Opening Ceremony of the diocesan phase of the General Synod of the Catholic Church
October 30, 2021
Sisters and Brothers, we gather today at this Shrine of Deir Rafat, on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Palestine, to officially open the synodal journey in our Catholic dioceses of the Holy Land, in the broader context of the General Synod of the Catholic Church, inaugurated by the Holy Father Francis last October 9.
We recall that one of the most vibrant periods in the recent history of our Church in the Holy Land was the Synod of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land in the 1990s, culminating in the Synod of Bethlehem in 2000, which saw, as will also happen on this occasion, the participation of all our Catholic Churches of the Holy Land. This Eucharistic celebration is therefore of historical importance: we feel like the disciples gathered in the Upper Room with Mary, Queen of Palestine, Mother of the Universal Church and the Mother of our Mother Church of Jerusalem. It is as if we wanted, timidly, to pick up the thread of the discourse left open twenty years ago with the synod of our Churches. It will take time to resume the many discourses left open twenty years ago, but let us consider this moment as a first step toward that goal
Pope Francis himself, invited us to walk together (what the Greek word "synodos" originally expresses) as a universal Church, in every place on earth. Here in the Holy Land, we have chosen the story of the disciples who walk together towards Emmaus and together return to Jerusalem (Lk 24:13-33) as an icon, guide, and inspiration for the entire synodal process that awaits us.
Are we ready to embark on this journey, this "adventure"? I would like to highlight two elements at the beginning of the synodal journey. First, we want to set out on our journey. Perhaps we had been standing still for some time, as if we were waiting... Now we want to set out again, just as we are - with all our wounds, just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Secondly, we want to do it together, as a Church, as a community. Of course, it is often not easy for our dioceses to be together, because of political borders, cultural distances, difficulties in receiving permits to move from one area of our dioceses to another: everything seems to want to keep us apart. This is why I find it beautiful and meaningful that in all parts of our churches (Galilee, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus), we are united at this moment. I therefore greet our communities in Jordan and Cyprus, who have joined us in prayer today.
To be on our way is to be willing to go out, to change, to look beyond one's ordinary reality, to let oneself be carried away by dynamis, by the dynamic power of the Spirit. In the Church we never set out alone, but always with others, with our community. For this reason, Jesus always sends his apostles two by two. The same two of Emmaus, although disappointed and sad, walk together and vent their sufferings on each other, until the Risen One approaches them on the way, just as the Book of Ecclesiastes says: "Better to be two than one, for they will obtain better recompense for their toil. In fact, if they fall, one will lift up the other. But woe to him who is alone: if he falls, he has no one to lift him up" (Qo 4:9-10) (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Communion is, therefore, a central reality in this journey! Let us look around, see who is here with us today and ask ourselves if anyone is missing and who should be there. Communion certainly begins ad intra, in our families, religious houses, parishes, movements and ecclesial realities, but it then extends ad extra, to the entire Catholic and Christian community and as far outside as possible.
In the Holy Land, communion has many faces: among Christians of different confessions, among Catholics of different Churches, among religious communities of various realities, with people of other creeds and religions. Let us ask ourselves then, if in this rich context, our communities are a leaven of communion. We are called at this time to bring to the synodal path this wide breath, this flavor of gospel and fraternity, this openness to many, to all. Our communities can be laboratories of communion, fraternity, and dialogue, giving this blessed land wounded by so many political, social, and religious divisions the taste of communion.
Finally, let us think of those whom we too often ignore, who remain on the margins of our Church. We are called to invite to this journey those who do not regularly attend the Church, those who have drifted away. The Pope wants the upcoming Synod to shake us up and help us rethink the way we are a community. Are we living fully the life to which we have been called? How can we renew our identity and our faith? How can we truly believe in what we have been promised?
Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we want to open ourselves to share the journey; to share our concerns, our feelings, our wounds. There are so many crises that we face, both in the Church and in the world, so many challenges that await us, so many missions to which we are called. We are surrounded by tribulations that sometimes throw us into despair. Like the two on Emmaus, we had hopes that were crushed; we sought vibrant communities, yet too often we feel alone; we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but our anxieties block our way; we seek Jesus in our lives and lo and behold, it seems to us that he has disappeared.
