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Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God

October 26, 2023

We share the letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod.

Dear sisters, dear brothers:

As the work of the first session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops draws to a close, we wish, with all of you, to give thanks to God for the beautiful and rich experience we have just had. We have lived this blessed time in deep communion with all of you. We have been supported by your prayers, carrying with us your expectations, your questions and also your fears.

It has now been two years since, at the request of Pope Francis, a long process of listening and discernment was initiated, open to all God’s people, excluding no one in order to “walk together”, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, missionary disciples following Jesus Christ.

The session that has brought us together in Rome since September 30 is an important step in this process. For many reasons, it has been an unprecedented experience. For the first time, at the invitation of Pope Francis, men and women have been invitedby virtue of their baptism, to sit at the same table to take part not only in the discussions, but also in the voting of this Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Together, in the complementarity of our vocations, our charisms and our ministries, we have listened intensely to the Word of God and the experience of others. Using the method of conversation in the Spirit, we humbly shared the riches and poverties of our communities in all continents, trying to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church today.

Thus we have also experienced the importance of promoting reciprocal exchanges between the Latin tradition and the traditions of the Christian East. The participation of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities has deeply enriched our discussions. Our assembly has taken place in the context of a world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities have painfully resounded in our hearts and have given our work a peculiar gravity, even more so when some of us come from countries where war is intensifying.

We have prayed for the victims of homicidal violence, without forgetting all those whom misery and corruption have thrown into the dangerous paths of emigration. We have pledged our solidarity and our commitment to the women and men who, everywhere in the world, act as artisans of justice and peace.

At the invitation of the Holy Father, we gave an important place to silence, to encourage respectful listening and the desire for communion in the Spirit among us. During the ecumenical opening vigil, we experienced how the thirst for unity grows in the silent contemplation of Christ crucified. “The cross is, in fact, the only seat of the One who, giving his life for the salvation of the world, entrusted his disciples to the Father, so that ‘they may all be one’(Jn 17:21). Firmly united in the hope that His Resurrection gives us, we have entrusted to Him our common Home, where the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor resound with ever greater urgency: ‘Laudate Deum'”, Pope Francis recalled at the very beginning of our work. Day after day, we have felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion. For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by concentrating on herself, but by placing herself at the service of the infinite love with which God loves the world (cf. Jn 3:16).

Asked what they expect from the Church on the occasion of this synod, some homeless people living in the vicinity of St. Peter’s Square replied, “Love!” This love must always remain the burning heart of the Church, Trinitarian and Eucharistic love, as the Pope recalled, evoking on October 15, halfway through our assembly, the message of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. “It is trust” that gives us the audacity and inner freedom we have experienced, without hesitating to express our convergences and our differences, our desires and our questions, freely and humbly.

And now? We hope that the months that separate us from the second session, in October 2024, will allow everyone to participate concretely in the dynamism of the missionary communion indicated in the word “synod”. It is not an ideology, but an experience rooted in the Apostolic Tradition. As the Pope reminded us at the beginning of this process: “If we do not cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses synodality […] by promoting the real involvement of each and every one, communion and mission run the risk of remaining somewhat abstract terms” (October 9, 2021). The challenges are many and the questions are numerous: the summary report of the first session will clarify the points of agreement reached, highlight the open questions and indicate how to continue the work”.

To progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, beginning with the poorest. This requires, for its part, a path of conversion, which is also a path of praise: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the little ones” ( Lk 10:21). It is about listening to those who do not have the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, also from the Church. Listen to people who are victims of racism in all its forms, particularly in some regions of indigenous peoples whose cultures have been humiliated. Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit itself concretely and structurally so that this does not happen again.

The Church also needs to listen to the laity, women and men.The witness of catechists, who in many situations are the first to proclaim the Gospel, the simplicity and liveliness of children, the enthusiasm of young people, their questions and requests, the dreams of the elderly, their wisdom and memory. The Church needs to listen to families, their educational concerns, the Christian witness they offer in today’s world. It needs to welcome the voices of those who wish to be involved in lay ministries or in participatory discernment and decision-making bodies. The Church particularly needs to make progress in synodal discernment, to gather even more of the words and experience of ordained ministersThe priests, the first collaborators of the bishops, whose sacramental ministry is indispensable in the life of the whole body; the deacons, who through their ministry represent the concern of the whole Church for the service of the most vulnerable. It should also be left to be challenged by the prophetic voice of consecrated life, a vigilant sentinel of the calls of the Spirit. And it must also be attentive to those who do not share your faithThe Spirit is present and active in them, the One who offers “to all the possibility that, in the form of God alone known, they may be associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et spes 22, 5).

“The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve also in its contradictions, demands of the Church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of her mission. Precisely the path of synodality is the path that God expects from the Church of the third millennium” (Pope Francis, October 17, 2015). We should not be afraid to respond to this call. The Virgin Mary, first on the way, accompanies us on our pilgrimage. In joys and sorrows she shows us her Son and invites us to trust. He, Jesus, is our only hope!

Vatican City, October 25, 2023