Last week, from 5 to 12 February, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, along with thirteen other delegates from across Ireland, attended the first ever European Assembly of a Synod within the Catholic Church, in Prague, Czechia. This is one of seven continental assemblies convening across five continents in a new stage of the universal Synodal Process.
Archbishop Martin offered a contribution at the synod, and said, “I would like to explore a little the creative tension between synodality and hierarchy in the communion of the Church. In the Gospel passage (John chapter 15) about the vine and the branches, Jesus emphasises twelve times the importance of being in communion with Him: “Abide in me”; “remain in me”, He tells us, for just as a vine is attacked by disease or buffeted by storms and other threats, so also we in the Church need to draw life from Christ in order to face many tribulations from within and without.
“One of the challenges facing a Synodal Church is learning how to foster that deeper communion – in Christ – between the people of God, the bishops and the pope.
“Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it. This can happen if we walk together in communion: we bishops must always remember that whilst we are entrusted, in collegiality with the Holy Father, with the task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, we are called to do in humble service of the mission of Christ, a mission we share in communion with all the baptised.”
The speaking notes of the Irish delegates, delivered by Julieann Moran and Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon on behalf of the Irish delegation, emphasised the progress of the synodal pathway in Ireland.
Delegates said, “This Synod on Synodality places a renewed emphasis on the sensus fidei fidelium and as such, is a cause of great joy, encouragement, and hope for all who love the Church as the People of God. The Working Document resonates with a universal enthusiasm for the renewal of the Church, despite the diversity of challenges. This is surely the voice and work of the Holy Spirit.
“There is clearly a need to ‘enlarge the space of our tent.’ Can we truly be an evangelising Church if we do not heed Isaiah’s prophetic image to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters who have become disaffected and discouraged? The Irish delegates are aware of the trust that has been placed in them to carry the voices of those who have spoken in truth and in love.
“Across both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the last number of decades have seen divisive conflict including suspicion and sectarianism within the Christian family, together with a radical demographic, economic, and social transformation. This new social reality, together with the painful legacy of clerical and institutional abuse and involvement of Church bodies in the harsh institutionalisation of women and children, have had a profound effect on the Church in Ireland.”