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Cardinal addresses ‘exaggerated expectations’ on Synod

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Participants at the assembly of the Synod of Bishops recite morning prayer before finishing their discussions on the assembly's first module, which was on the meaning of synodality and how to promote it in the church, in the Vatican's Paul VI Audience Hall 7 October 2023. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media
Participants at the assembly of the Synod of Bishops recite morning prayer before finishing their discussions on the assembly’s first module, which was on the meaning of synodality and how to promote it in the church, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall 7 October 2023. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

The synod on synodality is not geared to “resolve particular problems” in the Catholic Church, such as the blessing of same-sex unions or women’s ordination, but to explore ways for the church to discuss and address such issues, a cardinal said.

“There are a lot of people who believe that this synod will bring solutions to all problems,” Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa, Congo, said during a news conference at the Vatican 7 October.

“But the synod will define the new way of ‘doing’ church, the new way of approaching problems, what the problem is but also how in the spirit of synodality we will approach that problem.”

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The cardinal said before he left home for the synod, many people from across Africa asked him to bring solutions back with him for the problems that affect the continent, namely poverty and conflicts. Yet “these are exaggerated expectations,” he said.

Asked about the acceptance of blessings for same-sex unions in the church, Cardinal Ambongo said, “We are here for a synod on synodality.”

“Synodality does not mean expressing personal opinions, but walking together,” he added. “On the LGBT question, the Lord himself will show us the way through collective discernment.”

The cardinal said he was confident the synod will “bear good fruits” for the whole of the church and said he was struck by the joy, trust, enthusiasm and hope present among the synod participants.

The cardinal, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, spoke with reporters after the fourth day of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Assembly participants finished conversations 6 October on the first module of the synod’s agenda dedicated to reflecting on the characteristics of a synodal church. The 35 working groups of 10-12 people each submitted reports summarizing their small-group conversations to the synod general secretariat 7 October.

Pope Francis was not present for the small-group work 7 October, but attended the general sessions Oct. 5-6 when the small-groups shared their initial reflections.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa, Congo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. Photo: CNS photo/Justin McLellan
Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of Kinshasa, Congo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. Photo: CNS photo/Justin McLellan

Cardinal Ambongo told reporters a climate of openness had been established in the synod, noting that participants initially seemed to wonder what they could or could not talk about in their discussions but that by the fourth day everyone felt free to speak about what was on their hearts and minds.

Participants, he said, quickly realized that “nobody among us came with an agenda that they try to pass, as we’ve seen in other synods. We are all there, brothers and sisters, listening to the will of God for his church.”

“People cannot easily say, ‘I know the will of God,’ that would be truly pretentious,” said the cardinal. “That is why the synod rightly chose the method of discerning,” which he said entails seeking together “that which seems today and right now the best solution” to a given issue.

He added that this synod is unlike the other three that he participated in because previously “we knew more or less how things would end, but this one, no.”

Vatican officials told reporters that discussions on migration and making the church a welcoming home for all were frequent in the opening days of the synod.

Sister Leticia Salazar, a U.S. synod delegate and chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, spoke about her personal experience of immigrating to the United States at 17 years old. In a new country, “faith sustains you, but the church welcomes you,” she said, sharing how her first experience of a faith community came as a young immigrant in California.

Just as the church in the United States welcomed Sister Salazar into a new country and community, she said it is up to the universal church “to discern how to be a welcoming church, a listening church, which are the very characteristics of a synodal church.”

Sister Salazar, a member of the Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady, said that during the diocesan phase of the synod, “people had a very difficult time to understand synodality.” Yet a woman in her diocese shared that she was able to “experience synodality” by being listened to in her church community.

“Synodality is not a concept, it’s an experience, of being included,” said Sister Salazar.

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