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Nuns make concept of “synodal Church” less abstract

Pope Francis Vigil Prayer Protestants and Orthodox St. Peter's square

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 10/03/23

Congregation that was founded under John Paul II brings prayer to ecumenical vigil.

On Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2023, Pope Francis, cardinals, participants of the Synod on the Future of the Church, and leaders of Christian Churches came together in St. Peter’s Square for an ecumenical vigil. This event, which also included the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and Anglican Primate Justin Welby, was organized as a moment of prayer and preparation in light of the Synod on the Future of Church, as it will officially begin on October 4 and last throughout the month.

I.MEDIA spoke to some of the pilgrims present.

Moments after the celebration started on this warm summer evening, the initially sparse crowd started swelling and growing. Groups of pilgrims gradually took over the square, including around 450 young people from Poland and 400 from France. Many young Italians, especially from Rome, came with the groups Catholic Action and the Scouts. St. Peter’s Square was filled with plants and flowers, and the evening was marked by hymns, moments of prayers and of silence.

Antonio, a 50-year-old from Rome who was accompanying a group of around 50 scouts, said that he came to pray that this synodal Assembly would bear good fruit. “We hope that this Synod will enable us to face up to the problems that we, as Christ’s people, have, like all of society, in Italy as in the rest of the world,” he explained. 

“We want the Holy Spirit to descend on this square and enlighten our pastors,” added Antonio.

Everyone should be listened to “in order to discern God’s will”

Among the faithful present there were many nuns, whose lifestyle based on living in communities helps make the concept of synodality less abstract. “We’ve been experimenting with synodal methods since our congregation was founded 45 years ago, in 1978,” said Sister Jacinta, novice mistress at the Oblate Sisters of the Virgin Mary of Fatima.

This young congregation, founded in Rome at the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate, now numbers around 80 nuns, spread between Italy, Portugal, the Principality of Monaco, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

“We have always sought, in our way of life, to gather the opinions of all the sisters before the superior makes decisions, in a logic of unity that comes from the Lord,” explained Sister Jacinta, who is celebrating 30 years of religious life this year. “Each sister is the bearer of a gift, a particular grace, and must be listened to in depth, in order to discern God’s will. This is the synodal method,” she explained.

Sister Melissa, who joined the congregation a year ago, saw the ecumenical vigil as “a wonderful opportunity to feel part of a Church that is on the move, a wonderful way to contribute to the Church’s journey through prayer.”

We are responsible “for praying that these bishops make the right decisions”

“It’s beautiful to see all these young people listening to the Word of God, because young people are the future, they’re the ones who will make Jesus known,” said Achintheya, a 23-year-old novice from Sri Lanka, happy to see this assembly mixing different nationalities, generations and denominations.

“It’s wonderful that we’re all here together invoking the Holy Spirit, because it’s an event that concerns us all,” said Sister Jacinta. “We too are responsible for praying, that these bishops will make the right decisions. We want to share this moment to act as a choir, to make Church together,” she explained.

Beyond the hymns sung by the Taizé Community, the testimonies, and the various melodies that enlivened these few hours of the vigil, it was the strength of the more than eight minutes of silence, before the heads of the Churches took the floor, that will remain the most striking memory for the faithful present. This silent chorus of thousands of souls gathered in St. Peter’s Square, against the tide of a world saturated with noise and polarization, anchored the Synod in a dynamic of openness to listening.

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