Tag Archives: synod

Catholic bishops end synod with controversy and compromise

FOR those looking for Pope Francis’ synod of bishops on young people to settle the current divides in the Catholic Church between bishops and laity, conservatives and reformers, LGBT Catholics and those who regard that group as an oxymoron, the synod’s final report is bound to disappoint.

The 60-page document deals with a host of issues: treatment of women in society and in the church, the church’s attitude toward LGBT members, clerical sex abuse, warfare, poverty, migration, human trafficking and corruption. With such a large number of topics, generalities are necessary.

Those who had been to earlier synods however said that this synod was the least controversial – some called it “joyful” and “hopeful,” thanks to the presence of young people in the synod hall

Synods under John Paul II and Benedict XVI were much more controlled, with curial cardinals telling members of the synod what could and could not be discussed.

But experienced synod-goers praised this one for its organizers’ extensive preparations, including the pope’s meeting last March with young people.

Perhaps the greatest fruit of the synod is with the bishops who embraced the synodal process. The process involved looking at the real lives of young people, listening to them, reflecting on their situation in light of the Gospel, and only then devising programs to respond to their needs.

This is quite different from the church’s traditional approach of trying to cram its teaching and programs down the throats of the young. If bishops internalize this process and use it in their countries and dioceses, this would be the greatest fruit of the synod.

Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to become a synodal church, a discerning church where the church listens and responds to reality. Francis realizes that the church must become a listening and accompanying church, if it is to help people.

Sadly, not all the bishops got it. Fifty-one bishops, 20 percent of those voting, voted against the paragraph encouraging synodality in the church.

Some bishops insisted on adding a reference to Jesus and the disciples on the way to Emmaus as a biblical example of the synodal process.

This is truly a magnificent story, but if the bishops think they are Jesus and young people are the disciples, they missed the whole point Francis was trying to make. We are all disciples, and the disciples’ confusion before Jesus joins them is reflective of the entire church. Or to put it another way, sometimes Jesus may be the young explaining things to the bishops. – Thomas Reese @ NCR

Synod: Pope Francis brings out the best in us

Sr Sally Marie Hodgdon, says that the Synod of Bishops on Young People was a “moment of conversion and grace”, guided by Pope Francis who “brought out the best in us”.

Sr Sally Marie Hodgdon, Superior General of the Sisters of St Joseph of Chambéry, one of the Synod auditors

One of the women religious who audited the Synod of Bishops on Young People is Sr Sally Marie Hodgdon, the Superior General of the Sisters of St Joseph of Chambéry. She represented the International Union of Superiors General in her capacity as its vice-president. She spoke with Sr Bernadette Reis about what it was like for her as a woman religious to participate in the Synod.

Moment of conversion

Sr Sally began saying that the Synod provided a “moment of conversion” for her. It helped her realize that she is not “as open to my young sisters or candidates as I could be”.

Moment of grace

Seeing how the Vatican works was a “moment of grace”, Sr Sally continued, because she was able to see it in a “different light”. She was “pleasantly surprised” by some of the processes used in the Synod, one of them being the brief period of reflection introduced by Pope Francis after each intervention.

“It gave the sense of more of a prayerful processing of information. This made a big difference. It’s very difficult to sit and listen to 370 interventions over the course of so many weeks. Having that moment of quiet and a beautiful scenery to look at on the screen really did help us to pause.”

Moments of openness

Sr Sally then described what it was like in her small group. “I could see conversion happening” among the Cardinals and bishops, she said.

“I could see their openness to our questions, to our modifications or amendments. The young people spoke often, as did I, as did the men from USG [Union of Superiors General, the male counterpart to the UISG], as did the priest from the Migrants and Refugees Section. We spoke as much as the Bishops and Cardinals, or more so, actually, than some of them.”

Moments of solidarity

Even though she and others in the small group could not vote, or formally present modifications, Sr Sally said that their suggestions were welcomed nonetheless. One of the Bishops in her group submitted some of the suggestions that came up.

“We worked as a network. That was very good for me as a woman religious to see. Because initially I thought, this is not very inviting to have us there but not able to submit amendments, or there and not able to speak freely. We all spoke very freely.”

Moments of being together with young people

Pope Francis contributed his own charisma to the Synod, Sr Sally said.

“Pope Francis is such a grace for our Church. He’s so open, he’s so welcoming, he’s so humble. And he brought that side out in all of us. There in person, he was able to bring us together with the youth and to bring the best out in us.”

Surprising moments

The youth sitting directly behind the women religious “were hootin’ and hollering”, Sr Sally interjected here.

“I watched the faces of the Bishops and Cardinals. And the first time, they were like, ‘Hmmm. This is different’. But after that, they loved it!”

Welcoming atmosphere

“In the end, it was a very welcoming atmosphere”, Sr Sally said. The difference made by the women religious auditors was their presence in the small groups and what they shared during informal discussions, she said.

