions, wide visions, long visions: God sees far away, God is in no hurry. Rigidity is another perversion which is a sin against the patience of God, it is a sin against this sovereignty of God. Even today this happens.

It happened then: some, converted from Judaism, believed in their self-reference that there could be no salvation without submitting to the Law of Moses. In this way, Paul was contested, who proclaimed salvation directly in the name of Jesus. To oppose his action would have compromised the acceptance of the pagans, who in the meantime were converting. Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem by the Apostles and the elders. It was not easy: in the face of this problem the positions seemed irreconcilable, we discussed at length. It was a question of recognizing the freedom of God's action, and that there were no obstacles that could prevent him from reaching the hearts of people, whatever the condition of origin, moral or religious. The situation was unblocked by adherence to the evidence that "God,cardiognostic, he knows hearts, he himself supported the cause in favor of the possibility that the pagans could be admitted to salvation, "granting them the Holy Spirit as well, as we do" ( Acts 15: 8 ), thus also granting pagans the Holy Spirit, like us. In this way, respect for all sensibilities prevailed, tempering excesses; treasured the experience Peter had with Cornelius: thus, in the final document, we find the testimony of the Spirit's protagonism in this journey of decisions, and of the wisdom that is always capable of inspiring: "It seemed good, to the Holy Spirit and we, not to impose on you any other obligation "except that which is necessary ( Acts 15:28). “We”: In this Synod we go on the path of being able to say “it seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us ”, because you will be in continuous dialogue with one another under the action of the Holy Spirit, also in dialogue with the Holy Spirit. Do not forget this formula: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to impose any other obligation on you": it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . So you will have to try to express yourselves, on this synodal path, on this synodal path. If there is no Spirit, it will be a diocesan parliament, but not a Synod. We are not making a diocesan parliament, we are not doing a study on this or the other, no: we are making a journey of listening to each other and listening to the Holy Spirit, of discussing and also discussing with the Holy Spirit, which is a way of praying. .

“The Holy Spirit and us”. On the other hand, there is always the temptation to go it alone, expressing a substitutive ecclesiology - there are many, substitutive ecclesiologies - as if, having ascended to Heaven, the Lord had left a void to fill, and we fill it. No, the Lord has left us the Spirit! But the words of Jesus are clear: «I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to remain with you forever. […] I will not leave you orphans "( Jn 14,16.18). For the implementation of this promise, the Church is a sacrament , as stated in Lumen gentium1: "The Church is, in Christ, in some way the sacrament, that is, the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race". In this sentence, which collects the testimony of the Council of Jerusalem, there is the denial of those who insist on taking God's place, claiming to model the Church on their own cultural and historical convictions, forcing it to armed borders, to guilty customs, to spirituality that blaspheme the gratuitousness of God's involving action. When the Church is a witness, in word and deed, of God's unconditional love, of his hospitable breadth, she truly expresses her own catholicity. And it is pushed, internally and externally, to cross spaces and times. The impulse and the ability come from the Spirit: "You will receive the strength of the Holy Spirit who will come upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" ( Acts 1,8) . Receiving the strength of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses: this is the path of us Church, and we will be Church if we go down this path.

Synodal Church means Church sacrament of this promise - that is, that the Spirit will be with us - which manifests itself by cultivating intimacy with the Spirit and with the world to come. There will always be discussions, thank God, but solutions must be sought by giving the word to God and his voices among us; praying and opening our eyes to everything around us; practicing a life faithful to the gospel; interrogating Revelation according to a pilgrim hermeneutic that knows how to safeguard the journey begun in the Acts of the Apostles . And this is important: the way of understanding, of interpreting. pilgrim hermeneutics, that is, that it is on the way. The journey that began after the Council? No. It began with the first Apostles, and continues. When the Church stops, it is no longer Church, but a beautiful pious association because it cages the Holy Spirit. Pilgrim Hermeneuticswho knows how to guard the path begun in the Acts of the Apostles. Otherwise the Holy Spirit would be humbled. Gustav Mahler - I have said this on other occasions - argued that fidelity to tradition does not consist in worshiping ashes but in guarding fire. I ask you: “Before starting this synodal journey, what are you more inclined to: to guard the ashes of the Church, that is, of your association, of your group, or to guard the fire? You are more inclined to adore your things, which close you - I am from Peter, I am from Paul, I am from this association, you from the other, I am a priest, I am a Bishop - or you feel called to guard the fireof the Spirit? Gustav Mahler was a great composer, but he is also a master of wisdom with this reflection. Dei Verbum (n. 8), quoting the Letter to the Hebrews , affirms: "" God, who many times and in different ways in ancient times had spoken to the fathers "( Heb 1 : 1), never ceases to speak with the Bride of the his son". There is a happy formula of Saint Vincent of Lérins who, comparing the growing human being and the Tradition that is transmitted from one generation to the next, affirms that the "deposit of faith" cannot be preserved without making it progress. : "Consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age" ( Commonitorium primum, 23,9) - "ut annis consolidetur , dilatetur tempore ,  sublimetur aetate " . This is the style of our journey: realities, if they don't walk, are like waters. Theological realities are like water: if the water does not flow and is stale, it is the first to go into putrefaction. A stale Church begins to rot.

