Your Eminences, Excellencies, delegates of the bishops’ conferences, distinguished guests,
Welcome. We gather today in Prague for the Continental Assembly of the Synod on synodality. Pope Francis, in fact, wanted the preparation for the Synod to also pass through this intermediate stage, which would gather and synthesize what the Church in each continent really feels. We are grateful to him for this. The Church in Europe has already been the topic of two previous synods, but today we again gather, this time to reflect on synodality in the Church in Europe.
We gather in Prague, a city that can be considered a bridge between East and West, but also a warning for Europe. In Prague, in 1968, Soviet tanks put an end to what was considered a “spring.” Today, just over thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and what seemed like the end of the world divided into opposing blocs, we have another war in the center of Europe. We stand by our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, in the hope that Russian aggression will end and that on our continent we can find true peace and reconciliation.
We come from 39 Bishops Conferences, representing 45 different countries, each with its own language, history and culture, yet each rooted in a Christian heritage that was too soon thought to be erased. We are here to continue the synodal journey, to talk, to get to know each other, to express ourselves, to seek to understand each other.
We hope that the discussion will be wide-ranging, in the parrhesia, in the boldness and freedom, desired by Pope Francis, and that from this discussion we will be able to present to the General Secretariat of the Synod a document that expresses everyone’s desires and concerns, but that is also solid from the point of view of doctrine and prophetic in looking to the future.
Allow me to express some fundamental points that I believe will be crucial in our debate.
- We have one certainty: Christ is indeed the hope of Europe. We know that there is a thirst for Christ, we see it in those who approach the Catholic faith, in those who simply seek a faith. We cannot neglect this need for spirituality, we cannot put aside the living presence of Christ in our Church. All our discourse, whether theoretical or practical, starts from the “incarnation” of Christ, the image of God which is represented in every man and woman. We are, first of all, bearers of Christ’s proclamation. It has been said that a Church cannot be if it is not synodal. A synodal Church cannot be apart from Christ, from a living encounter with Christ.
- We are here not to focus on our own aspirations or our own visions of the world, but to understand how we, as the Church that is in Europe, can build ourselves as a truly synodal Church. I invite you not to neglect the synodal experiences of everyday life. There are so many experiences of an inclusive Church, present and open to all. Let us not forget these experiences. The Church has always been close to its people. The Church is outgoing, because she is evangelizing. But being inclusive does not eliminate the God-given freedom for people to reject God’s message and choose not to follow Him as He reveals himself, by choosing one’s own image of God, as happened repeatedly in the Gospels.
- Pope Francis calls us to an inner renewal; to have a renewed Church we need a Church of renewed people. This also means teaching the faith, knowing how to live it, knowing how to understand the deepest rationale of our faith. It is not about changing doctrine. It is about understanding the doctrine, and faithfully passing it on, without wavering. To be an outgoing Church, we need to know what we are bringing to the world and why we are doing it. This will also benefit our “being synodal,” to which we are called to today more than ever.
Therefore, I believe that the most important moment of each day will be that of the Mass. In this place and in the churches of Prague, where we will celebrate the Eucharist, we will proclaim that Christ died and rose again for us, and we will go out letting ourselves be carried away by the Holy Spirit, holding firm to that reality that leads us to be a Church “uncompromising in principle because it believes, tolerant in practice because it loves” (Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Dieu, son existence et sa nature, Paris 1923).
The challenge we have here is to understand that being synodal is not the same as creating a Parliament of the Church, in which the most successful ideas are voted on and promoted, and the others rejected.
As Pope Francis explained, “The Synod is not a parliament, let me be clear, it is something else. Why is it not a parliament? Because the most important character at the Synod is the Holy Spirit. We speak, but it is not a parliament. The synod is a moment of grace, a process guided by the Spirit who makes all things new, who frees us from worldliness, from being enclosed in ourselves, from our repetitive pastoral patterns and from fear. It calls us to question what God wants to say to us in this time, today, and the direction in which he wishes to lead us.” (Pope Francis, Address to participants at the Pastoral Days of Francophone Catholic Communities, Oct. 14 2022).
Let us take the Pope’s words, and use them as a guideline, along with the Document of Work for the Synodal Stage. The document invites us to “enlarge the space of our tent” (Is 54:2), and I am sure that just being here, listening to one another, in our variety as God’s people, will give us the opportunity to widen our gaze to realities that we often see as far away, because they are really far away from us.
We have come together first of all to listen, to truly listen to each other and to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Let us avoid the pitfall of seeing our role here as to argue or in some way push our own views, but to openly share them with each other and to spend much more time truly listening to each other and listening for God’s voice in this discernment.
These will be intense days. I wish us all the guidance of the Spirit in our work. And I ask you to pray for us bishops. As indicated by the Methodological Note on the Assemblies Continental Assemblies, we will gather among ourselves at the end of this meeting to reflect on what has resulted from this synodal stage and to look at the continuation of this “walking together” that is the Synod.
Thank you for being here for this part of the journey and may God bless our work!
Greeting of H. E. Msgr. Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius and President of CCEE
Continental Assembly of the Synod in Prague, February 5-12, 2023