MESSAGE OF THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
CARDINAL MARIO GRECH
TO THE ARCHDIOCESE OF LIVERPOOL
It is with great pleasure that I take part in today’s meeting of your Diocesan Synod. I greet Archbishop Malcolm Patrick McMahon, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Anthony Williams, the Moderator of the Synod, Father Philip Inch, and all of you who, in various ways, are involved in the synodal journey, as representatives of the various parishes and pastoral areas of the diocesan territory: priests, deacons, consecrated, laity.
Today, with the vote you have just taken, you have reached the culminating moment of the Diocesan Synod. The preparatory journey began in autumn 2017 and the celebratory stage was originally planned for October 2020. Because of the pandemic, you have been compelled to postpone today’s appointment by a few months, thus extending the period of discernment that has involved the entire diocesan community in various ways.
In this journey - a journey made together - the synodal agenda was not decided from above but elaborated within a process that included a broad involvement of the People of God, just as Pope Francis asks when he invites us, as universal Church and as local Churches, to live a synodal conversion. This is what he said in his Address for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops: “A synodal Church is a Church of listening, in the awareness that listening ‘is more than hearing’. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn”.
In the course of the year 2019, you have conducted a wide-ranging exercise of listening. This started with a questionnaire made up of four simple and direct questions, intended to stimulate reflection on what it means to be a believer and to belong to the Church at this particular moment in history: Where in your everyday life do you experience love, truth, goodness, hope, and joy? When you reflect on your life at the present moment, and as you look towards the future, what are your concerns or worries? What is the purpose of the Catholic Church in the world today? Having reflected on these things, what are the topics you would like to see on the agenda of the 2020 Synod?
Based on the answers to these questions, the topics to be discussed at the Diocesan Synod were identified and eventually sent back to the local communities for further reflection and the identification of concrete proposals leading to action. Finally, at the end of this phase of community discernment, a final list of proposals was drawn up, which, after another phase of reflection in the local communities, was submitted today for your vote.
Your experience shows that a vote can only take place at the end of a long process of listening and discernment: a listening to the Spirit, who speaks through all the members of the People of God, and a shared discernment of His will for the Church. In fact, as the Holy Father says, every Synod must take place “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, [...] under his light, his guidance and his irruption, in order to learn to listen and discern the ever new horizon that he wants to give us. Because synodality presupposes and requires the irruption of the Holy Spirit” (Letter to the People of God on the Way in Germany, 29 June 2019). I am convinced that during this synodal experience you have learnt that although you were asked to take a “vote”, the synod is neither a parliament nor a convention, but, as Pope Francis insists, it is “an expression of the church. It is a church that walks together and reads reality with the eyes of faith and the heart of God”. One of the values of a synodal pedagogy is the ability to abandon this parliamentary logic and “learn to listen, in community, to what the Spirit says to the Church”. In other words, the conclusions of a synod are not an expression of the vote of the majority but an agreement in the faith of the Church.
Today’s appointment should not represent the final stage of your journey; the decisions taken and ratified by your Pastor need to become operational in your communities and reshape the face of your local Church in a time of great change. It will again be the Holy Spirit who, in the next phase, will bring to completion the work He has begun among you, fostering that conversion of hearts without which the conversion of structures would not be sufficient or, ultimately, possible. I am absolutely convinced that the propositions presented during the course of your Synod as well as the conclusions you have reached today, all have their pastoral relevance for your ecclesial community; but I wish to underline that another important achievement of your synod has been that by walking together you have learnt to appreciate and adopt a synodal style in the daily life of your Church: this is the goal of the conversion to which we are called.
Dear faithful of Liverpool, you are not alone in this endeavor. Next October, the whole Church will be embarking on a synodal journey, the details of which were made public last month and which, God willing, will culminate in Rome, in October 2023. Before then, all the ecclesial communities of the world are invited to take part in an exercise of consultation on the theme chosen by the Holy Father: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission”. For the Church, this journey is both a gift and a mission: by walking and reflecting together, we will be able to learn from our experiences which processes can help the Church live in communion, achieve participation, and be open to mission. Our “walking together” is, in fact, what best manifests the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God.
You will then discover that your synodal journey is part of a broader path and that what you have learned and put into practice during these years can be offered to the universal Church for the benefit of many others. May God bless your work and, as the phrase chosen for your Diocesan Synod states, may He enable you to become more and more the Church He calls you to be.
Vatican, 15th June, 2021
Prot. N. 210155
Cardinal Mario Grech
General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops