During the month of October, Rome hosted the first Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 4-29, 2023), an unprecedented event in the history of the Church. For about a month, 464 participants from every corner of the globe, including 364 members, among them 54 women, lay and religious, with voting rights, gathered to understand, reflect, and discuss the future of the Church.
At the same time, the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations (WUCWO), the International Forum Catholic Action (IFCA), and the Italian Catholic Action organised two reflection and prayer meetings on October 18 and 26, involving men and women actively participating in the Synodal Assembly, under the title "Walking with the Synod."
First Meeting: "The Synodal Church, prophetic witness of reconciliation and artisan of peace" (October 18)
The event on October 18 explored the theme "The Synodal Church, prophetic witness of reconciliation and artisan of peace." The meeting, moderated by Giuseppe Notarstefano, national president of Italian Catholic Action, began with a reflection on Synodality by Bishop Eduardo Garcia, Bishop of San Justo, ecclesiastical assistant of IFCA, and the screening of a video on the topic produced by the World Women's Observatory (WWO), as part of the Women and Synodality project.
In a spirit of sharing, some Synod participants commented on a Bible passage in light of their experiences and the current context of the "Third World War in pieces." Contributors to the reflection included Bishop Carlos Alfonso Azpiroz Costa, Archbishop of Bahía Blanca, Bishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, who emphasised the importance of sacrifice and the love that represents sacrifice without return.
Bishop Erio Castellucci, Archbishop of Modena and Bishop of Carpi, underlined the meaning of the word "peace." Theologian Giuseppina De Simone, witness of the synodal process in Europe, spoke about the value of the synodal "style," the importance of being "together." Eva Fernández Mateo, national president of AC in Spain and coordinator of the IFCA Secretariat, a special guest at the Synod, led a touching moment of prayer.
In the second part of the meeting, Mónica Santamarina, General President of WuCWO, recalled the impressive activity of this organisation, representing over 8 million women worldwide.
Second Meeting: “Forward-looking perspective from the experience of participants in the Synodal Assembly" (October 26)
The second meeting on October 26 marked a crucial moment, offering a glimpse into the experiences of those present during the Synodal Assembly. Coordinated by Mónica Santamarina, the meeting provided an overview of future perspectives in the concluding phase of the Synod. Mónica Santamarina led a passionate dialogue, posing two questions to each guest.
The first question: on Global Experiences and Perspectives emerging from the Synodal Journey
In the first question, Mónica Santamarina asked the guests how to transmit Synodal experiences in the context of daily ecclesial responsibilities, with a particular focus on people in the peripheries, often ignored and voiceless.
Sister María de los Dolores Palencia, delegate president, dedicated to serving migrants in Mexico, testified to the importance of listening and dialogue, especially in contexts marked by cultural and opinion differences. Her commitment is to understand the true needs of migrants with a humanitarian and empathetic approach.
Bishop Franco Giulio Brambilla, Bishop of Novara, Italy, offered a European perspective, emphasising the Synod's experience of globality as an opportunity to breathe the universality of the Church. He also pointed out the challenge of opening up to the "distant," urging to rediscover the heart of Jesus in the practice of the Christian faith.
From Australia, Professor Susan Pascoe, expert and facilitator, described the Synod as an engaging process that embraced all continents, emphasising the breadth of the Church's inquiry. Sister Béatriz Faye from Senegal, expert and facilitator, shared her experience of participation, highlighting the action of the "spirit" during the Synod.
Bishop Juan Domingo-Beka Esono Ayang, Bishop of Mongono, President of the Episcopal Conference of Equatorial Guinea, underlined the importance of finding communion in diversity, inviting to live in unity as brothers.
From Bolivia, Erika Sally Aldunate Loza, witness of the synodal process, spoke of the significant contribution of women in the Church, and the importance of open and reasonable dialogue with the youth. Nicaraguan Néstor Esaú Velasquez Tellez, witness of the synodal process in Latin America, shared the experience of belonging to the Church through listening, reflecting on Saint Paul's vision of the Church's unique body. From Cambodia, Father Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez, apostolic prefect of Battambang, esponed about the need for an outgoing Church, committed to the poor and social justice.
The Second question: Involving the Laity and Women in the Life of the Church
In the second part, Mónica Santamarina asked a crucial question to Synodal guests about the fuller participation of the laity and women in the life of the Church.
Bishop Juan Domingo-Beka Esono Ayang highlighted the vitality of the Church in Africa, where much of the activities are led by women. He reported the importance of changing dynamics and giving more space to women in ecclesiastical leadership.
Bishop Franco Giulio Brambilla drew attention to the fact that, although the Catholic Church is full of women, leadership is still predominantly male. He stressed the need to allow everyone to express their role in the Church. Erika Sally Aldunate Loza proposed ongoing training for women, overcoming the idea that involvement requires permission. She emphasised the importance of understanding one's vocation and listening to the voice of God.
Sister María de los Dolores Palencia highlighted the need to raise awareness about the contribution of women, exploring cultural and social diversities. She invited to continue on the path opened by the Synod, with particular attention to migrant women.
Fr. Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez spoke of the need to ensure women the opportunity to study and pursue a life beyond motherhood. He highlighted the importance of building a solidarity Church committed to social justice. Néstor Esaú Velasquez Tellez spoke of the laity's co-responsibility in the Church and their ability to reach places inaccessible to priests. He recalled the essential role of the laity as the "salt of the earth.”
Mónica Santamarina conveyed her gratitude to those representing the organisers of this event, including Eva Fernández Santiago, President of Catholic Action Spain and IFCA, who also served as a special guest at the Synod, along with the National President of the Italian Catholic Action, Giuseppe Notarstefano.”
A Call for Peace: Day of Prayer, Fasting, and Penance (October 27)
Before concluding, Mónica Santamarina drew attention to the Day of Prayer, Fasting, and Penance for Peace proclaimed by Pope Francis on October 27. She invited everyone to dedicate a moment of prayer and reflection for those suffering from violence, especially members of Catholic Action and WUCWO.
From these meetings, it emerges that Synodality is a fruitful path for addressing contemporary challenges, involving men and women in the Church's journey.