Cardinal Mario Grech gives his worldwide perspective on synodality — the involvement and participation of all people of God in the life of the Church
Cardinal Grech, you have a worldwide perspective of the synodal process, which is unique. What are the opportunities and dreams that you see?
Well, it is a novel thing and it isn’t, because synodality is not a new concept that’s just been invented.
If we go to the teaching of the Church Fathers, especially in the first millennium, we find clear evidence that synodality was the normal way, how the Church used to run itself. Then, for historical reasons, we gave more importance to what the hierarchy can give to the Church.
But when Paul VI established the synod for bishops, he wanted to revive this concept of synodality. And then the Synod of Bishops continued along for all these years.
Lately, Pope Francis wanted to expand this concept by involving the people of God, by inviting all the baptized to participate. The Church wants to listen to each and every one, because we believe that all the baptized received the Holy Spirit.
A synodal experience is mainly a spiritual experience. We are invited to open our hearts to the Spirit, to be open to his surprises. And we pray that during this process the Holy Spirit can enlighten us on two main issues: about what the Church is and how we can connect with the human person today.
So far, did you get feedback from different parts of the world? How will you and your staff manage to read all the contributions?
We are regularly holding virtual meetings with the episcopal conferences around the world. And I can gladly tell you that we are receiving very, very positive signals. There is quite a lot of enthusiasm, and a sense of creativity as well.
Regarding the workload, I don’t want to think about it! Here at the secretariat, we created four commissions: on spirituality, theology, methodology and communication. They are made up of people coming from different parts of the world and they will help us to organize the material.
And we are studying how we can involve even more people to help us analyze all the answers that we will receive.
Do you see also any risks? There was some news from Germany that made people afraid that the national synod there tries to change the Church’s teaching…
Unfortunately, we rely on what media communicates. But from inside information, I can tell you that the Church in Germany is a responsible Church who has the ecclesial bond with the whole Church at heart. So, I don’t think that it would be correct to say that the Church in Germany is aiming to change anything, which she is not competent to do anyway.
During the synodal process, some questions are raised. At first sight they might seem to be in stark contrast with the doctrine of the Church, but that should not put us in a defensive attitude. We have to listen, and these questions will stimulate us to go more in depth about certain positions that we have held for centuries.
We have to reach a wide number of people, not only those who come to church. I tell my colleagues: we must listen to “the Church who does not come to church.”
What do you think are the most pressing topics in the Church or in the world? Maybe this varies from continent to continent.
There are issues that are common. And there are issues that are particular to each national Church. I think that the main issue for all is how we are going to proclaim the Gospel. We cannot fulfill our mission if we are not united
One main objective of this process is how to find, as the Holy Father says, new ways to reach the people and a new language. How we can help the Lord to connect with humanity, and how can humanity connect with the Lord?
This process will fail if the Church only reflects on itself. If we want to communicate the Gospel, it is not enough that we know the Gospel, but we have to know with whom we are connecting.
Otherwise, we really would be preaching from the pulpit, over people’s heads.
Here in the U.S., the Church is grappling with political issues. But what are relevant topics, for example, in Asia or in Africa?
Different continents have different challenges and different richness as well. At times we think only about negative issues. But every continental Church has also very positive experiences; there are always lighter and darker aspects.
This is why this consultation is very necessary, a founding phase of this process. And hopefully the Church will find answers that help humanity today. After all, this is a process; we should not expect definite answers for all difficulties.
We will give the opportunity for each continent to raise its voice, to express the joys, the hopes, the grief and the anguish of the people and how the Church in that continent can convey the good news of the Gospel.
In your opinion, will this process change the Church?
I believe that the Holy Spirit is alive, and that the Church is open to the Holy Spirit. So, there is this dynamism in the Church. I’m sure that the Church is renewing itself in some places more than in others, but there is this renewal process.
This synodal experience is a moment of grace, it surely will help the Church listening to all the people of God now, to find a way to enter into dialogue with the world.
The goal is not to produce a document, but to help the Church adopt this synodal method. This will bear fruit that goes beyond our imagination.
Is there a specific contribution that the ecclesial movements can give in the synodal process?
Movements; are endless expressions of ecclesial vitality; they are signs that the Holy Spirit enriches the Church within. But movements are also part of the local church. So, I invite all movements to engage more in the diocesan experience of the Church. This will greatly enrich not only the Church, but the movements themselves
Every movement can take the opportunity and reflect on how synodality is practiced internally in the life of the movement, at all levels. This process will be a blessing, both to the Church and to the movements.
Could there be the risk that listening to everyone makes it difficult to come to any decision?
We cannot give an answer to all the expectations of different people. We need time, first of all, to be sure that a certain move is coming from the Holy Spirit
Secondly, ideas, projects and visions need time to mature in order to be accepted by the wider group. Perhaps we are not patient enough to wait a little bit… if we don’t get an immediate reply, we might say, “They have failed us.” No — rather, they did not risk the unity of the Church.
All our contributions, if they are coming from the Spirit, are like seeds sown today. And in time they will bring fruit. So, I encourage each and every person to participate.
The Church, or better, we ourselves, are not perfect. Day after day we are trying to understand the will of God better.
Our God, luckily, is alive and wants to communicate himself to humanity, not only to the Church. If we really let God enter our lives, we will make a revolution.
Cardinal Mario Grec is a Maltese prelate who is serving as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops since September 2020. He is spearheading the synodal process
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