Intervention by the Nuncio at the opening of the Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference (CBCJ) February 13, 2023


Intervention by the Nuncio at the opening of the Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference (CBCJ) February […]

Intervention by the Nuncio at the opening
of the Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference (CBCJ)
February 13, 2023

Dear Brother Bishops,

It is always a pleasure for me to meet you and share some thoughts that have been suggested to me by the agenda of your 2023 Ordinary Plenary Assembly. The reflection I would like to present to you is the following: Synod and Synodality.

Perhaps you will ask me: what does this have to do with the themes of our assembly? My reflection does not derive from what is written on the agenda but rather from what does not explicitly appear on the agenda.

In fact, there is discussion of permanent formation of the clergy, the renewal of the Secretariat of the Episcopal Conference, the Committee for school education and the financial statement for fiscal year 2022 and liturgical issues.

I ask myself: What are the problems affecting the life of Christians and the Church in Japan today?

Far be it from me to criticize, I only have the desire to transmit the magisterium of Pope Francis who has taught us the path of synodality as the path that God expects from the Church in the third millennium, a path which involves a revision of the identity, configuration and mission of the Church as the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium presented us in the model and in the category of the Church People of God. Mine is not a lesson in ecclesiology, but only a stimulus for a common reflection.

In recent times we hear more and more often about Synod and Synodality, but what is meant by these two words?

One thing must be clear: Synod and Synodality are not synonymous. Synod is a precise event, while Synodality is a concept which indicates some properties of the life of the Church. Synodality is the peculiar form in which the Church lives and works, or rather, she should live and work.

The Synod has a beginning and an end, while Synodality is the style of the Church’s mission today. Many synods have been celebrated but perhaps without synodality.

Therefore, if we want to understand well what is meant by Synodality we must go back to the second chapter of Lumen Gentium and to the category of the People of God which includes Bishops, Priests, Religious, Lay men and Women. It still seems improper to speak of the Pope, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Religious as a separate reality as is done, for example, in the Third Eucharistic Prayer: We pray you, Father: may this sacrifice of our reconciliation grant peace and salvation to the whole world. Confirm your pilgrim Church on earth in faith and love: your servant and our pope N., our bishop N.*, the episcopal order, the presbyters, the deacons and the people you have redeemed. But among the redeemed people are there not also the Pope, the Bishops and all the others? I personally feel – as St. Augustine said – a Bishop for you and a Christian with you!

So what is meant – in short – by synodality? The document of the International Theological Commission clarifies it very well: Synodality in the life and mission of the Church.

Synodality as an ordinary way of living and working in the Church.

Far from being “the chapter of a thesis on ecclesiology, much less a fashion, a slogan or the new term to be used or exploited in our meetings”, synodality expresses the nature, form, style and mission of Church.

As a “constitutive dimension of the Church” and “a journey that God expects from the Church of the third millennium “, all, in the role that each one has in it, are called to build it “not occasionally but structurally”, by promoting it at all levels of ecclesial life.

In the light of the magisterium of Pope Francis, who made the synodality of the Church a cornerstone of his pontificate, one could outline in a synthetic and necessarily incomplete way what characterizes the “synodal Church”.

The Church is synodal when:
1. grows in love and in the testimony of faith to the extent that she places the reading and assiduous listening to the Word of God prayed and lived individually and as a community at the center of her life and of every pastoral action;
2. listens attentively to the Holy Spirit so that the people of God – pastors and faithful – are able, thanks to the “sensus fidei” that inhabits them, to discern what it today “says to the Churches” and find new ways, means and languages to proclaim the Gospel;
3. demonstrates in practice that it considers the dignity and equality of all baptized persons to be an original and basic fact with respect to any distinction in functions and ministries;

4. with the ear of the heart one listens – sharing them – to the joys and hopes, sadnesses and anguishes of the men and women of today, above all the poor
who are the flesh of Christ – and of all those who suffer;
5. looks at today’s world with discerrunent but with sympathy, without fear, without prejudice, with courage, in the manner of God who, feeling the pains, joys and hopes of humanity as his own, “came down” to free it (Ex. 3,7-8);
6. adopts an attitude of missionary outreach, does not like to linger in sacristies
and form elitist groups that isolate and close themselves and, in its various cotnponents, walks together, in a fraternal and sisterly style, helping to generate a more beautiful and more humanly worthy for future generations;
7. listens to the voice of lay men and women not by concession, but by right, stimulating and promoting the maturation of organizations for participation in community life;
8. considers the “scheme of evangelization” inadequate where the masters are always and only “qualified actors”, while “the rest of the faithful people” is always and only in an attitude of receiving the actions of said “actors”;
9. does not consider the separation between”ecclesia docens” and “ecclesia discerns” rigid, since the people of God, who cannot be mistaken in believing, have their own “nose” for discerning the new paths that the Lord opens up for the Church;
10. knows how to equip itself with tools and structures that are neither top-down nor distorted which favor dialogue and interaction between priests and laity and which avoid the risk that “the owner of the cabin” in the end is always the priest;
11. does not ostracize the diversity of views, which, thanks to dialogue and discernment, should always be expressed and smoothed out until reaching harmony, but walks united in the harmony of diversity in which everyone has their irreplaceable contribution to give;
12. brings back into vogue, in methods yet to be invented, the principle used in the medieval Church and considered apostolic practice or tradition that “which concerns everyone must be treated and approved by all”, applying it to the three fields of the life of the Church (faith, sacraments, government);
13. it is served by pastors who, at tilnes stand in front to show the way and support the hopes of the people, other times they simply stand in the midst of everyone with their merciful closeness, and in some circumstances, they walk behind the people, to help those who are left behind;
14. works, at all levels, for a full reception of the Second Vatican Council with which a new stage of evangelization began and with which the Church assumed the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in a new, more suited to a profoundly changed,vorld and c.ulture;

In conclusion, I believe we must rediscover all the richness of the category of the People of God which comes first (all) then the Bishops (some) and finally the Bishop of Rome (one) which goes beyond the existing vision of three distinct and separate ecclesial subjects.

It is important to take seriously the reception of the ecclesiology of the local Churches according to which catholicity is realized in the model of a “Church of Churches”. That is, of the path that every local Church will have to generate in a process of being and acting as a Church in a style of Christian life with its own flavours and characteristics.

The exercise of power as a shared responsibility, i.e. the culture of consensus as listening, discernment, elaboration and decision through institutional mediations and communication dynamics: praying, listening, analysing, dialoguing, discerning and advising. The purpose of the synodal journey is not simply to meet and get to know each other better but to work together to be able to make pastoral decisions.

In conclusion, I would say that it is not the People of God that must be integrated into the hierarchy by participating in episcopal structures – synods or episcopal conferences – but the hierarchy is called to place itself and live as one of the faithful among the People of God by listening to the voice of all the faithfuls.

Leo Boccardi
Apostolic Nuncio