Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2021 / 15:10 pm (CNA).
The U.S. Catholic bishops’ effort to equip parishes and communities to support pregnant and parenting moms in need exemplifies a “synodal approach,” according to Pope Francis’ representative to the United States.
“The Church must be unapologetically pro-life,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, said to the general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Tuesday. “We cannot abandon our defense of the innocent human life or the vulnerable person.”
The French-born prelate’s comments came as he addressed the bishops about synodality and the need for apostolic discernment during their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Md.
The Synod on Synodality began in October as a two-year worldwide process of listening and dialogue that invites Catholic laypeople to participate and offer feedback. The process begins with a diocesan phase, continues with a continental phase, and concludes with a universal phase when bishops and others will meet together in Rome.
According to Pierre, “true reform, while necessarily remaining faithful to the living Tradition of the Church, must also involve concrete gestures.”
“I believe that synodality is an answer to the challenges of our time and to the confrontation, which is threatening to divide this country, and which also has its echoes in the Church,” he said. “It seems that many are unaware they are engaged in this confrontation, staking out positions, rooted in certain truths but which are isolated in the world of ideas and not applied to the reality of the lived faith experience of the People of God in their concrete situations.”
Pierre defined synodality as a “way of life” and a “way of living the faith in a permanent way at every level: in your dioceses, parishes, the family, and at the peripheries.”
Synodality, he stressed, involves listening to one another and to the Spirit, is God-driven and mission-driven, and demands apostolic discernment in common by uniting to seek the will of God.
The apostolic nuncio recognized a number of issues facing the Church. He pointed first to the “pro-life issue.”
A “synodal approach to the question would be to understand better why people seek to end pregnancies; what are the root causes of choices against life and what are the factors that make those choices so complicated for some; and, to begin to form a consensus with concrete strategies to build the culture of life and the civilization of love,” he explained.
He pointed to the Walking with Moms in Need program as a concrete example. The project, run by the USCCB, encourages Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in difficult situations.
“It seeks to walk with women; to better understand their situations; to work with pro-life and social service agencies to meet the concrete needs of expectant mothers and their children,” he said. The program “helps parishes to identify and help provide the full range of needs for mothers and their unborn children, not only during pregnancy, but for years to come,” according to a statement by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Catholic churches, he added, can make a difference.
“Many expectant mothers are often suffering from loneliness, and common events, such as baby showers, are not part of their reality,” he continued. “Parishes, by listening to what some of the spiritual, social, and emotional needs of the people are, can accompany women — even with small acts of kindness.”
“Concrete gestures, not mere ideas, show forth the maternal, tender face of the Church that is truly pro-life,” he added.
The apostolic nuncio cited the Eucharist as a second example showing that “Realities are more important than ideas.”
“We can have all the theological ideas about the Eucharist — and, of course, we need this — but none of these ideas compare with the reality of the Eucharistic Mystery, which needs to be discovered and rediscovered through the practical experience of the Church, living in communion, particularly in this time of pandemic,” he said.
Pierre’s address came as the U.S. bishops prepare to vote on a new document emphasizing Church teaching on the Eucharist. The apostolic nuncio stressed the importance of a “true encounter with His Real Presence.”
“There is the temptation to treat the Eucharist as something to be offered to the privileged few rather than to seek to walk with those whose theology or discipleship is falling short, assisting them to understand and appreciate the gift of the Eucharist and helping them to overcome their difficulties,” he said. “Rather than remaining trapped in an ‘ideology of the sacred,’ synodality is a method that helps us to discover together a way forward.”
He said that the “same could be said with respect to race relations.”
“Everyone here certainly condemns racial injustice,” he noted. “But is it merely the idea of racism that is wrong? How tangibly as Church could we respond to the lived reality of what some members of society must daily confront?”
He repeated a question that he asked at the June bishops assembly: “What type of Church are we?”
In addition to the world, the “Church too is wounded — by the abuse crisis, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and the polarization afflicting society,” he said. “This is the reality which must be engaged.”
“The Church needs concrete action, involving everyone, action which mediates the presence of Christ in the human reality of our hurting world,” he said. “In my mind, the way this concrete action is actuated is through synodality.”
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