Seventeen bishops gathered in Loppiano on April 17-19 to take stock of the Church's synodal journey in Italy at the initiative of the Sophia University Institute's Evangelii Gaudium Center.
The bishops were cordially welcomed on the evening of Monday, April 17, by the Rector of the Sophia University Institute in Loppiano, Dr Declan O’Byrne. The 17 bishops had accepted the invitation of the Institute’s Evangelii Gaudium Center. The meeting that was held on April 17-19, was titled Bishops On A Journey Together. Experiences and Best Practices. The main topic was the Synodal Process in the Italian Church. The participating bishops – including Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, former president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference – came from dioceses in southern, central and northern Italy.
One significant moment was the videoconference with Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod, who spoke about the synodal process. He stressed “the importance of looking at the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles, a synodal Church where everything was shared, under the leadership of the Apostles.” He drew attention to the “paradigm of synodality that is expressed in these words: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. It is desirable for all of us, the People of God, to say those words.” He also went on to say: “The protagonist of this synodal process is the Holy Spirit, who is not the prerogative of a few, not even only of bishops, but of all of the baptized. We are called to a conversion which touches, not so much the nature, but the carrying out of the episcopal ministry.”
A rich dialogue ensued in which the bishops posed various questions and raised critical issues: from the greater involvement of young people to the need of finding a more accessible language; from the unfolding of the upcoming October Synod to the importance of choosing a pastoral approach, which starts off from real life and not from a disembodied morality, to mission, which is not “preaching” but first and foremost witnessing.
The proceedings were opened by Father Alessandro Clemenzia, professor of Ecclesiology and Vice Dean of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy. Archbishop of Turin, Roberto Repole and Bishop of Susa, spoke of the contribution of theology to synodality. “Synodality is not an invention of the Church of our time. It characterizes ecclesial life, but synodality cannot be reduced to a mere organizational dimension. Theology is called to offer a critical contribution to highlight what in contemporary culture constitutes a stimulus to rediscover synodality in the Church.”
The synodal journey in Italy was the focus of a report by Archbishop Erio Castellucci, metropolitan Abbot-Archbishop of Modena-Nonantola and Pishop of Carpi, vice president for northern Italy of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. “Our dream of the Church was outlined at the end of the first year. In the second year we tried to make it concrete. There will be the Assembly, where we will gather a collection of the works in progress and try to get a reading of a practical nature of what it will take to reach that dreamed Church.”
What can the path of the Global Compact on Education teach to the Synod? Msgr. Vincenzo Zani, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church, former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, recounted the experience of walking together that, based on the educational challenges present in all societies, “has more and more involved leaders of Judaism and Islam, then of other religions, all the way to an invitation addressed to the great ones of the earth to sign a global educational pact.”
After dinner on Tuesday, April 18, the residents of Loppiano introduced themselves to the bishops. “The evening with the citadel allowed us to experience the culture of encounter, but also the encounter of cultures. It was an call to go out to everyone, to bring cultures together,” said Father Vincenzo Di Pilato, who is a professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pugliese Theological Faculty, and academic coordinator of the Evangelii Gaudium Center. Reviewing the work, he stressed that “the Holy Spirit created an atmosphere of mutual welcome and listening, of openness and gratuitousness.” He recalled that the etymology of the word synodality can also be traced back to the idea of crossing the same threshold. “This is what we have tried to do together over these past few days. Synodality is this continuous crossing the threshold, the threshold of the other.” The next meeting for the Italian Bishops of the Evangelii Gaudium Center will be held in Loppiano, on February 5 – February 7, 2024.