“There were only 7 women religious there, but we made a huge impact on the Synod. We know that based on what people have told us. Last night when we were leaving, the Bishops and Cardinals were saying, “Thank you for being there. You really are the ‘Madri Sinodali’ [Synod Mothers]. That meant a lot to us because we knew our voices were heard.”- Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican News, 30 Oct 2018

A Synod transform by the presence of young people

One day after the Synod on Young People concludes, 6 of the 7 women religious who participated share their experience of how they saw the Synod transformed by the presence of the young auditors.

Women religious unpack the Synod experience

Vatican – A synthesis of the Synod on Young People through the eyes of 6 of the 7 women religious who participated, organized by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome, took place on Monday evening, the day after the Synod formally concluded. Women religious, ambassadors to the Holy See, and journalists took part in person while others joined online via webinar.

Sisters auditors and voting

Sr Sally Marie Hodgdon, representing UISG as a Superior General at the Synod, responded to the question regarding parity with the male Superiors General counterpart, USG. She said the executive boards of both the UISG and USG have decided to draft a document. In it, they will request that the numbers of auditors from both groups be the same, and that both have voting privileges. She added that this issue was brought up not only by women, but by Bishops, Cardinals and the young people as well.


Sr Allesandra Smerilli, a Salesian Sister, described the listening that led to conversion. Referring to Cardinal Tagle, she said that the listening took place not only with the ears, but also with their gut. Many, including Bishops, were moved by the stories that they heard. This, Sr Allesandra said, provides the backdrop to the addition of synodality in the Final Document which is absent from the Instrumentum Laboris (par. 118ff). A synodal journey took place and transformed the Bishops from defending their authority to embracing synodality. Sr Allesandra said it is because of the presence of the young people that the Bishops began to speak about their personal “synodal” experiences, and were able to articulate it in the Final Document.


Sr Mina Kwon, a Sr of St Paul of Chartres from Korea, called the Synod a festival. She was surprised each day by what God prepared. Throughout the month, the young auditors began to understand that the Church loves them, she said. It was not just the Bishops, but the young people, too, who were talking about what they plan on doing when they return to their countries.

The signs of the times

Sr Lucy Muthoni Nderi, a Salesian Sister from Kenya, said that it was the young people who helped the Bishops identify the signs of the times. The young people reminded the bishops not to talk about them as if they are outside of the Church, but as people ready to help in the Church’s mission. This, she said, is how they awakened synodality.

New Pentecost

Sr Nathalie Becquart, a sister of the Xavière Missionaries of Christ Jesus, feels that the Synod is a new Pentecost. She said she could hear the voices of young people in the Bishops. The strong and deep human experiences lived in the Synod helped the Bishops live the Emmaus encounter that became the paradigm of the Final Document. Through this experience they have understood that young people can be partners in the mission of the Church. It also affected the paragraph on man and woman (13), and the paragraph specifically on women in the Church (55), she said. Sr Nathalie emphasized as well that the Bishops and Cardinals at the Synod were asking for women to be present in the decision-making process.


Sr Maria Luisa Berzosa González, Director of Catholic School and Popular Education from Spain, took part as an expert. As an expert, she did a lot of listening and because of that began to understand a lot. The pilgrimage, the intergenerational dialogue, and the concert with prisoners were other ways that shaped the experience, she said. She drew particular attention to the pilgrimage. That was when everyone was equal, providing support, handing someone water…. Sr Maria Luisa thinks that the pilgrimage played a large role that allowed the Bishops a concrete experience within which to understand synodality. – Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, Vatican News, 29 Oct 2018

Synod of Bishops: We must ask for forgiveness

Synod of Bishops on Young People Monday Press Briefing

VATICAN – The Synod Fathers had Monday off while the first draft of the Synod document was being finalised. This draft will be presented at the General Assembly on Tuesday morning. The draft will be debated on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday the Synod Fathers will have a day off while a final draft is being prepared. On Friday the General Assembly will meet to elect a new Council for the Synod and, on Saturday, the final document will be presented to the bishops. They will vote on the document paragraph by paragraph, each needing a two thirds majority to be included in the final document.

We must ask forgiveness

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, S.J., from Turkey said that he has been thinking about the kind of world that has been created for young people. We have not prepared a livable world for young people where they can work, express themselves and use their talents. We have to ask young people for forgiveness, he said, for creating a world in which we have deprived them of so many possibilities.

The Bishop also said that what emerged for him at the Synod was the vast differences between the Church in affluent wealthy parts of the world compared to many impoverished places. He said that in impoverished places it is very hard to talk about faith and discernment when many young people from the ages of 8 or 10 are not able to choose because choices are made for them, often by the desperate conditions they find themselves in.


We must change, we must take conversion seriously, so that we can become a better Church, said Fr Ángel Fernández Artime, S.D.B., General Superior of the Salesians of Saint John Bosco. He said that young people have asked the Church to be brave and bear witness, to testify to the faith. He said that this was a call to all adults, not just to the clergy.

