Archbishop Pezzi during the Synod of Bishops (Alessia Giuliani/Catholic Press Photo)

The cornerstones of the Synod

The 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place from 4 to 29 October. Here is the experience of Monsignor Paolo Pezzi, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow.
Paolo Pezzi*

My experience at the Synod highlighted that communion itself is a complete expression of the Synodal journey. It is first and foremost an emerging need, and also something deeply desired.

We have also experienced that our attempts to "build" a synodality can have the opposite effect: every step of the way we need to recognise that the initiative belongs to God, to His Spirit. It is our responsibility to assiduously ask for the grace of communion, unity and peace, of being more open to conversion. This happened during the days of the Synod and is beginning to bear visible fruit.

A further distinctive feature we draw from the beginning of the First Letter of John (which, by the way, is interestingly considered by several exegetes as a communal, communional letter; and moreover, some of Paul's Letters are also a communional event): we proclaim to you the communion that we live, the communion that educates us, and that we experience; a communion that makes us know and love our destiny [cf. 1 Jn 1:1-4. Mission is the expansion of communion that attracts (at various times during the Synod I recalled Benedict XVI's expression at Aparecida, that the Church grows by attraction)]. In the last years of my episcopal ministry, I have discovered that communion, precisely because it is the place and modality of education, that is, of affective knowledge that is always renewed for those who enter into it, is also a formidable expression of governance and management. Jesus introduces a new mode of governance into history: communion, friendship. Communion is thus a new synthesis, which is always renewed, revitalized and never closes.

Together with communion, I have experienced the need for a path that brings into life the grace received in baptism and confirmed in vocation. This path is education, or as we prefer to say today, 'ongoing formation'. There is never a time to say: “here, we have arrived, I no longer have to learn anything.” That would be the 'zombification' of life. It has always struck me that Jesus, discussing with the Jews in Capernaum, at one point says that we must be like schoolchildren at the feet of the Father, who like a good teacher teaches us, communicates everything to us [cf. Jn 6:45]; moreover, Jesus himself says to His own before going to die that the Spirit will teach us everything [cf. Jn 16:12-15].

As a help to this education we have rediscovered the document Evangelii Gaudium. Therefore, in the Moscow diocese, I have thought of organizing meetings in which to discern how this document has been lived and applied over the past ten years.

Often education, catechesis, takes place as an analytical communication of notions, but a synthesis based on the communication of the experience of unity and communion is missing. We have to "get to the heart" of the real questions of the Christian community, of the context in which one lives, and of a real missionary perspective.

Another formidable help in education can come from living the adventure of knowledge by faith as an event, as a communion experience. In this regard, we have noted the positive value of "crises", a new meaning that does not conform to the dominant mentality that sees a negative, destructive and critical dimension within crises. Instead, the crisis can be experienced as a constructive moment, a "life review" of one's being a Christian and of the community.

And finally, mission. The new people of God, constituted by the baptised as a communion of all the faithful on their journey through history, participates in Christ's mission. This position generates a culture of encounter based on an openness to the other, capable of valuing every aspect of truth encountered. In order for this position to be alive, it is necessary to have an "ecumenical" heart like that of Saint Paul: "for Christ’s love compels us" [cf. 2 Cor 5:14-5], it moves us, becoming the mobilising factor of our life.

This ecumenical yearning allows us to have a truly positive outlook on everything: "test them all; hold on to what is good" [cf. 1Thess 5:21]. Life becomes sad, monotonous, when it lacks this ecumenical tension: that all who live no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again for them.

A true ecumenical stance therefore stems from an attachment to Christ, who is "all in all" [cf. 1 Cor 12:6], he is "that in whom all consists" [cf. Col 1:16-17]. A renewed ecumenism is not content to "put up with" the other because they would remain a stranger anyway, but offers space within itself to the other. This is why forgiveness, giving back space within myself to the other, is the supreme form of ecumenism. In the Imitation of Christ [cf. I,3,8] it is written: "Ex uno Verbo omnia et unum loquuntur omnia, et hoc est Principium quod et loquitur nobis", "from this Word are all things and of Him all things speak, the Beginning who also speaks to us.”

Jesus first of all called His own to Himself, and then sent them on mission: the dynamic of remaining and leaving, of remaining in order to leave, must always be kept in mind. Mission is not an initiative of mine, but a being sent by the communion lived in Jesus in the Christian community; the Christian method through which to announce Christ will always remain the "come and see", but sometimes one does not know what to call people to, where to address them, because a welcoming community is lacking. Sometimes even the parish feels a little 'distant'. This is why it can be helpful to create small communities within environments (workplaces, universities, schools, neighbourhoods), where familiarity and welcoming are facilitated. In small communities it is also easier to educate to co-responsibility. A formidable, positive and constructive example comes from the ecclesial movements.

Communion, which is the Church on its journey through history, has lost mission as a dimension of its nature. At best, mission is an activity, but not a dimension. We have seen that for it to return to being a normal dimension of Christian life, someone needs to return to sharing a missionary passion. Missionary passion is about witnessing and proclaiming. We are not witnesses because we do not know Christ, and we do not know Christ because we are distracted by so many other things. Solov'ev, imagining the end of the world in his Tales of the Antichrist, has the starets John say in response to the master of the world who asked him: "What can I do for you, Christians?"; “Great Emperor, what we hold most dear in Christianity is Christ Himself, Him and everything that comes from Him.” Everything that comes from Christ can be summed up in communion with Him and with each other. We are not witnesses because we do not live communion. Living communion leads to recognising the signs of the times, that is, it makes our witness recognisable and credible. Often we have nothing to proclaim, because an individualistic and worldly position prevails in us, we have not understood Paul's message: "Do not conform to the mentality of this world" [cf. Rom 12:1-2]; "The Church must not let this world dictate its agenda," Pope Francis told us at the opening Mass of the Synod. "But transform yourselves", literally, "transfigure yourselves", that is, your very lives become proclamation. For the small early communities that clustered around the apostles there was a daily sharing of the mission that each member lived. Christ himself and the resulting communion were the meaning and content of their life, and therefore of their mission. They were not things to be done, they were not initiatives to be invented or to be taken, all of this was born and carried out according to the ultimate suggestion of the Spirit. They were only concerned with living the communion and correcting themselves in this, literally to carry each other on the journey, to always be converted to Christ, to walk humbly with God: "Man, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God" [cf. Micah 6:8].

*Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow