Synod on Synodality: Europe’s Continental Assembly in Prague discusses tensions in the Church


Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 7, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

Two hundred delegates — including 65 women and 46 bishops — are meeting this week in the capital of the Czech Republic for the last stage of regional discussions in the Synod on Synodality.

On Tuesday, the second day of discussion, participants were asked to identify “substantial tensions,” questions, and issues that should be addressed by the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October.

The delegates broke up into small discussion groups based on language, nation, and vocation and then presented their conclusions in front of the entire assembly.

One of the French-speaking groups brought up the tension of the role of women in the Church in light of the changing role of women in society as a whole and “in relation to the messages of justice that we want to proclaim outside the Church.”

A young woman said that her German-language group discussed the importance of youth involvement and “the inclusion of all people who are on the fringes of Church,” offering up the example of how a group of young people carrying a rainbow flag at the World Youth Day in Panama were insulted on the street.

The moderator urged presenters to be as transparent as possible about tensions that emerged in group discussions. Time was also allowed for individuals to come up and address the assembly at the end.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the president of the Irish bishops’ conference, spoke about the creative tension between synodality and the hierarchy in the communion of the Church.

“One of the challenges facing a synodal Church is learning how to foster that deeper communion in Christ between the people of God, the bishops, and the pope,” he said. “Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it.”

“This is Christ’s Church, not ours to create at will to our specifications,” Martin added.

Italian-language groups noted that they perceived a tension between doctrine and pastoral care and a “tension between truth and mercy.”

While other groups repeated that they also perceived a tension between “truth and mercy,” one English-language group representative highlighted how the truth found in Jesus Christ creates communion and unites believers in the Church.

Quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity in truth, Caritas in Veritate, she said that truth “is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion.”

She added: “The fundamental truth of Jesus Christ may seem to be in tension with mercy and pastoral concern, but the fundamental truth of Jesus Christ is a moment of grace and mercy in and of itself because mercy leads to the truth, the truth that the Gospel is love. And the Gospel is what humanity needs in order to experience joy and peace.”

What’s happening in Prague this week

Prague is known as “the golden city of 100 spires.” The capital is one of Europe’s best-preserved cities, having largely escaped the bombs of World War II. Its centuries-old architecture reveals the centrality of Christianity in the European city’s history, from its skyline filled with church spires and steeples to the many statues of saints adorning its iconic Charles Bridge.

But like many European countries, the practice of the Catholic faith has dwindled today with only 20% of Catholics in the Czech Republic saying that they attend Mass weekly, according to recently published data.

In his opening address Monday, Archbishop Jan Graubner of Prague reflected on the title of the synod working document that is serving as a launching point for the week’s discussions, “Enlarge the space of your tent.”

“If we are talking about a tent that reminds us of the journey of Israel across the desert, then let us recall that God himself was the safe guide of the Israelites. He made them feel safe. He was the good Father who takes care of his children while also educating them through severe punishment,” Graubner said.

“From the consultations I had, I got the impression that many people simply state their opinions but hardly ever listen to the voice of the Lord, namely, the voice of he who called us to his works, who revealed to us his plan of the kingdom of God — the plan mentioned in the Bible. His word is not just to be studied or meditated upon. It should be put to good use,” he told the synod participants.

The European Continental Assembly is one of seven synod continental assemblies occurring across the globe in February and March.

The European assembly is split into two parts. In the first part Feb. 5-9, laypeople and clerics together represented their countries in livestreamed discussions of what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome this fall.

Among the participants are three of the organizers of Germany’s “synodal way”: Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics; Thomas Söding, its vice president; and Bishop Georg Bätzing, who has served as the president of the synodal path since 2020.

A final document will be debated and approved on Feb. 9 based on 39 country presentations and working group discussions in the first half of the week.

Following these discussions, a second private meeting among 35 bishops, the presidents of each of Europe’s bishops’ conferences, will collectively review the document, listen to speeches by each of the bishops, and produce a second final document.

Each day of the synod includes Mass and moments of prayer between speeches, often accompanied by recordings of hymns or worship music submitted by different countries.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet offered Mass on Feb. 7 and preached on the sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman made in the image of God.

Ukrainians Greek Catholics led evening prayer on Tuesday night as the delegates from across Europe prayed for peace on their continent.

Delegations representing the Catholic communities in Ukraine and Russia are both taking part in the European Synodal Assembly.

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi and Father Stephan Lipke, SJ, traveled from Moscow to participate in the assembly. Two delegations are representing Ukraine — Archbishop Martin Kmetec is among the representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and three bishops are also listed as representing Latin Catholics in Ukraine.

The European delegates were also united in prayer for the victims of the earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

Father Antonio Ammirati, the spokesman for the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences organizing the assembly, read aloud a declaration on the earthquake by the participants in the assembly on Tuesday afternoon.

“The death toll is still on the rise and the destruction, and the suffering of the population have profoundly affected and touched our souls,” he said.

“With great sympathy, the Churches in Europe are close to the populations afflicted by the earthquake, renewing our prayers, and assisting in every possible way to deal with the emergency.”

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  1. From many of the comments, the final report of the European Continental Synod, and others, might restore this resolution of “tensions,” as the path to the future:

    “The mystery of the Eucharist—sacrifice, presence, banquet—does not allow for reduction or explanation; it must be experienced and lived in its integrity, both in its celebration and in the intimate converse with Jesus which takes place after receiving Communion or in a prayerful moment of Eucharistic adoration apart from Mass. These are times when the Church is firmly built up and it becomes clear what she truly is: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; the people, temple, and family of God, the body and bride of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit; the universal sacrament of salvation and a hierarchically structured communion” (St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2003).

  2. Archbishop Eamon Martin, “Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it” exposes the inconsistency of the Synod, both in structure, and in direction. That can only happen if the pontiff had intention for the radical inclusion he alludes to, and his supporters Cardinals McElroy, Hollerich have stated declaratively.
    It goes to an early 2014 document, ‘International Theological Commission Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church’, that places emphasis on the individual’s contribution [rather than the entire body inclusive of hierarchy] to interpretation of doctrine, revelation itself.
    Apparently His Holiness not to be deterred by tradition has become expert at the many ways of skinning a cat.

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