You see how our Tradition is a leavened dough, a reality in ferment where we can recognize growth, and in the dough a communion that takes place in motion: walking together realizes true communion. It is again the book of the Acts of the Apostles to help us, showing us that communion does not suppress differences. It is the surprise of Pentecost, when different languages ​​are not obstacles: even though they were strangers to one another, thanks to the action of the Spirit "each one hears of his own native language" ( Acts 2 : 8). Feeling at home, different but supportive on the journey. Excuse me for the length, but the Synod is a serious matter, and for this I have allowed myself to speak ...

Returning to the synodal process, the diocesan phase is very important, because it involves listening to the totality of the baptized, the subject of the infallible sensus fidei in credendo . There are many resistances to overcoming the image of a Church rigidly distinguished between leaders and subordinates, between those who teach and those who must learn, forgetting that God likes to overturn positions: "He has overthrown the powerful from their thrones, he has exalted the humble" ( Lc1.52), said Maria. Walking together discovers horizontality rather than verticality as its line. The Synodal Church restores the horizon from which the sun Christ rises: erecting hierarchical monuments means covering it. The shepherds walk with the people: we shepherds walk with the people, sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle, sometimes behind. The good shepherd must move like this: in front to guide, in the middle to encourage and not to forget the smell of the flock, behind because the people also have "nose". He has a nose for finding new ways for the journey, or for finding the lost road. I want to emphasize this, and also to the bishops and priests of the diocese. On their synodal journey they ask themselves: "But am I capable of walking, of moving, in front, in between and behind, or am I only in the chair, miter and baculus?". Shepherds meddled, but shepherds, not a flock: the flock knows that we are shepherds, the flock knows the difference. In front to show the way, in the middle to hear what the people feel and behind to help those who are a little behind and to let the people see with their nose where the best herbs are.

The sensus fidei qualifies t ll in the dignity of the prophetic office of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium , 34-35), so they can discern what are the ways of the Gospel in the present. It is the "nose" of the sheep, but let us be careful that, in the history of salvation, we are all sheep compared to the Shepherd who is the Lord. The image helps us to understand the two dimensions that contribute to this "flair". One personal and the other community: we are sheep and we are part of the flock, which in this case represents the Church. We are reading Augustine's De pastoribus " in the Breviary, Office of Readings, and there he tells us: " With you I am a sheep, for you I am a shepherd".  These two aspects, personal and ecclesial, are inseparable : there can be no sensus fidei without participation in the life of the Church, which is not just Catholic activism, there must above all be that "feeling" that is nourished by the "sentiments of Christ" ( Phil 2,5).

The exercise of the sensus fidei cannot be reduced to communicating and comparing the opinions we may have regarding this or that theme, that single aspect of the doctrine, or that rule of discipline. No, those are tools, they are verbalizations, they are dogmatic or disciplinary expressions. But the idea of ​​distinguishing majorities and minorities should not prevail: this is what a parliament does. How many times the "waste" have become the "cornerstone" (cf. Ps 118,22; Mt 21,42 ), the "distant" have become "near" ( Eph 2:13). The marginalized, the poor, the hopeless were elected to the sacrament of Christ (cf. Mt.25.31-46). The Church is like that. And when some groups wanted to stand out more, these groups always ended badly, even in the denial of Salvation, in heresies. Let us think of these heresies that claimed to carry the Church forward, such as Pelagianism, then Jansenism. Every heresy ended badly. Gnosticism and Pelagianism are constant temptations of the Church. We are so worried, rightly, that everything can honor liturgical celebrations, and this is good - even if we often end up comforting only ourselves - but St. John Chrysostom admonishes us: «Do you want to honor the body of Christ? Do not allow it to be the object of contempt in its limbs, that is, in the poor, without clothes to cover themselves. Do not honor him here in the church with silk fabrics, while outside you neglect him when he suffers from cold and nakedness.Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew , 50, 3). “But, Father, what are you saying? Are the poor, the beggars, the young drug addicts, all these that society discards, part of the Synod? ”. Yes, dear, yes, dear: I don't say it, the Lord says it: I am part of the Church. To the point that if you do not call them, they will see the way, or if you do not go to them to be with them for a while, to hearnot what they say but what they feel, even the insults they give you, you are not doing the Synod well. The Synod is up to the limits, it includes everyone. The Synod is also making room for dialogue on our miseries, the miseries that I have as your Bishop, the miseries that the auxiliary Bishops have, the miseries that priests and laity have and those who belong to associations; take all this misery! But if we do not include the miserable - in quotation marks - of society, the discarded ones, we will never be able to take charge of our miseries. And this is important: that one's miseries can emerge in dialogue, without justifications. Do not be afraid!

