Presidents of the international groups of Bishops' Conferences at the Synod General Secretariat in November 2022 Presidents of the international groups of Bishops' Conferences at the Synod General Secretariat in November 2022 

Msgr. Coda: Synod's Continental stage showcases joyful, prophetic Church

Msgr. Piero Coda, an Italian member of the Synod Theological Commission, offers an overview of the ongoing Continental Stage of the synodal journey, as the Church reflects on the Working Document "Enlarge the space of your tent".

By Adriana Masotti

Msgr. Piero Coda, secretary general of the International Theological Commission and member of the Synod Theological Commission, has offered a general overview of the ongoing Continental Stage of the Synod on synodality.

Msgr. Coda noted that "great Popes have led the Catholic Church in the most recent period of her long history: great in spiritual stature and witness in daily life, in wisdom and culture, in social discernment and prophecy."

A Synod about living synodality

In an interview with Vatican News, Msgr. Coda said the ongoing synodal journey seeks to offer a period of renewal and freshness in the Church, as it looks to its mission in the midst of the world and guided by the synodal path launched in October 2021 by Pope Francis.

After the first phase experienced at the local level, the current Continental Stage will be followed in October 2023 and 2024 by the two sessions of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.

The Continental Stage is guided by the Working Document published by the General Secretariat of the Synod on its special website dedicated to the events. The fifty-page document contains the synthesis of all the contributions sent to the Secretariat by Bishops' Conferences around the world, the outcome of the sharing and listening processes carried out by synodal groups in parishes, groups and associations.

Msgr. Coda noted how the first phase of the synod process just concluded allowed for a "rich harvest" of feedback and ideas, a type of "health checkup of the People of God around the world." He noted that there are challenges and difficulties, but also the joy and hope that abounds in the Church.

Of the 114 Bishops' Conferences, 112 sent the summary of the results of the consultation experienced in the dioceses under their jurisdiction, bringing together the faithful of all walks of life. In reading the reports, Msgr. Coda said he is moved to see the witness of the People of God, who in various places face immense difficulties, though all are committed to "living this time with faith, with love, with hope."

He added, "One can feel the joy, and I would almost say some times, the enthusiasm of listening and feeling heard, the joy of setting out together, so much so that to me, after going through these reports, the word attested by Isaiah of the Lord came spontaneously in my heart, 'Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?' So we thank God."

Here is an English-language translation of the original interview in Italian:

Q: Monsignor Piero Coda, the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod, which contains a synthesis of the work done so far by Churches throughout the world, starts with words of joy, satisfaction, and gratitude. It reads: “The Synod is on: one year after the opening of the synodal journey, we can enthusiastically affirm this!” As someone who has been heavily involved, what can you tell us about the work done in this first Synod stage?

The first stage of the synod process, the consultation of the People of God at the level of the local Churches and of the various expressions of ecclesial life, was overall very positive, and this was not to be taken for granted. It produced a rich harvest of fruits, a kind of check-up of the health of the People of God scattered all over the world, with its difficulties, its trials, but also with its hopes and joys. Suffice it to say that out of 114 Episcopal Conferences, as many as 112 sent a summary of the results of the consultation carried out in the dioceses under their jurisdiction. Not to mention the religious orders, associations, and ecclesial movements.

And, in reading these reports, it must be said that one cannot help but be moved, as I was, because one notices the witness of a People of God that is alive, lively, and journeying. Sometimes cruelly tried by the anguish of a difficult moment of change, of uncertainty - for all of humanity – but committed to living this moment with faith, with love, with hope. One can feel the joy, and, I would almost say sometimes, the enthusiasm of listening and feeling heard, the joy of setting out together, so much so that, after going through these reports, the word of the Lord attested to by Isaiah came spontaneously into my heart: "I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth; do you not notice it?" So we should give thanks to God.

Q: The Document also points out some negative aspects: the stain of abuse, for example, and the distance, sometimes, between clergy and laity. On the positive side, a new consciousness is emerging, that we are all protagonists in the mission of the Church, we need to be more inclusive as a community, need to collaborate with other Churches and other religions...

Yes, certainly. What emerges most of all is joy, and the desire to encounter Jesus alive today and to follow him through the Church. So the desire for a Church that is consistent, authentic, and hence the suffering for all the stains and difficulties that have to be overcome. And it takes courage to identify them and to overcome them. And then the desire, the joy, certainly, of participating, that is, of experiencing the Church as a family, as a communion, so to overcome that clericalism or those separatisms that are still hanging around. And again, as you mentioned, the desire and the commitment to be inclusive, that is, to be open to share the gift of faith.

Here we witness the growth in Christian communities of a heightened sensitivity to all those who in some way feel excluded from the life of the Christian community. Also, for example, those excluded for moral reasons, because of the moral standards proposed by the Church. And then a great concern for the poor and marginalised. This preferential option for the poor is, I would say, an increasingly important dimension of the life of Christian communities. And also, certainly the openness to dialogue, that is, the awareness that ecumenical dialogue expresses the unity of faith in Baptism. Less present, if you will, is the sensitivity still to the faithful of other religions and also to people of other beliefs or who are seeking a full manifestation of the truth.

Q: You brought up the issue of marginalisation: a recurring theme in almost all diocesan syntheses is the issue of women in the Church and society...

Certainly this is an essential issue that emerges from all the reports at all cultural and social levels in the life of the Church today: the recognition and promotion of the charism and the specific contribution of women to the life of the Church. There is a need for a serious qualitative leap and this makes clear the need for a spiritual, cultural and also structural conversion to make room, the room that is in God's plan, for women in the life of the Church.

