The concept of synodality took center stage in the opening speeches at the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting this week, with the papal nuncio stressing the need for the bishops to embrace synodality, and the conference president ways the bishops are already living out the model.
The speeches follow tension within the conference, after an interview earlier this month in which the nuncio accused the bishops of failing to evangelize and to embrace a model of synodality for the Church.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Military Services, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, told The Pillar Tuesday that he disagrees with the nuncio’s understanding of the Church in the country.
“At least the way America Magazine characterized Archbishop Pierre’s reflections, I don’t think that really reflects the Church in the United States,” he said. “I think there might be a little of a dichotomy between what was presented in that article and what the reality is.”
In his presidential address Tuesday, Broglio said that the bishops “strive to meet people and find ways to invite them to participate in the life of the community of faith.”
He pointed to ways in which the U.S. Church is evangelizing, listing ministries including Evangelical Catholic, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), Formed, Net Ministries, and Reach More.
“On behalf of all of the bishops I thank all of those who strive to instill vibrancy, commitment, and renewal into our faith communities while reaching out to the peripheries at the same time,” he said.
The president’s address comes nearly two weeks after papal nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre gave an interview in America Magazine in which he said the bishops need to change their pastoral approach to evangelization.
The nuncio praised the 2007 Aparecida conference as a divinely inspired model of synodality that leads to better evangelization, which should be a guide for the U.S. bishops, whom he described as “struggling” to evangelize.
“We are in the Church at a change of epoch,” Cardinal Pierre said in the interview. “People don’t understand it. And this may be the reason why most of the young priests today dream about wearing the cassock and celebrating Mass in the traditional way.”
The nuncio said that “almost nobody” goes to church, religious sisters “have disappeared,” and “seminaries are now empty.”
Broglio told The Pillar Tuesday that Pierre’s assessment contrasted with his view of the Church in the United States.
“Certainly, our churches are not empty — yet. We’re trying our best to make sure that continues to be the case. We have a number of seminaries that are actually at capacity, I think there’s been a concerted effort both for the Eucharistic Revival and for the notion of preaching the good news.”
Broglio said he had spoken with Pierre about the article.
“He’s open to his opinion and I’m open to mine,” he said.
In their opening remarks at the bishops’ gathering Tuesday, both Pierre and Broglio emphasized their respective understandings of what synodality means for the Church.
Pierre reiterated the idea that synodality is the path forward for the Church, and stressed that synodality and the national Eucharistic revival must be viewed as related.
“We need our perception of the Eucharist to be re-awakened to its incarnational dynamism,” he said. “The Eucharist is encounter. It is movement. It is the power helping us to give new life. It makes us the living presence of Jesus to others.”
Pierre pointed to the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an example of the synodal process: “encountering, accompanying, listening, discerning, and rejoicing at what the Holy Spirit reveals.”
“I believe that we will have true Eucharistic revival when we experience the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ’s incarnation: as the Lord walking with us together on the way,” he said.
He warned the bishops against seeing the global synod on synodality as having an agenda.
Instead, he said, synodality “is about the way in which we are called to be the Church of God, for the sake of evangelizing today’s world which is in such desperate need of the Gospel of hope and of peace.”
For his part, Broglio used his address to highlight “the many synodal realities that already exist in the Church in the United States.”
“The collegial atmosphere that characterizes these assemblies, the excellent consideration and interaction that typifies the work of the National Advisory Council, the work of diocesan pastoral councils, presbyteral councils, review boards, school board and so many other organizations come readily to mind,” he said.
He also noted the committees of the bishops’ conference, saying they feature a robust collaboration among bishops, staff, and consultants.
The bishop acknowledged that there is room to grow and listen to the Holy Spirit in developing synodality in the U.S. Church.
“We all know that more can be done and we are making a national effort with the Eucharistic Revival to call our daughters and sons home to the fullness of life in Christ in the sacraments,” he said.
Broglio also praised “our committed priests on fire with the Gospel.”
“They are our first collaborators and we are so dependent on their tireless efforts. It is good to see their contribution to preaching the Gospel and reaching out to those who still have to hear about Jesus Christ,” he said. “They motivate so much of the charitable outreach of the Church and the mission to preach the good news.”
“We are also encouraged by young men preparing in the seminaries,” he continued. “Not all of them are filled to overflowing like Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, but I continue to be impressed by these fine seminarians who commit themselves to knowing the Lord more deeply and to being men for others. They are a sign of hope for the future.”
Broglio concluded by stressing the bishops’ unity and encouraging those present to strengthen their zeal for the Gospel, through their fraternity and openness to the Holy Spirit.
“We may approach the mission in different ways, but we are convinced that our mandate is to bring everyone to an experience of Jesus Christ, which leaves no one indifferent or the same,” he said.