By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME – Under a bright clear October sky, Pope Francis kicked off this month’s much-anticipated summit of bishops from around the world by saying he hopes both young people and the Church’s synod fathers can have “the capacity to dream and to hope” together.
During an opening Mass on Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said that in the month ahead, Synod delegates must be open to new ideas and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
“Hope challenges us, moves us and shatters that conformity which says, ‘it’s always been done like this,’” Pope Francis told the more than 300 delegates on hand for the October gathering, known as a Synod of Bishops, which will explore the theme of “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
“We know that our young people will be capable of prophesy and vision to the extent that we, who are already adult or elderly, can dream and thus be infectious in sharing those dreams and hopes that we carry in our hearts,” said the Holy Father.
“May the Spirit grant us the grace to be synodal fathers anointed with the gift of dreaming and of hoping. We will then, in turn, be able to anoint our young people with the gift of prophecy and vision,” he continued.
As an example of those new ideas – and perhaps proof that things can, in fact, change – a visibly moved Pope Francis gave special mention to the two bishops from mainland China who will be participating in the synod process for the first time ever, following last month’s groundbreaking new agreement between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops.
Voice of the Spirit
“With this attitude of docile listening to the voice of the Spirit, we have gathered from all parts of the world. Today, for the first time, we have also with us two bishops from mainland China,” Pope Francis said as he choked up. “We offer them our warm welcome: the communion of the entire episcopate with the successor of Peter is yet more visible thanks to their presence.”
The Holy Father used his homily to encourage synod delegates to proceed in hope in the coming weeks, at a time in which he said the Church’s young people need it greatly.
A hope that “can broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people, leaving them exposed to stormy seas, orphans without a faith community that should sustain them, orphans devoid of a sense of direction and meaning in life,” he insisted.
“This same hope asks us to make efforts to reverse situations of uncertainty, exclusion and violence, to which our young people are exposed,” he added.
Ahead of a month that is certain to touch on some of the Church’s most neuralgic topics, including the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis, LGBT issues, women’s leadership, and more, Pope Francis urged participants not to lose focus and to be anchored by the Gospel.
“Love for the Gospel and for the people who have been entrusted to us, challenges us to broaden our horizons and not lose sight of the mission to which we are called. In this way we shall aim for an even greater good that will benefit all of us. Without this disposition, all of our efforts will be in vain.”
In order to accomplish this, Pope Francis said synod participants must first begin with a posture of listening.
“The gift of that ability to listen, sincerely and prayerfully, as free as possible from prejudice and conditioning, will help us to be part of situations which the People of God experience,” he said. “Listening to God, so that with him we can listen to the cry of the people; listening to our people, so that we can breathe in with them the desire to which God calls us.”
“This disposition protects us from the temptation of falling into moralistic or elitist postures, and it protects us from the lure of abstract ideologies that never touch the realities of our people,” the pope said.
Those realities of a diverse Church will be represented by 50 cardinals, 44 archbishops, 101 bishops, 37 auxiliary bishops, 23 “experts,” 49 auditors, and 34 young people, and 14 official language groups in the month ahead.
The Synod of Bishops officially begins today and will run through October 28.