(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday morning marked the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops as a permanent body. Gathered with the Fathers of the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops – who are currently meeting in Rome to discuss the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in contemporary society – Pope Francis spoke of both the process and the substance of the Synod as constitutive and expressive of the Church’s own nature and mission.
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“Journeying together,” said Pope Francis in an enlargement on the Greek words from which the English word 'synod' is derived, “laity, pastors, and the Bishop of Rome, is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.”
The Holy Father went on to say that each and everyone has a place in the Church, and that the key to journeying well together is listening. “A synodal Church is a Church of listening,” said Pope Francis. “It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn: the faithful, the College of Bishops, [and the] Bishop of Rome; each listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14, 17), to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2: 7).”
“The Synod of Bishops,” continued Pope Francis, “is the convergence point of this dynamism – this listening conducted at all levels of Church life,” starting with the people, who “also participate in Christ’s prophetic office” and who have a right and a duty to be heard on topics that touch the common life of the Church. Then come the Synod Fathers, through whom, “[T]he bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which [they] must be able carefully to distinguish from often shifting public opinion.” In all this, the Successor to Peter is fundamental. “Finally,” explained Pope Francis, “the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called upon to speak authoritatively [It. pronunciare] as ‘Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians’: not on the basis of his personal beliefs, but as the supreme witness of the Faith of the whole Church, the guarantor of the Church’s conformity with and obedience to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the Church.”
The Holy Father went on to explain that the Synod always always acts cum Petro et sub Petro – with Peter and under Peter – a fact that does not constitute a restriction of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. “In fact,” he said, “the Pope is, by the will of the Lord, ‘the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful’.”