Bishop A. Elias Zaidan
The 15thOrdinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held from October 3 to October 28 in Rome, Italy. The theme of the Synod was “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” The goal of holding the Ordinary General Assembly is to gain a perspective of the ministry of the Universal Catholic Church to the young people, with its challenges, needs, and hopes. In his opening remarks, the Holy Father invited everyone attending: “I wish, therefore, at the beginning of the Synod Assembly, to invite everyone to speak with courage and frankness (parrhesia), namely to integrate freedom, truth and charity. Only dialogue can help us grow. An honest, transparent critique is constructive and helpful, and does not engage in useless chatter, rumours, conjectures or prejudices.”
The focus of this meeting was based on the Instrumentum Laboris(Working Document) put together by the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in June of this year, in Vatican City. The document is divided into three parts:
- Recognizing: The Church Listens to Reality
- Interpreting: Faith and Vocational Discernment
- Choosing: Paths of Pastoral Missionary Conversion
The document came after consultation with 300 representatives of young people during the Pre-Synodal meeting in Rome held from March 19-24, 2018 as well as answers to the online-questionnaire. To give a brief overview of those in attendance below are the following statistics:
- 266 Synodal Fathers (246 Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops, 10 Superior Generals of Religious Orders, 10 Priests appointed by the Pope)
- 8 Delegates from Ecumenical Churches
- One special guest Brother Alois from the Taize Community
- 23 Experts
- 48 Auditors
Among the Synodal Fathers, the Eastern Churches were represented with 21 members from 15 Churches. I was elected to represent the Synod of the Maronite Bishops. Representatives came from the various parts of the world (114 countries). It was a truly “catholic” universal convocation.
We had general sessions where the Holy Father attended most of them. We began the General Sessions with a prayer. Then we would listen to the interventions of the participants. Each person was given 4 minutes to speak and after five interventions, there would be 3 minutes of silence to reflect. The interventions concerting some aspects of the working document.
We also had group meetings according to language preferences: English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German. In my English group for example the following countries had representatives: United States, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Poland, Lebanon, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Ireland, Cameroun, Nigeria, Liberia. Tanzania, Lesotho, Uganda, the Holy land, Belarus, Vietnam, Central Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea among others. At the group meetings, the attendees would review the Instrumentum Laboris, propose changes, deletions, and additions, to be submitted to the Secretariat for review. All the modifications helped create a new document that was voted upon by the Synodal fathers and submitted to the Holy Father as a suggestion for his upcoming Apostolic Exhortation.
There were also several elections and appointments including: the Communications Committee according to Continents, the Final Document Committee, and the Representatives for the Synod Committee.
One special activity included in the Synod meeting was the walking pilgrimage around the Vatican that retraces the steps of the early Christians and ends at St. Peter’s Basilica.
For the closing Mass, the Holy Father reminded us that, “the Synod is not a Parliament. It is a protected space for the Holy Spirit to act.” The Holy Spirit will definitely guide the Church and its ministry with the youth.
At the conclusion of the Synod, the Synod Fathers wrote the following letter to the young people of the world that I would like to share with you. It captures the desire and determination of the Church to be there for the young people:
We the Synod Fathers now address you, young people of the world, with a word of hope, trust and consolation. In these days, we have gathered together to hear the voice of Jesus, “the eternally young Christ”, and to recognize in Him your many voices, your shouts of exultation, your cries, and your moments of silence.
We are familiar with your inner searching, the joys and hopes, the pain and anguish that make up your longings. Now we want you to hear a word from us: we wish to be sharers in your joy, so that your expectations may come to life. We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history.
Our weaknesses should not deter you; our frailties and sins must not be an obstacle for your trust. The Church is your mother; she does not abandon you; she is ready to accompany you on new roads, on higher paths where the winds of the Spirit blow stronger – sweeping away the mists of indifference, superficiality and discouragement.
When the world that God so loved, that He gave us His only Son, Jesus, is focused on material things, on short-term successes, on pleasures, and when the world crushes the weakest, you must help it to rise up again and to turn its gaze towards love, beauty, truth and justice once more.
For a month, we have walked together with some of you and with many others who have been united to us through prayer and affection. We wish to continue the journey now in every part of the earth where the Lord Jesus sends us as missionary disciples.
The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm. Be sure to make the most fragile people, the poor and those wounded by life your travelling companions.
You are the present; be a brighter future.
Overall, even though the Synod was long but it was a great and enriching experience of meeting with bishops and people from different parts of the world. It gives us an opportunity to better listen to the needs and aspirations of the youth around the world, sharing expectations and walking alongside them to build a better world. May the Church always have the excitement of the young, the maturity of the adult, and the wisdom of the seniors as she fulfills her ministry of love and care.
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