Ms. Henriette Camara, an auditor and member of the Catholic Scouts from Guinea, spoke about her conversion. She said that she came from a Muslim family. She came into contact with the Catholic Scouts and explained how, through this movement, she chose to convert. She says that she received a lot of support from them, she was welcomed without any discrimination and that her commitment to the Church with other young people has been a very meaningful experience. She also said that, even today, her mother is not happy that she chose to convert but she is still supported by the scouts.

Feeling fatherless and motherless

Bishop Bizzeti and Fr Artime said that they believe that motherhood and fatherhood is missing in the world. Fr Artime says that he meets young people who suffer from this lack of parenthood. He said that even in families that are conventional the pace of life is such that children are often not given the presence and accompaniment they need.

He went on to say that he believed that there is a weakness in the Church’s vision. The Church is not only present in parishes but in schools, shelters and other institutions and it is precisely in these that the Church can offer and help young people with a truly mature and healthy motherhood and fatherhood.

Local Synods

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano from the USA, said that the work of the Synod has been to look at things from a universal level but that this now needs to be taken into local Churches. He said that Synodality doesn’t end now, it must be concretised in local areas. A big question for him, he says, is how he takes this forward in his own diocese. He said that he wants to bring young people in his diocese together so that they can put their heads together and find a way forward. He said that a diocesan synod or congress might be a way of taking the Synod forward.

Bishop Caggiano said that young people have a unique contribution to offer the Church in the form of the technologies they use. Young people have expertise on the “digital continent” and that needs to become real missionary territory. He said that the young people at the Synod are ready to be sent and that it is his hope that they unleash a new energy and power in the Church. Young people best evangelise young people, the bishop said.

Commenting on the sexual abuse of minors Bishop Caggiano said that abuse was both a crime and a sin and that there is no place in the Church for this at all. We need to let young people know that we are committed to rebuilding our credibility and trust. The Bishops said that when trust is broken it is very hard to rebuild and needs to be done one person at a time. He said that that is something the bishops will address and must have a definitive way of dealing with in the future.- Russell Pollitt, SJ, Vatican News, 22 Oct 2018

Julian Paparella: what I’m going to tell the Synod of Bishops

Julian Paparella, auditor at the Synod of Bishops on Young People

VATICAN – The Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Discernment opened on Wednesday in the Vatican. One of the young people invited to attend and to address the Synod talks about his hopes, expectations, and even about the issues he intends to raise.

We’ve heard the presentation and listened to the General Secretary explain its aims, we know that the over 300 Synod Fathers gathered in the Vatican Synod Hall will produce a final document, and that there are 34 young people who will have the precious opportunity to address the Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” and even have an impact on its outcome. But who are they?  What are their expectations for the next three busy weeks? What does it feel like for them to have been chosen to represent their peers and raise new issues at such a crucial event for the life of the Church?

I had a word with 25-year-old Julian Paparella from London Diocese in Ontario, Canada.   He followed a degree in biology with a Masters in Theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris and is currently working as Campus Minister at McGill University in Montreal helping accompany students in their faith.

Julian told me of his great surprise upon receiving the invitation from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Canada to participate in the Synod.

Julian’s involvement with the Canadian Catholic “Salt & Light” TV where he has interned and his experience at the Catholic Institute in Paris were probably the reason, he said, his name came to the fore when the bishops were asked to select a candidate.

“I was surprised and I hope I’ll continue to be surprised” he said as he begins this experience, “a great gift” during which he has been asked to serve the Universal Church.

A voice for young people

“I’m just hopeful that I will be able to serve in this capacity, as a voice for young people, trying to make the Synod Fathers,  the Holy Father, more sensitive to the current realities and needs of young people”.

Julian stressed that he will not be presenting his own views and opinions, but “the questions and the needs of young people, their concerns, their questions of faith, their lived reality so that the Church can better accompany young people of today”.

A perennial need to re-adjust

Julian spoke of what he sees as a constant need for the Church to continue to re-engage with young people and really be in their midst pointing out that those needs and concerns will constantly evolve.

“With every new generation there will be a need to re-evaluate, re-understand what young people are living”, how can the Church be better present to walk with them towards Jesus, he said.

He pointed out that there certainly is a need right now in the Church for re-adjustment and expressed his appreciation for the fact that the Pope sees that and has responded with something as significant as a Synod of Bishops but, he said “I don’t think that need will ever go away”.

Jesus Christ will never be irrelevant

Reiterating his deep belief that the Gospel will never be irrelevant for young people, Julian recalled the words of Saint Pope John Paul II when he said “Jesus Christ is the answer to the question posed by every human heart”.

We all thirst for Jesus Christ, he said, and  “whether or not they know it, all young people are thirsting for his Love.” And so, he continued, the question is: “how does the Church become an instrument and a vehicle by which young people are able to encounter this love of God”.

The only questions of possible irrelevance, Julian said, regard the ways and the means with which the Church is reaching or not reaching young people. – Linda Bordoni, Vatican News, 03 Oct 2018


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