Retreating into the Synod

As the Synod of Bishops holds its General Assembly on synodality in the Church, each week we bring you a testimonial from one of the participants. The members of the Assembly include 14 Jesuits. Among the experts and facilitators, there are eight. Three other people, women, are closely linked to the Society of Jesus. Today, the testimony of the Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development. He took part in the three-day retreat that was held prior tothe Assembly.

By Card. Michael Czerny SJ

The retreat (1-3 October) actually began for me the evening before, during the Prayer Vigil in St Peter’s Square, magnificently orchestrated by the Taizé Community, when a Ukrainian choir led nearly 18,000 Christians of all denominations in singing fellow-Montrealer Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluia”.

At a retreat centre built like a village in the Roman countryside, about 300 of us began walking together: hierarchs, clergy, religious, laypeople. The Benedictine Abbess Ignazia Angelini introduced the Gospel at Lauds and before Mass, always linking it with the synodal path, and former Master General of the Dominicans, Timothy Radcliffe, had us meditate on the Transfiguration, in Mark 9.

At Caesarea Philippi, the community of disciples, in worse disarray than the Church today, crashes into crisis. About a week later, Jesus takes three of them on a brief retreat up Mount Tabor. There they hear the Father’s voice, “Listen to him!” before embarking on the very first Synod, the walk up to Jerusalem where Jesus will suffer, die and rise again.


Card. Michael Czerny SJ.

The retreat taught us to Listen, an indispensable dynamic not only of the Synod but of all Church renewal. There were six moments.

First, we are divided by different Hopes for the Church, and need to be nourished by the hope of the Eucharist which draws us beyond our various, seemingly incompatible hopes.

Second, we are divided by different, seemingly contradictory senses of the Church as our Home. In ongoing history, the Word pitches his tent among us, and he invites us to be at home forever in the infinity of the Father’s House.

Getting beyond our divisions requires Friendship. Can we dare to reach out in friendship to those with whom we disagree, and receive their friendship, too?

Fourth, the grace we seek: to learn the art of Conversation in the Spirit, which is the chosen method of this synod, which is about synodality. And in fact, each of the three afternoons, there was a session of such conversation, in groups of 10 to 12. Enlightened by the meditations, we learned by doing.


Chapel of Fraterna Domus, a Spiritual Centre near Rome.

The fifth was on the mysterious, unmistakable Authority with which Jesus speaks (Mt 7:29). This is what all Church authority should aspire to, rooted in our common baptism and oriented to the Church’s mission. Three forms embodied authority at the Transfiguration: beauty (the glorious appearance of Jesus), goodness (Moses the friend of the Lord) and truth (Elijah who spoke and did the truth). Which of these might be missing from how authority is exercised nowadays in the different ministries and responsibilities in the Church?

Sixth, Truth in Scripture and throughout Tradition is solid and unfailing, not static or uniform or relative. So, our synod process may daily encounter this bluntest of challenges: how am I to tell the truth without demolishing the other? There will be painful moments, suffering and dying, since we’re on our way to Jerusalem, and Jesus promises that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth” (Jn 16:13).

After three days, then, we return to Rome in order, relying on the Holy Spirit, to walk the walk of the Synod on Synodality: communion, participation, mission.

Synod 2021 - 2024

For a synodal Church:
communion, participation and mission.


Synodal-U Community

The Society of Jesus joins people from different corners of the world who want to walk together in their synodal formation.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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