Rome (Italy). On 4 October 2023, on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, in Rome in the courtyard of the Vatican Basilica, Pope Francis presided with the new Cardinals and the College of Cardinals, the opening Holy Mass of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.”

In St. Peter’s Square crowded with faithful and pilgrims, the “people of God” gathered to accompany the great Church event with prayer.  Punctuated by the Laudes Regiae with the invocation of the Saints, the Celebration began with the long procession of participants in the Synod, including the Mother General emeritus of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Sister Yvonne Reungoat, followed by the Cardinals, including the Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, created Cardinal on 30 September.

In the homily, the Holy Father reiterated the primacy of the Spirit in the synod process. “The Synod, dear brothers and sisters, is not a parliament. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit. No. We are not here to hold parliament, but to walk together with the gaze of Jesus, who blesses the Father and welcomes those who are tired and oppressed. Let us therefore start from the gaze of Jesus, which is a blessing and welcoming gaze”.

Then recalling the Saint of the day, so significant for him that he took his name for the Pontificate, he exhorted, “Let us walk together: humble, ardent, and joyful. We walk in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Saint of poverty and peace, the ‘mad man of God’ who carried the stigmata of Jesus in his body and, to clothe himself in Him, stripped himself of everything. How difficult is this internal and external stripping of all of us and also of institutions!”

Concluding he reiterated, “And if the holy People of God with their pastors from every part of the world nourish expectations, hopes, and even some fears about the Synod that we are starting, let us remember again that it is not a political gathering, but a convocation in the Spirit; not a polarized parliament, but a place of grace and communion. (..) Let’s open ourselves to Him and invoke Him. He is the protagonist, the Holy Spirit. Let Him be the protagonist of the Synod! And with Him, we walk in trust and with joy.”

The work of the first Session of the Ordinary General Assembly, which opened in the afternoon, were effectively surrounded by a climate of prayer, starting with the Ecumenical Vigil “Together” organized by the Taizé Community in St. Peter’s Square on 30 September. There was the participation of Pope Francis, Bartholomew I Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Sister Runita Borja also participated in the Vigil with the collaborators of the Youth Ministry Sector and various young people from the Salesian Youth Movement.

Among the most evocative moments, there were the testimonies of young people from different contexts and the singing of the Ukrainian children’s choir, in thanksgiving for the gift of unity and the synodal path. There followed the representation of the Gospel passage of the Good Samaritan by the young people of the “Faith and Light” Association, in thanksgiving for the gift of others. There were testimonies from Colombia and Syria giving thanks for the gift of peace, and the video of the Via Creationis, as an expression of thanks for the gift of creation. After the reading of the Gospel of the Beatitudes and the Taizé song, “Give peace,” there was eight minutes of perfect and prayerful silence created in the Square.

Silence in the life of the believer, in the life of the Church, and in the path of Christian unity is the priority theme underlined by Pope Francis in his homily, He concluded by saying, “we ask in prayer together to learn again to be silent, to listen to the voice of the Father, the call of Jesus, and the groan of the Spirit. We ask that the Synod be a Kairos of fraternity, a place where the Holy Spirit purifies the Church from chatter, ideologies, and polarizations”.

After the three-day retreat in Sacrofano, Rome, the work of the Synod opened for the 464 participants on the afternoon of 4 October in a Paul VI Hall completely renovated in layout, to “foster true sharing and authentic discernment”. The discourse of the Holy Father, indicated listening as a priority, also required of journalists and communicators, and the intervention of Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, General rapporteur of the Synod.

To follow the Synod:


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