Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "Rather than saying that the Church has a mission, we affirm that the Church is mission. ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21)". Thus begins the eighth Chapter of the "Synthesis Report" approved and published on Saturday, October 28, at the conclusion of the first Session of the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission".
The document represents a provisional result of the synodal path, in view of the second Session of the Assembly, scheduled for October 2024. The entire text is criss-crossed by continuous references to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel as the sole reason for the Church's existence and as a guiding criterion to apply reforms and changes in ecclesiastical institutions and dynamics. In particular, the missionary dynamism of the Synodal Church is reproposed in its essential lines in Chapter eight, entitled "The Church is mission", which opens the II part of the Report, with the eloquent title "All disciples, all missionaries".
All the paragraphs in Chapter eight were approved by the members of the Synod Assembly with consensus that in most cases came close to unanimity.
The mission of Jesus
In the first paragraph of the eighth chapter we read that "the Church" receives the mission of Christ, the one sent by the Father, her mission. Sustained and guided by the Holy Spirit, she proclaims and bears witness to the Gospel to those who do not know it or welcome it, with that preferential option for the poor that has its roots in the mission of Jesus. In this way it contributes to the coming of the Kingdom of God, of which it "constitutes the seed and the beginning» (cf. LG 5)".
The sacramental source of mission
The first sacraments of Christian life - recalls paragraph b of the eighth Chapter - "entrust all the disciples of Jesus with the responsibility of the mission of the Church. Lay men and women, consecrated men and women, and ordained ministers have equal dignity. They have received different charismas and vocations and exercise different roles and functions, all called and nourished by the Holy Spirit to form a single body in Christ. All the disciples, all the missionaries, in the fraternal vitality of the local communities that experience the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing".
In this framework," highlights the Report approved by the Assembly, "the exercise of co-responsibility is essential for synodality and is necessary at all levels of the Church. Every Christian is a mission in this world".
The gifts of the laity and families
"Parents, grandparents and all those who live and share their faith in the family are the first missionaries", reads the paragraph of the Report in which it is recalled that "the family, as a community of life and love, is a privileged place of education in faith and Christian practice, which needs special accompaniment within the communities". And "if the mission is a grace that engages the entire Church, the lay faithful contribute in a vital way to carrying it out in all environments and in the most ordinary situations of each day. It is they, above all, who make the Church present and proclaim the Gospel in the culture of the digital environment, which has such a strong impact throughout the world, in youth cultures, in the world of work, of economics and politics, of arts and culture, of scientific research, education and training, in the care of the common home and, in particular, in participation in public life. Wherever they are present, they are called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in daily life and to explicitly share the faith with others. In particular, young people, with their gifts and frailties, as they grow in friendship with Jesus, become apostles of the Gospel among their peers" (paragraph d).
The report underlines that lay men and women "are also increasingly present and active in service within Christian communities. Many of them organize and animate pastoral communities, serve as faith educators, theologians and formators, spiritual animators and catechists, and participate in various parish and diocesan bodies. In many regions, the life of Christian communities and the mission of the Church are centered on the figure of catechists" (paragraph e). The Report calls for the charismas of the laity, "gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church", to be "brought to light, recognized and fully valued". In some situations "it may happen that the laity are called to make up for the shortage of priests, with the risk of undermining the strictly lay character of their apostolate". While "in other contexts it may happen that priests do everything and the charismas and ministries of the laity are ignored or underused".
In the approved text, explicit reference is made to the "danger, expressed by many at the Assembly, of “clericalizing” the laity, creating a kind of lay elite that perpetuates inequalities and divisions in the People of God" (paragraph f).
The mission “ad Gentes” as an exchange of gifts
The practice of the mission "ad gentes", carried out by missionaries who leave their land of origin to carry out their apostolic work in other lands, is re-proposed in the Synodal Synthesis Report as "a reciprocal enrichment of the Churches, because it does not only involve the missionaries, but the entire community, which is encouraged to pray, share goods and bear witness".
Such an offer - the text reads - must not be abandoned or considered as a practice of the past even by "Churches poor in clergy", while "those in which there is greater flowering of vocations to the ordained ministry can be opened to pastoral cooperation, in a genuinely evangelical logic. All missionaries - lay men and women, consecrated men and women, deacons and priests, in particular members of missionary institutes and fidei donum missionaries" emphasizes the text approved by the Synodal Assembly "by virtue of their own vocation, are an important resource for creating bonds of knowledge and exchange of gifts" (paragraph g).
Knots to untie, proposals to experiment
Among the "issues to be addressed" in order to facilitate and not hinder the missionary dynamism of the Church, the Report also points out those related precisely to the new tasks and roles assumed by lay men and women in the ecclesial and pastoral dynamics. The Second Vatican Council and subsequent ecclesial magisterium - the Report recalls - presented the "distinctive mission of the laity in terms of the sanctification of temporal or secular realities". Now, "in the concreteness of pastoral practice, at the parish, diocesan and, recently, also universal level, the tasks and ministries within the Church are increasingly entrusted to the laity. Theological reflection and canonical provisions" the Report stresses in this regard, "must be reconciled with these important developments and strive to avoid dualisms that could compromise the perception of the unity of the Church's mission" (paragraph j). In promoting co-responsibility for the mission of all the baptized, the apostolic potential of people with disabilities must also be recognized (paragraph k). While pastoral structures "must be re-organized in such a way to help communities emerge, recognize and encourage the charismas and ministries" of the laity. At the same time, to avoid the risks of self-referentiality, ecclesial communities, in all their instances, are called to place themselves "primarily at the service of the mission that the faithful carry out within society, in family and work life, without focusing exclusively on the activities that are developed within them and in their organizational needs". (Paragraph l).
New ecclesial ministries for the laity
Among the proposals outlined in the final part of Chapter 8, the Report recalls "the need for greater creativity in the creation of ministries based on the needs of local Churches, with particular participation of young people". In particular, it mentions the possibility of configuring for the laity "a real ministry of the Word of God, which in appropriate contexts could also include preaching", and also "a ministry to be given to married couples committed to sustaining family life and accompanying people who are preparing for the sacrament of marriage" (paragraph n). (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 29/10/2023)