Jessica Wilkinson, Joint Co-ordinator of Parish 2 Mission, reports on an important gathering in the Czech capital.
With temperatures at freezing and below, 200 people from across Europe met in Prague for the continental stage of the Synod. Approximately 156 of those present were delegates of the 39 Bishops’ Conferences; members of the CCEE, Consilium Conferentarium Episcoporum Europae. Many communities of contemplative life supported the process with continuous silent adoration during the assembly. In addition, there were 44 guests invited from organisations such as Justice & Peace, Caritas Europa, Charis and Focolare to name just a few.
Each delegation was made up of the President of the Bishops’ Conference (or his delegate) and 3 other delegates, representatives of all the People of God. Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Fr Jan Nowotnik, Sarah Adams and I formed the delegation from England and Wales. I felt very honoured indeed to be part of this Ecclesial Assembly and to be present to hear from our sisters and brothers in faith from across our continent.
Our picture shows (from left to right) Bishop Hudson, Cardinal Grech, Sarah Adams, Jessica and Fr Nowotnik.
For me, there was an overwhelming sense of unity in diversity, a phrase which was used on many occasions by contributors from across Europe. Our cultural and social situations, experience and outlooks may differ, but we are united in Jesus Christ and our mission to make Him known. On 3 occasions for 90 minute periods, we met in small groups with a shared language. Each group began in prayer, there was time for silence and time to listen to each other’s responses. After reading the Working Document for the Continental Stage and from what we were hearing in Prague, we explored what resonated with us, where we find tensions and what we felt are priorities. The spiritual conversations that we shared were profoundly prayerful. I was expecting plenty of opportunities for prayer at such an event, but I had never before experienced listening and being listened to in such a powerful way. We were a group of 12 people; including 5 lay women, a priest, an archbishop, a cardinal, a religious brother and 2 religious sisters. People listened with compassion and openness to hear what each felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to share with the group after prayer and reflection. At the end of each small group time, we spent time bringing our thoughts together into a short overview (max 2 minutes) to share with the whole group.
Other parts of our assembly were live streamed and there were over 200 people participating online. Each Bishops’ Conference was invited to form a group of up to 10 participants to contribute to the process online. These people watched the interventions (which lasted for a maximum of 6 minutes each) from each Bishops’ Conference as well as some comments from the floor and feedback from small groups. The online participants met in groups too and on the last day of the assembly, each group shared an overview of the discussions of their group.
The Redactional Committee, 2 lay women, 2 lay men and 2 priests, all academics experienced in this field, were hard at work at the side of the room whenever we were all gathered. Their job was to capture the essence of what was said. On the last day, all 24 pages of the draft final document was shared with us and a 2 page final remarks document was published. Once the draft document was read to us, all present had the opportunity to share remarks and concerns. These further comments then fed into the drafting process. The same is happening for the other 6 continental gatherings. With an extension to the original timescale set, the Synod Assembly of Bishops will have 2 sessions, the first in October 2023 and then in October 2024. The Synod Secretariat said that the extension fits in well with the ongoing synodal journey, since the Synod is “not an event but a process in which the whole People of God is called to walk together toward what the Holy Spirit helps it to discern as being the Lord’s will for His Church.”
The Document for the Continental Stage is available at Next Steps down the ‘Synodal Path’ – From Parish to Mission (dioceseofleeds.org.uk)
The Final remarks from the Prague assembly are available at https://www.ccee.eu/rl_gallery/assemblea-continentale-del-sinodo-5-12-feb-2023/
What’s next for us?
In our own Diocese of Leeds, we will be moving forward with the next phase in our listening. In the months ahead, Parish Priest and Deans will receive the reports from their parish meetings that took place in the autumn as well as further information about local resources etc. Further listening will then take place.
There will be opportunities to learn more about the process of synodality and how to engage in spiritual conversations that will help us to walk together in our diversity, united in communion, participation, and the mission of Christ.