VATICAN CITY — At the end of their first meeting, three members of the preparatory commission for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops said they know some Catholics have very high expectations for the process while others have intense anxiety.
The seven-member commission met at the Vatican March 13-16 and had an audience with Pope Francis on the last day of their gathering.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who has been coordinating the synod process for the bishops of the United States, was one of the members whose appointment was announced by the Vatican March 15.
He said the meeting with the pope was “very encouraging” because “he speaks very beautifully about the Church and about how close to his heart is the issue of participation and building up communion.”
Pope Francis, he said, knows some people have exaggerated expectations for the synod while others have exaggerated anxiety because it is not completely clear where the process is leading, although the pope has spoken frequently about strengthening a “synodal Church,” one in which all the baptized members listen to one another and share responsibility for the Church’s life and mission.
“You know,” Bishop Flores said, “sometimes the human condition is something of a messy affair — that’s my phrase, not his — and if God was waiting for us to get our act completely together to help us get to a better place, He’d be waiting a long time.”
In the local, national and continental phases of the synod process, he said, people made a “great investment of spiritual and personal energy and of time,” reading, praying and listening to one another.
One thing Bishop Flores said became very clear to him is that he and other people in his diocese need to be much more intentional and creative in “reaching out to people who, because of their own personal circumstances, don’t feel free or confident” about joining in the life of their parishes or dioceses.
“The Church sometimes can become a little too comfortable and only the comfortable feel comfortable there,” he said.
Bishop Flores said the March meeting at the Vatican was basically an “orientation” meeting, but members have been told they will read and review all the reports from the continental stage of the synod reflection, assist in preparing the synod working document and help during the synod itself. The commission members were not told if they would be full voting members of the synod, but he said it is likely.
The pope and synod organizers are looking for something “quite different,” Mercedarian Sister Shizue “Filo” Hirota from Tokyo said. “It really should be a prayerful, spiritual reflection” for all the assembly participants so the conversation is not an intellectual debate, but an experience of the Holy Spirit moving through the community gathered in the synod hall.
“Of course, there are certain controversial issues, and we have to look at them,” Sister Hirota said. “But the synod is not just about LGBTQ Catholics or women, it is about the Church.”
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, also is a member of the commission and brings with him the experience of the four-year process of the Australian Church’s Plenary Council, which concluded in July 2022.
“There’s a wisdom and maturity about saying, ‘Well, at the moment it’s clear that we’re not able to resolve this issue. Are we therefore going to allow it to tear us apart? Or are we going to just accept that for the moment?’” the archbishop said. “We live in this rather messy and non-satisfactory situation, but we’re not going to allow it to destroy us.”