Synod of Bishops: A Look Towards a Future of Openness and Welcoming
Pope Francis for an open and welcoming Church
On Wednesday, 04 October 2023, the Vatican was the scene of an event that could shape the future of the Catholic Church: the opening of the Synod of Bishops, a massive celebration attended by more than 25,000 people, new cardinals and 464 Synod participants, including, in a historic move, 54 women with voting rights. Pope Francis, in his homily, outlined not only the spiritual importance of the event, but also the moral imperative of an open and welcoming Church.
“Not with closed doors,” the Holy Father urged, highlighting a concept that transcends religion and speaks to the socio-cultural issues of openness, dialogue and acceptance that are present in many modern societies. The Church, as outlined by the Pope, must be a refuge, a place that repeats to all: ‘Come, you who are weary and oppressed, come, you who have lost your way or feel distant, come, you who have closed the doors to hope: the Church is here for you! The Church of doors open to all, everyone’.
Inclusiveness is a theme that pervaded the Pope’s speech, highlighting how the Church must be an entity ‘with a gentle yoke’, that does not impose but welcomes, that does not close doors but opens them wide, especially to those who feel lost or far away. At a time of cultural and pastoral challenges, the attitude of welcoming and openness suggested by Francis becomes even more pertinent.
The Pontiff also emphasised the temptations that the Church must avoid: ‘to be a rigid Church, a customs, that arms itself against the world and looks backwards; to be a lukewarm Church, that surrenders to the fashions of the world; to be a tired Church, folded in on itself’. These words resonate not only as a warning, but as a challenge to reinvent and regenerate the ecclesiastical institution.
In an increasingly polarised world, where spirituality and religion are often used as weapons rather than tools for unification and acceptance, the Pope’s message can be seen as a beacon of hope. His vision of a Church that ‘becomes conversation’ projects not only internally, but radiates outwards, inviting all faiths and communities to participate in an open and compassionate dialogue.
The Pope’s homily also made reference to St Francis, who is celebrated on 4 October, emphasising the difficulty but also the necessity of spoliation, both interior and exterior, for everything and everyone, especially for the church institution itself. The Synod, therefore, emerges as a time of reflection and purification for the Church, a time to remember that the need for purification and reparation is continuous and indispensable to maintain the holiness and integrity of the institution.
However, as the Church looks ahead, it is also crucial that the Pope’s words are not just eloquent declarations, but become concrete actions and tangible transformations within the Church. At a time when words are often lost in the welter of constant information, deeds carry significant weight. And it will be through acts of authentic welcome, dialogue and inclusion that the Pope’s vision for an open and welcoming Church can truly take shape and substance.
The Synod of Bishops in 2023 will not just be an isolated event within the Catholic community, but a moment that, if guided by the words of Pope Francis, can unleash a wave of dialogue, understanding and inclusion in the global community, bringing forth a message of universal love and acceptance.