Synod delegates will vote on the proposed text of the “Letter to the People of God” this afternoon, Synod communications team member Sheila Pires reported at a press briefing earlier today.
The letter is one of two key documents that delegates are finalizing in this last week of the Synod. Pires described it as “a simple text” whose aim is “sharing the positive contribution” that the Synodal Assembly is making with the rest of the church.
The second document, the much-anticipated synthesis report that will distill the discussions of the monthlong gathering, was disseminated to the assembly this morning. Dr. Paolo Ruffini, prefect for the Dicastery of Communications, said that the document is 40 pages long and was available in English and Italian, with working translations in other languages.
After voting on the “Letter to the People of God,” delegates will begin the discussion of the synthesis report later today. The discussion will continue Thursday in small groups and in the general assembly.
Small groups will have the opportunity to propose and vote on amendments to the report amongst themselves. Individuals can also send amendments to the report’s drafting committee. The final version of the report will be read on Saturday morning, and a vote on the document will be taken on Saturday afternoon.
Joining Pires and Ruffini at today’s briefing were Archbishop Robert Francis Prevost, OSA, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops; Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, CSSp, archbishop of Bangui in the Central African Republic; Bishop Timothy Broglio, military ordinary of the United States of America and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); and Dr. Nora Kofognotera Nonterah, a theologian and professor from Ghana.
Dr. Nonterah, who is serving as a delegate to the Synod from the Continental Assembly of Africa, described the Synod as a space of “diversity and relationality.”
“You can have deep conversations with people of different backgrounds,” she said. “I felt listened to as a layperson, as a woman, and an African.”
She continued, “I come to this Synod with the hopes, the joys, the dreams, the anxieties, the lamentations, but also the resilience of the African women, laypeople from the continent, and in fact the entire church.” Her experience has convinced her that “a synodal church must be willing to sit at the foot of women, especially laywomen, who are from the Global South, to learn how to renew the church’s imagination, an imagination oriented to the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Cardinal Nzapalainga spoke of the “war, suffering, migration” that has influenced the climate of the Synodal Assembly. “We come here to share all this with our brothers and sisters,” he said.
Noting that he comes from a country “stricken by war,” the cardinal praised Pope Francis’s visit to Bangui in 2015. Francis opened the “Holy Door” of the cathedral of Bangui as a symbol of mercy and reconciliation.
In times of turmoil, Cardinal Nzapalainga emphasized the need for dialogue, particularly the kind of “spiritual conversation” that is being practiced in the Synod. It is not just about creating silence within oneself, he said, but being receptive to the beauty and gifts of the other.
“If I am humble, I can truly listen to my neighbor,” he said. “We all play a part in building Christ’s body.”
Bishop Broglio struck a similar chord, saying that the synodal method of listening and discernment could serve as an example for the world to imitate. His comment was reminiscent of the remark from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on Monday that there would be more opportunities for peacebuilding if the Security Council of the United Nations cultivated a synodal approach.
Asked about divergences of opinion at the Synod, Cardinal Prevost said there were “differing viewpoints” rather than “divisions.” He described an atmosphere of “respectful listening” coupled with “an authentic desire to seek out unity, yes, but not uniformity.”
“Differences are not a handicap,” Cardinal Nzapalainga added. “They are a source of richness.”
Cardinal Prevost stressed that the “human and relational aspect of what the church is about” has been at the center of the synodal conversations, as opposed to the church’s institutional structures as such.
He also said that while the abuse crisis and the protection of minors has been discussed, it was not meant to be the central topic. Dr. Nonterah said that a more synodal church could help safeguard minors from abuse, because one of the sources of the abuse crisis is that “children are afraid to speak.” A synodal church that “starts from the base” would encourage children to speak freely within their families, she said.
Delegates at the briefing also shared their thoughts on the expanded roles of women in the church, which has been one of the dominant themes of the assembly.
Referring to expanded roles for women as “a work in progress,” Cardinal Prevost signaled openness to continued study and reflection on questions such as admitting women to the diaconate but also sounded a note of caution, saying, “Clericalizing women doesn’t necessarily solve a problem.”
Instead, he said, the church might consider “a different understanding of leadership, power, authority, and service in the church from the different perspectives that can be brought to the life of the church by women and men.”
Dr. Nonterah said that “when women become the major participants in the decision-making process of the church at all levels, the church will be enriched.” She called on the church to be “students at the table of wisdom” of African women.
“African women can teach the church how to be a visionary mother for all her children,” she said.
Returning to the concept of the common dignity of baptism that has served as a refrain throughout the Synod, Cardinal Nzapalainga said, “By virtue of baptism, women cannot be left out or left behind.” ♦
Editor, Today’s American Catholic