- “The Church is wounded by the horrific experience of abuse, and also by the cries of those who feel left out” – Archbishop Martin
The European Synodal Assembly of the Catholic Church took place this week from 5 – 9 February in Prague. The Assembly brought together 200 in-person and 390 online delegates for prayer, worship, dialogue, discernment and fellowship.
Ireland’s delegation comprised fourteen members, with four participating in-person and ten online. Reflecting on the experience, Archbishop Eamon Martin said, “I am very grateful to all of those who participated in our delegation, both online from Ireland, and in person here in Prague. We did our best to faithfully represent what we have been hearing at local, diocesan and national level back at home. It was significant that the voice of the Irish was heard loudly and clearly in the Synod Hall here in Prague, and in particular our emphasis that the Church is wounded by the horrific experience of abuse, and also by the cries of those who feel left out, including the poor, the marginalised, victims of war and violence in the countries of Europe, and others who are experiencing pain and hurt within and without our Church. We are deeply committed to continuing to bring the light of Christ into the world despite our woundedness, and our own need for healing and conversion”.
Overall, the Assembly experience and proceedings conveyed a strong affirmation of the Universal Synod on Synodality with its theme ‘Communion, Participation, Mission’ and of the theme for the Working Document of the Continental Stage, Enlarge the space of our tent. Over the course of the four days participants explored and developed these themes with reference to the concrete, and very diverse, realities that shape the experience of being Church and following Christ in Europe today.
It was significant that this Assembly took place in Prague, a city that has served as a bridge between East and West. Delegates from Ukraine led prayers for peace, and called delegates to reflect on what Christ asks of His Church at a time of war. The shock of the humanitarian disaster in Turkey and Syria was deeply felt and remembered daily in prayer and expressions of solidarity.
The Irish delegation represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, as recommended by the Working Document for the Continental Stage, and all had contributed to the listening processes which took place at local and national level. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and the Steering Committee for Ireland’s national Synodal Pathway, are very grateful to the members of the delegation for their commitment to this process, which has required a significant investment of time not only during the Assembly itself, but in the reading of the submissions received from the local listening and discernment on the Working Document for the Continental Stage and in the collective discernment in preparation for participation. Delegates contributed through a formal presentation from Ireland, as well as through working groups and plenary discussion.
As was mentioned in Ireland’s formal presentation, delegates felt a strong sense of responsibility to represent faithfully what has been discerned from the listening that has been underway across all levels of the Church in Ireland for over a year, in all of its diversity, complexity, challenge and hopeful vision for the future. The European Assembly supports and strengthens Ireland’s national Synodal Pathway and, in turn, learning from Ireland’s journey to date has contributed to the shaping of this important development in the life of the Church in Europe.
Delegates were encouraged by the affirmation of the methodology of ‘spiritual conversations’ which has been central to the Synodal Process in Ireland. This process has yielded positive results in different contexts across Europe, allowing participants to name their concerns, listen to the concerns of others, build and deepen relationships and discern together how the Church is called to respond. In a Europe experiencing war, significant social fractures and polarisation, this methodology enables the Church to model unity in diversity, to name and explore our tensions, identifying creative tensions which, illuminated by the light of faith, can enhance and enrich the mission of the Church.
Through this process, the Assembly could acknowledge with humility the woundedness of the Church in Europe today with the historic failings and contemporary blind-spots that can impede its mission of evangelisation and reconciliation. The desire to be a more pastorally-sensitive, and pastoral, Church, was clearly articulated with particular attention to those who experience marginalisation, including women, youth, the LGBT+ community, migrants and refugees. The deep and raw wounds of the abuse crisis were kept at the heart of the discernment, while delegates repeatedly recalled the challenge of hearing the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.
The document prepared by the Assembly drafting committee will be further developed in the coming days and weeks before being published as a further resource for the synodal process at the local, national and international levels.
Notes for editors
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. This week, from 5 to 12 February, Archbishop Martin along with thirteen other delegates from across Ireland, is attending the first ever European Assembly of a Synod within the Catholic Church, in Prague, Czechia,. This is one of seven continental assemblies convening across five continents in a new stage of the universal Synodal Process. The above contribution on ‘Synodality and Hierarchy in Communion’ was delivered this afternoon by Archbishop Martin during a free discussion session at the European Assembly.
- Of the fourteen delegates, four have travelled from Ireland to attend the European Assembly in Prague, and these are:
Dr Nicola Brady, Chairperson of the Steering Committee
Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Convener of the Task Group for the Irish Synodal Pathway
Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Ms Julieann Moran, General Secretary of the Irish Synodal Pathway
- A further ten delegates will attend the Assembly online. They are:
Dr Gary Carville, Executive Secretary for the Council for Justice and Peace and the Council for Ecumenism’, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Ms Ciara Ferry, Senior Supervisor and Communications Leader of Net Ministries Ireland
Mrs Janet Forbes, ADYC Co-ordinator Archdiocese of Armagh and Member of the Synodal Pathway Task Group in Ireland
Ms Ursula Halligan, Joint Co-ordinator of We Are Church Ireland
Father Declan Hurley, Administrator of St Mary’s Parish, Navan and Co-Chair of the National Steering Committee
Sister Kathleen McGarvey, OLA, Provincial Leader of the OLA Sisters in Ireland
Deacon Frank McGuinness, Diocese of Elphin
Mrs Paula McKeown, Director of Living Church (Down and Connor) and Deputy Chair of the National Steering Committee
Miss Helena O’Shea, Director of Youth 2000 Ireland
Mr Stephen Sherry, Seminarian for Clogher Diocese
- Organised by CCEE (the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences), in collaboration with the Czech Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese of Prague, the first part of the Assembly, from 5 to 9 February, will be attended by 200 participants, representing the entire People of God (laymen, laywomen, religious men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops). 156 of the delegates are from the 39 Bishops’ Conferences from across Europe. Each national delegation is composed of the President of the Bishops’ Conference and three other delegates. An additional 44 people will be present as invited guests representing various ecclesial realities from across Europe. A further 390 delegates will also participate in the Assembly online (ten from each Bishops’ Conference) who will be able to follow the work of the plenary sessions through an online platform and make their contributions during the group work stages of the assembly. On the last two days of the assembly (10 to 12 February), the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences will meet “to collegially re-read the lived synodal experience from their specific charism and role.”
- Around the world there will be seven continental documents prepared from the continental assemblies, and these will be sent to the Secretariat of the Synod for the next stage of the synodal process, which will involve the production of a further working document for the Synod. On 16 October last, Pope Francis announced that the Universal Synod, to take place in Rome, will consist of two stages over two years. The first will run from 4 to 29 October 2023 and the second during October 2024. In announcing the extension to the Universal Synod, Pope Francis said, “the fruits of the synodal process under way are many, so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush. Therefore, in order to have a more relaxed period of discernment, I have established that this Synodal Assembly will take place in two sessions (16 October 2022, Saint Peter’s Square, Rome).”