An insider’s reflections on the Synod

CNS photo/Vatican Media
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney gives his speech at a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 4. Archbishop Fisher in his speech apologized to young people for “the shameful deeds” of some clergy.

This week I had a lengthy conversation with a participant in the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. A candidate in the last stages of his doctoral degree in the faculty of social sciences at the Gregorian University and a working international journalist from Brazil, Filipe Domingues participated in both the pre-synodal meetings and the ongoing conversations of the assembly themselves unfolding this month in Rome.

I’ve known Filipe as a good friend for a long time (he toasted my engagement there in three languages!), and have unqualified trust in his consistently astute analysis on matters ecclesial and otherwise, which we have often explored together over espresso, red wine or sambuca.

Filipe was able to reflect on the unique experience for a lay person to learn and contribute in such a forum. He offers us an insider’s view:

“Being inside the Synod is, first of all, a great experience of the church, and its unity-in-diversity. Everyone in there is genuinely concerned about young people and the church’s specific practices in this arena. Of course, the opinions and experiences vary and sometimes are very different, but this principle remains the same.”

After years of living in Rome, Filipe knows the city and the Vatican exceedingly well, along with their normal (and utterly distinctive) rhythms of life and work. Thus, he is well-positioned to recognize also the particular innovations and contributions such a meeting as this can make to a typical “business as usual” approach so common there. For instance, at the pope’s direction, clapping and cheering are not breaches in protocol for the first time. And recreational, musical, and social elements have been added to bring all participants together.

“I believe young people are more and more looking for a church that allows them to speak and that actively listens, that is open to walking together with them. That doesn’t mean simply to make concessions to the youth of today, but to be authentically open to listen, follow them closely, and accompany them in their struggles.”

The root of the word “synod” itself harkens back to the first name the followers of Christ used to describe themselves, “followers of The Way.” “Christian” as a noun and adjective came later, interestingly enough from Antioch, on the modern-day border between Turkey and Syria, sites often in the American news cycles today for dramatically different reasons.

This explicit commitment to the process of co-traveling is one of the touchstone themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate and his ideas about a church that is always in need of reform (“semper reformanda”), or as the Second Vatican council phrased it: “at the same time holy and always in need of being purified” (“sancta simul et semper purificanda”).

Striking examples of such a posture came from a few of the more remarkable presentations at the Synod.

Yadria Vieyra, a young woman born in Mexico but raised in Chicago, delivered a powerful address to the Synod dealing with marginalized communities. And Australian Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P. spent his opportunity to speak by apologizing to those gathered for the bishops’ long list of failures in harming or forsaking their mission to young adults, through heinous acts of both commission and omission.

Filipe commented:

“I believe such an apology was more than necessary. The feeling among many Synod fathers is that no matter what they say about the sexual abuse crisis and other forms of abuse that members of the church practiced, it will never be enough to heal the pain. However, they are aware of the need to move from words to action and strive to guarantee that young people find in the church a safe environment to flourish, where there are authentic role models of pastoral care and sanctity to be encountered.”

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.