There is also the realization that we must not give in to the temptation of a functionalist reduction of the role of women in the Church, and so that we must not allow ourselves to be crushed by models of participation in ecclesial life and governance that have prevailed up to now, which have a more masculine, not to say macho, imprinting. We need to find the right paths at all levels, but first of all it is a matter of a conversion of the gaze, of seeing the relationship between the masculine and the feminine according to the gaze of God, the gaze of Jesus.

Q: Many aspects were touched upon, but there was also a fear from some of the faithful that the Synod will not lead to real change, that the listening will only be a façade. What are your thoughts on this? Is there this risk?

Tthe Synod is not a tactical affair; it has no ulterior motive. It is undoubtedly the setting in motion of a process that wants to be sincere, open. It also wants to do this in order to make important decisions with respect to adapting the life and form of the Church to bring it closer to God's original plan.

The risk comes from not perceiving the meaning and scope of a process such as this, that is, from not realizing that it is God who is speaking to the Church and asking for a qualitative leap in the life of the Church. And there is also a risk that those who, with a certain indifference and superficiality, if not with a bad conscience, want to manage the synodal process in order to not change anything.

Q: The continental stage of the Synod has begun. "Enlarge the space of your tent" is the title of the Document we are talking about. It seems to allude to a further effort of openness in listening, for example. Can it help us better understand the work of the coming months?

The goal of this continental stage, I would say, is first of all to get the synthesis of the reports that have come from all the dioceses back to the local churches, so that the different churches can say if they recognise themselves in the synthesis. This will also allow them to recognise the richness of the different accents that come from the other local churches, so that there can be an exchange of gifts between the different ecclesial realities.

Then there is a second goal: to perform this operation of discernment at the continental level, to bring together the paths of the local Churches of the same region - in this case it is the 5 continents, plus the Eastern Churches considered separately, and the Americas are distinguished into North America and South America - so in the end we have 7 continental assemblies. There is some commonality within each region at the cultural and at the spiritual level. I would say that together we have to find out what vocation each continent has, because in God's plan there is a commonality and there is also a call, and this might be a novelty in the synodal process. From here, finally, we might get a further enrichment of the discernment already done, in view of the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris (Working Document) with which the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will open.

Q: So, basically the synodal groups that have already met in dioceses and parishes, movements, associations, etc., will meet again to read this Document and reflect further in light of its contents?

Exactly. Yes, each local Church is called to do this operation, that is, to receive the fruit of all that has been done so far, to meet again and to put its reactions back into communion at the continental level, so that eventually all of this reaches the universal level again. At the end, the synod will send back to the local churches what has emerged for reception and inculturation of the strategic choices that will be proposed.

Q: Pope Francis' decision to convene a double Assembly of Bishops at the Vatican for all this final work has come as something of a surprise. Why do you think he chose to do this?

To be honest, it didn’t surprise me. In fact, I hoped for it, because it takes time to implement a process of the magnitude and breadth of the one taking place in the synodal process. The time-frame, therefore, shouldn’t be restricted, and to have two moments as an Assembly of Bishops discerning on the path of the People of God is certainly a great enrichment, so a timely and far-sighted decision.

Q: The synodal path taken by the Church does not mean taking a survey of what people think about the Church, nor is it a list of the "wishes" of the faithful. It should be something else: we could talk about conversion, about listening to the Spirit. How would you define it? And how do you hope it will be experienced?

I think the synodal process, when interpreted in the right way, constitutes an extraordinary training ground for ecclesial life. As John Paul II said in Novo Millennio Ineunte, it is a concretisation of that school of communion for mission that all ecclesial realities are called to become, in order to live up to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. It is about learning this art, which is the art of communal discernment.

Learning to discern means listening to the voice of the Spirit and living one's faith as a light that interprets and transforms reality. Communal means learning to live it together. It is not taken for granted, it is not easy – even on the personal level – to practice discernment, it requires great humility and perseverance, it requires activating the spiritual senses – as the tradition of the Church says – to listen to the voice of God.

Here, in community discernment, we need to learn how to activate the spiritual senses to discover, welcome and follow the presence of the Risen Jesus who is alive in his Church in order to be alive in human history. And this requires a school, it requires an exercise. The synod process can be an extraordinary school to practice this art, and in the reports of this first stage we can see that this process has begun positively.

Q: And after the conclusion of this synodal journey, say from 2025 onward, what might the Church look like? How would you like to it to be?

Certainly, a Synod on synodality, even though there will be two Assemblies, does not exhaust the meaning and scope of the event: it is a necessary and important stage of a journey that will be long and challenging. Pope Francis has said: the Synod is what God expects from the Church in the Third Millennium. Well, we have a millennium ahead of us, and we are putting in place, listening to God's voice, a form of being Church that is the way it has always been, but also that takes on specific tones, specific declinations. We have to learn, we have to set out.

What is the Church that is on the horizon? I like to say that it is a Church of joy, a poor Church and a prophetic Church. A Church of joy because it bears witness to something fundamental, the gift of Jesus, and that is that God is love and that he gives joy to the human person and the human family. This is a joy that the world does not know, to share it with those who are in pain and trial.

Then: a poor Church, because it is rich only in God, and poor so that it can be a home for the poor, because the Gospel is for them. Prophetic because a Church that sheds the leaven of justice, of fraternity, with full hands, in the sure hope of new heavens and a new earth in which alone, in the end, God's justice and love will have a stable dwelling.

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17 January 2023, 10:35