Synodality is Pope Francis’ vehicle for changing the church

Synodality changing the church

Pope Francis’ desire for synodality will be a vehicle for changing the life of the church, according to Cardinal Joseph Tobin of New Jersey, USA.

The pope has made repeated calls for mercy and for the church to hear voices from the peripheries. This is an invitation to accept that the Holy Spirit speaks not just to church leaders but also to all the baptized.

Cardinal Tobin delivered his message on May 4 n his talk, ‘Synodality and the Long Game of Pope Francis’.

The talk was given during the annual Cardinal Bernardin Common Cause Lecture at Loyola University Chicago’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage.

To bring about the necessary change, the pope has focused on synodality as the path forward. His experience as a church leader in Argentina influenced this, the cardinal explained.

“One way we can look at this is that the election of Pope Francis opened up the rest of the world to the rich theological foment of the church in Latin America, with its strong sense of mission, encounter, the peripheries and mercy,” Tobin said

“Many, including church leaders in this country (USA), have found that shift to be uncomfortable,” Tobin added.

“They shouldn’t because it didn’t start with Francis, and I believe it’s not going away anytime soon,” he added.

The path toward synodality, the cardinal continued, will require the church to undergo its own conversion, “a new way of understanding and approaching how we carry out our mission.”

Tobin went on to quote Pope John XXIII’s opening address to the Second Vatican Council that “Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than of severity.”

Vatican II produced that blueprint, Tobin suggested but noted that other popes continued the work.

He said St. John Paul II made sure it “kept to the exact specifications required.”

Then Pope Benedict XVI put the finishing touches on the propulsion engine. “Now Pope Francis has flipped the switch to on.”

Describing how Pope Francis “is revving up the engine to see what it can do,” Tobin said those who feel most threatened by including those on the peripheries in the life of the church are those “with the most engineered grasp of all the norms and canons (of church law).”

“To this, I would posit, you can be the most knowledgeable mechanic on earth and still be a rotten driver,” Tobin said.

Synodality, he said, requires that voices throughout the church are welcomed and heard.

The cardinal again turned to St John XXIII, recalling how he urged Vatican II’s participants to “open the window.”

“We always associated this with letting in fresh air,” Tobin said.

“But something else happens when you open a window. You can hear what the people outside, those below your window, are saying.

Eight years into Francis’ papacy, through the process of conversion — a process Tobin said that even the pope has undergone — and through the instrument of synodality, Francis is helping to “integrate the head of the church and the rest of the body of Christ.”

“We can’t embrace people with just our heads,” said Tobin, before asking: “Where are the outstretched arms of the body of Christ?”



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