Parish Priests for the Synod

World meeting from 28 April to 2 May in Sacrofano (Rome)

04 May 2024

From 28 April to 2 May at the Fraterna Domus of Sacrofano (Rome), the world meeting “Parish Priests for the Synod” took place, involving almost 200 people from all over the world.
We interviewed Br. Pierre Duchame, from the Province of the Holy Spirit, in Canada.

How did the meeting take place?
The event came about from a call in the October Synod Assembly’s Synthesis Report which asked that in this time in between the two ongoing Synod Assembles the voice of Parish Priests be heard.  So, the General Secretariat for the Synod along with the Vatican Dicastery for the Clergy organized an event for Priests from around the world.  Each bishop’s conference was asked to elect a certain number of Priests to participate. I was sent, along with two diocesan priests from Canada, as part of the Canadian representation.  And I was the only Franciscan Parish Priest at this event. 
The methodology of the gathering was based on the “Conversations in the Spirit” model from the Synod on Synodality.  We were divided into groups of eleven plus a facilitator.  I was placed in a French language group, even though my mother tongue is English.
To begin we listened to theological presentations on Synodality itself, and then we discussed.  We shared our understanding of Synodality, our experience of supporting a diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries, and then about how we see synodality supporting local ecclesial structures. Meanwhile, synodal “experts” encouraged us to go deeper in our reflections.

What were your impressions? 
I think it went well.  At the end of the meeting, Cardinal Grech noted that we have seen how synodality touches flesh.  This may sound strange, but we all knew what he meant.  The meeting, which was very fraternal, did not end without real emotions.  It did not end without the realization that although we all share the same faith, we do not all share the same sensitivities.  A synodal church is honest about the tension that exists within her, and from there begins to heal.     

What do you think of the synodal work that the universal church is taking?
After this experience, I am more convinced than ever that the notion of Spiritual Conversations and the synod methodology of “Conversations in the Spirit” is the way forward.  There is so much untapped potential about to be realized.  In the not-too-distant future, I can see local churches, and of course Religious communities continuing to “push the envelope”, as we say in English, towards new and creative ways of gathering people for discernment.  Synodality is not about deciding, it is about discerning.  So in order to assure that our decisions are made by the Spirit, we need to stay on the road with Jesus.  Consider that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did not stop to give advice. He only posed questions.  And then, his salvation revealed itself in the breaking of the bread.  There is much to be drawn from this experience. 
I should mention that immediately after the meeting, I met with our Minister General Massimo Fusarelli.  We discussed the synodal process that is taking place within the Order and he reminded that the presence of lay people in our Franciscan discernment is what matters most.  This is an example of the contagious nature of synodal discernment.  It leads to creative ways of making more of it happen. 
A few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that lay people would be invited to an OFM Chapter.  Now, we are asking that the laity be invited.  I see this as a very positive step in the direction of the Gospel. 

What are the Franciscan elements that, in your opinion, can help the Church’s path towards the future?
Father Thomas Halik, a theologian from the Czech Republic, described Synodality as humility.  The Prayer of St. Francis, for me, best describes the synodal disposition. Because being synodal is to have an attitude of receptivity.  It says I am willing to learn, I am willing change, I am willing to listen and to follow. 
We Franciscans come from a tradition that is synodal.  St. Francis and our Order were inspired by the Acts of the Apostles, which are the texts that model Synodality for the universal Church.  In Acts 4, when we see people entrusting all their belongings to the Church for the shared mission of disciples, I wonder if there could ever again be such trust in bishops.  We, as friars minor, entrust our lives to the Order and God.  We trust that the Order, and God, will enable us to live without worry, sine proprio, because we dare to trust.  This is Synodality. 
A Franciscan Ecclesiology also reflects St. Paul’s descriptions of an inclusive, diverse and charismatic community.  This is the Synodal Church.  This is also the Franciscan Order.  We celebrate our diversity in unity, and have been doing it forever.  The Church can learn this from us, but also from our tradition of making decisions as community.  Again, Synodality is more about who discerns than who decides, and in this manner we Franciscans can also mature.  But inclusion, diversity, and gift, these are the things we value already. 
Finally, I would like to add that all of this is grounded, for me, in the preferential option for the poor.  The poor has many forms, but it is always these softer voices (which are sometimes cries of pain) that we want to hear.  This idea is very Franciscan, and I would even say that the Synod needs to lean on it much more than it is already leaning.

Did you participate in the audience with the Pope?  Can you briefly describe how it went?
The meeting with the Pope was much anticipated – I could hardly sleep the night before.  In the end, I realized that he is but another disciple of Jesus just like me. He is, nonetheless, a very good one. 
Pope Francis spoke like a good Pastor. He spoke of war, worldliness, and the evil of gossip. He spoke of parish communities, and making spaces for the marginal, for the divorced and remarried, for homosexuals. In a way, he spoke of things about which many priests dare not speak.
In the end, Pope Francis commissioned us all to be Missionaries of Synodality.  We were sent to take our experience home and to share it with others. And then, he was wheeled into the hallway to be greeted by each one of us - a perfect ending to a synodal experience.

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