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Apostolic Movement

Europe gathers in Prague for the continental phase of the Synod

By: Heinrich Brehm

Among the 390 people who participated online and the 200 people on site, Maria Pelz, from the international leadership of the Schoenstatt Family Federation, and Father Heinrich Walter ISch, from the International Coordination of the Schoenstatt Movement, were present as participants from the Schoenstatt Movement.

Participants at the Congress for a Synodal Church
Maria Pelz and Father Heinrich Walter participated in the Congress as delegates of the Schoenstatt Movement (Photo: private)

Congress Methodology

As Father Heinrich Walter reported, after an introduction by Prof. Tomas Halik from Prague, the 39 European Bishops’ Conferences were invited to speak. Each of them presented a six-minute report on their deliberations on the working document ” Expand the space of your tent”, which they had all received in October 2022. It summarized the outcome of the respective national synods.

“The aim was to provide information on the reaction this document had generated, naming the tensions that were perceived and proposing some possible options for initial solutions.” Every five reports were followed by a meditation break, supported by video clips with music and prayer that the countries had sent for this purpose.

During the afternoons, the groups met according to language, not to discuss, but to have a spiritual dialogue for which there were clear instructions. The emphasis was on making room for listening. “What stimulates me, how does the Spirit of God speak to me through the contributions of the group members?” expressed Father Walter. “It took some effort, but an effort was made.” After the reports from each group in plenary session, there was time for the participants to express themselves and offer their contribution.

The only open plenary discussion took place at the end, following the reading of the document that summarized the drafting committee’s report. Participants were able to comment for almost an hour, but without having the document in hand. The final draft was entrusted to the drafting committee.

A culture of synodality requires formation

“The synodal journey of the Church as God’s pilgrim people has really begun,” commented Father Walter. However, it was only a first tentative step because a new path had been opened. The atmosphere was characterized by  “concerns and anxieties on the one hand, and a determined willingness to give shape to things on the other”.

Input could not simply be divided into progressives and conservatives; the issues were more complex and also had to do with the history and culture of each country. “Towards the end there was often talk of unity amidst great diversity,” but the question was “how do you deal with this diverse richness, how do you engage in consultation and how do you make decisions on important issues.” It became clear at the Congress that in order to develop a “culture of synodality,” which was spoken of at the Congress, elements of formation and self-improvement must be developed at all levels among the people of God. “Here, through the criticism against clericalism, a path must be taken to better empower all those involved,” stressed the Schoenstatt Father.

Participants at the Congress for a synodal church
Father Heinrich Walter: A contribution in the plenary session (Photo: private)

In Schoenstatt we affirm the principle of authority and apply it democratically

For example, he said, the question of the exercise of authority plays an important role. The role of the pope and the bishops was not discussed. However, the question arises as to how the people can be involved if the sensus fidelium is to be taken seriously. “You cannot gather lay representatives to listen to them and then withdraw behind closed doors to make the decisions.” Father Walter continued, “In Schoenstatt we speak in terms of governmental wisdom in the following way: ‘we affirm the principle of authority and apply it democratically.’ There is the bond between office and law, but the exercise of authority must be highly sensitive and considerate of individual and social needs. In Schoenstatt presidencies, important decisions are made by consensus”.

Greater participation of women

Greater participation of women at all levels of decision-making has also been a constant concern in most of the reports of the European Bishops’ Conferences. Although there were differences in the concrete implementation of the concern, the large number of women present visibly supported the urgency of the issue.


Participants at the Congress for a synodal church
In a group discussion in the afternoon (Photo: private)

The future can only succeed together with the younger generation

Mission as a way of bridging the gap between faith and culture was mentioned repeatedly. It became clear that it is a matter of engaging in conversation with people rather than just talking about them. This also refers to marginalized groups in society, especially the poor. “Jesus Christ spoke of the commandment of love that applies to everyone. He demonstrated this with his own life. We should not fail in this,” emphasizes Father Walter.  “It pained me that no youth representatives were invited to the assembly. A few were present as delegates from their countries. Especially when it comes to mission, the future can only be successful if we include the younger generation.”

Relationships are essential to synodality

This is where another observation of Father Walter applies: “The common path can only move forward if we interact more deliberately between the generations and between the countries and their different mentalities. I believe that we need to visit each other, get to know each other better and be hospitable in order to understand each other better. God’s people will be strong if authentic relationships between each other are able to cross the barriers”.

There is no alternative to this synodal path

Bishop Georg Bätzing, who attended the conference as president of the German Bishops’ Conference, remarked in the final exchange on the fact that the final document was initially a statement of reality, and that no discernment had yet taken place. The conference had not gone beyond the document that the bishops’ conferences had received in advance. “We still have much, much work ahead of us, but for me there is no good alternative to this synodal path either. We have to continue together, that is my plea,” Bishop Bätzing finished off.



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