It is necessary to feel part of one great people who are the recipients of the divine promises, open to a future that awaits everyone to be able to participate in the banquet prepared by God for all peoples (cf. Is25.6). And here I would like to clarify that even on the concept of "people of God" there can be rigid and antagonistic hermeneutics, remaining trapped in the idea of ​​exclusivity, of a privilege, as happened for the interpretation of the concept of "election" that the prophets they corrected, indicating how it should be rightly understood. It is not a question of a privilege - to be God's people - but of a gift that someone receives… for himself? No: for everyone, the gift is to give it: this is the vocation. It is a gift that someone receives for everyone, that we have received for others, it is a gift that is also a responsibility. The responsibility of witnessing in deeds and not only in words the wonders of God, which, if known, help people to discover his existence and to welcome his salvation. Election is a gift, and the question is: my being a Christian, my Christian confession, how do I give it, how do I give it? The universal salvific will of God is offered to history, to all humanity through the incarnation of the Son, so that all, through the mediation of the Church, may become his children and brothers and sisters among themselves. It is in this way that universal reconciliation between God and humanity is achieved, that unity of the whole human race of which the Church is a sign and instrument (cf.Lumen gentium , 1). Even before the Second Vatican Council, the reflection, elaborated on the careful study of the Fathers, had matured that the people of God are reaching out towards the realization of the Kingdom, towards the unity of the human race created and loved by God. we know and experience, in the apostolic succession, this Church must feel in relationship with this universal election and for this to carry out its mission. With this spirit I wrote Brothers all . The Church, as Saint Paul VI said, is a teacher of humanity which today has the aim of becoming a school of fraternity.

Why am I telling you these things? Because in the synodal journey, listening must take into account the sensus fidei , but must not neglect all those "presentiments" embodied where we would not expect it: there can be a "nose without citizenship", but no less effective. The Holy Spirit in his freedom knows no boundaries, and does not even allow himself to be limited by belonging. If the parish is everyone's home in the neighborhood, not an exclusive club, I recommend: leave doors and windows open, don't limit yourself to just those who attend or think like you - which will be 3, 4 or 5% , not more. Allow everyone to enter… Allow yourselves to go out to meet and allow yourself to be questioned, may their questions be your questions, allow us to walk together: the Spirit will lead you, trust in the Spirit. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue and let yourselves be upset by dialogue: it is the dialogue of salvation.

Don't be disenchanted, be prepared for surprises . There is an episode in the book of Numbers(chap. 22) which tells of a donkey who will become a prophetess of God. The Jews are concluding the long journey that will lead them to the promised land. Their passage scares King Balak of Moab, who relies on the powers of the magician Balaam to block those people, hoping to avoid a war. The magician, in his own way a believer, asks God what to do. God tells him not to indulge the king, but he insists, and then he gives in and gets on a donkey to fulfill the command received. But the donkey changes direction because she sees an angel with an unsheathed sword who stands there to represent the opposition of God. Balaam throws her, beats her, unable to get her back on the road. Until the donkey starts talking, starting a dialogue that will open the eyes of the magician, transforming his mission of curse and death into a mission of blessing and life.

This story teaches us to trust that the Spirit will always make his voice heard. Even a donkey can become the voice of God, open our eyes and convert our wrong directions. If a donkey can do it, how much more a baptized, a baptized, a priest, a Bishop, a Pope. It is enough to rely on the Holy Spirit who uses all creatures to speak to us: he only asks us to clean our ears to hear well.

I have come here to encourage you to take this synodal process seriously and to tell you that the Holy Spirit needs you. And this is true: the Holy Spirit needs us. Listen to it by listening to yourself. Don't leave anyone out or behind. It will be good for the Diocese of Rome and for the whole Church, which is not strengthened only by reforming the structures - this is the great deception! -, giving instructions, offering retreats and conferences, or dictating directives and programs - this is good, but as part of something else - but if they rediscover that they are a people who want to walk together, among us and with humanity. A people, that of Rome, which contains the variety of all peoples and all conditions: what an extraordinary richness, in its complexity! But we need to get out of the 3-4% that represents the closest ones, and go further to listen to others,

In this time of pandemic, the Lord pushes the mission of a Church that is a sacrament of care. The world has raised its cry, has manifested its vulnerability: the world needs care.

Courage and forward! Thanks!