Like the two disciples, Jesus looks for us along the way. He comes to listen to us. He is our Emmanuel, the God with us (cf. Is 7:14; Mt 1:23), yet we do not recognize him at first. The synodal journey is meant to be an instrument to open our eyes, ears, and hearts so that we may see him in our midst. He is walking with us. We meet him regularly in the Eucharist and in the Sacraments. However, we know that he also comes to us in our brothers and sisters who walk with us, especially those on the margins of communities. We want to become aware of all of them, not only those who speak loudly and clearly, but those who are too often silent, even those who are absent.
Participation is, therefore, another central reality in this journey. Also central to the synodal process is the willingness to listen as we walk! In listening to our brothers and sisters attentively, in opening our hearts to let them in, Jesus Christ also makes himself heard and fills our hearts with a burning fire (cf. Lk 24:32). The meetings and initiatives planned have precisely this purpose, to create opportunities for listening at all levels. It is important, however, as I have already stated several times, that listening be illuminated by the presence of the Lord, so that it does not become just a litany of complaints.
The synodal journey, just like the journey of the two men on the road to Emmaus, is not so much an event as it is a style, a way of being in life. We are dominated by a mindset that focuses on what we lack. This is real and urgent, but it can create despair. I hope, instead, that this journey of ours, little by little, will allow our eyes to see and our ears to hear him, to realize not only what we lack but also what we have: he and the gift he gives us of the Spirit, he and the gift he gives us of the brothers and sisters who walk with us on the road.
In a special way, as on the road to Emmaus, we want to reread the Scriptures, the Word of God that gives us strength if we read it with Jesus. He opens the Scriptures to us, transforming a dead letter into a vibrant spirit that inflames our hearts. Approaching us on the journey, as what happened to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Risen Christ helps us to interpret past events in the light of faith; he illuminates the events of our history, even the most painful ones, as events of providence and grace (cf. Lk 24:25-27).
The synodal journey then continually leads us back to the Eucharist, the central reality of our lives as believers. Like the two disciples at Emmaus, it is at the Eucharistic table, at the breaking of the bread, that we recognize Jesus (cf. Lk 24:30), that we are nourished and strengthened on this journey, encouraged to renew our dreams and to work for the Kingdom of God that is already in our midst. Our anxieties and fears, our sense of loneliness and despair can be brought to the Eucharistic table. We are not alone as we gather there. The Lord is here, he comes not only to listen but to transform our lives so that we can once again choose to have life in abundance. We also meet our brothers and sisters there, who are also hungry for the bread of life, thirsty for the cup of salvation. We know how to describe well what we lack, but we also try ever more clearly to say what we have.
In this way, when Christ walks with us, reinterprets the Scriptures for us, remains with us to break bread, "it is no longer evening" (cf. Lk 24:29) and he frees us from the dangerous temptation of victimhood. The two men of Emmaus, who were leaving Jerusalem with a "dark face" (Lk 24:17), frustrated, downcast and wounded, see the glorious wounds of Christ and, in the light of them, understand their own wounds. Hence, they encounter the "Wounded Healer," Jesus, who heals their wounds with his wounds (cf. Is 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24). We are not only called to seek the causes of our wounds, but rather to have them transfigured in Christ. Even our personal, social, and ecclesial wounds can be transfigured by the encounter with the Risen One.
When the two of Emmaus recognize in the mysterious pilgrim the Risen Jesus, he disappears and returns to being the heavenly Wayfarer. Just when "their eyes were opened and they recognized him", he disappeared from their sight" (Lk 24:31). He is in perennial dynamism, always on the move. We too, like the two on the road to Emmaus, are called to live this dynamism together. We too, like them, can return running to Jerusalem, to the sources of our faith, to the Upper Room, to Peter and the apostolic community, to set out again towards the world and to announce with the whole Church that Christ is truly risen and is the Heavenly and Universal Physician. This, then, is a synodal journey that unites us, listening to one another, opening ourselves to the Spirit that we received at Pentecost! This Spirit is the foundation of a third reality, that of mission, of witness to the Good News, of proclamation.
We walk toward an unknown horizon trusting in a known Lord and Savior. And here in Deir Rafat, in this Shrine, we place ourselves under the hand of Our Lady of Palestine. We ask for her intercession to embark together on this journey of renewal. Let us look to her, Star of the New Evangelization, so that she may remain with us, like her Son with the two men of Emmaus, on our synodal journey and guide our steps.