Pontiff changes strategy ahead of Synod on Synodality

Pope Francis and his pastors: Change of course at the Vatican

Rome - Pastors are like all employees. Decisions regarding the exercise of their profession are made at higher levels – often far removed from the reality of their own work. The Vatican has apparently noticed this and is now endeavouring to change its management style.

Published  on 13.05.2024 at 00:01  – by Severina Bartonitschek (KNA)

Priests are particularly regular recipients of critical papal addresses. There is no other professional group that Francis explains more often how he believes they should and should not do their work. His admonitions against clericalism and in favour of pastoral care on an equal footing with the people entrusted to them are almost uncountable. This applies to his own clergy in the diocese of Rome as well as to all other priests in the universal church.

At the same time, however, they form precisely the group of people that Francis needs to realise his biggest project: more synodality in the universal church. After all, participation begins at grassroots level. That is why the head of the Church now seems to be changing his strategy: Participation instead of exhortation. Since November, the Bishop of Rome has been meeting regularly with the priests of his own diocese. Their reorganisation and the recent dismissal of two leading figures are likely to provide plenty of room for discussion.

His last visit to date took him to the centre of Rome last Friday. Francis spoke for two hours with around 100 priests in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme near the headquarters of the diocese in the Lateran. The personal exchange with their bishop seems to have had a positive effect on the priests. The participants were "very satisfied", a priest confirmed to the Vatican News portal.

Useful pastoral tips from the Pope

Francis gave "useful advice" for pastoral care in the historic city centre, was "fatherly" and the atmosphere was "cordial". They talked about the potential of city centre parishes rather than problems. "The mood of this meeting immediately turned into gratitude and prayer for the Pope," said another priest. It was a great moment of community, "a journey that we have travelled side by side and that gives us new impetus for our service not only to the Catholics of the historic centre, but to the whole world that we encounter here every day in the faces of tourists and pilgrims".

Francis shows leadership - in his own diocese and as head of around 400,000 priests worldwide. His synod secretariat recently invited over 200 priests from 90 countries on all continents to a conference lasting several days in a conference centre near Rome. The aim was to discuss everyday pastoral life and new ideas on the topic of synodality. These are also to be incorporated into the working paper for the upcoming 2nd Synod on Synodality meeting in October.

According to the responsible Synod Secretariat, the "Pastors for the Synod" initiative is in line with the indications from the first session of the Synod on Synodality General Assembly last October. The parish priests were not represented there. "We needed to hear their voice more clearly and more loudly," explained the Undersecretary of the Synod Secretariat, Bishop Luis Marin de San Martin, acknowledging the omission in the first phase.

Pope Francis hugs a boy
Bild: ©KNA/Stefano dal Pozzolo/Romano Siciliani

The Pope and his diocese: Francis repeatedly visits Roman parishes and priests.

Conveying to his own employees that their needs and voices are also taken seriously seems to have paid off at a global level. The international priests expressed their satisfaction after the meeting, which also included a meeting with the Pope. Many of the clergy felt that taking part in the meeting near Rome was a privilege and a source of encouragement for their own everyday parish life.

The differences in experiences and perspectives of the participants not only broadened their own "thinking and their own hearts", but also "some things that we at home think must be Catholic," said Graz priest Stefan Ulz. For the US-American priest Clinton Ressler, unity is the centrepiece of the synod. He told the RNS portal: "We can't move forward if we are divided." Following the meeting in Rome, the greatest challenge will be to win the faithful over to the synodality project despite their initial reservations. Polish priest Pawel Baran would like to share this experience in Rome with others. "This is what it means to be missionaries of synodality: sharing projects to build better communities," the Krakow native told the Vatican News portal. For his part, Sergio Leal from the diocese of Porto in Portugal emphasised the need for a "new way of being pastors that frees us from clericalisation".

This puts Francis where he wants to see his pastors - because so-called "change management" works better if you "take your employees with you". That's in every manager's handbook. Or as the Pope himself put it in his letter to pastors: "We cannot be true fathers if we are not first and foremost sons and brothers. And we are not in a position to awaken communion and participation in the communities entrusted to us if we do not live them first and foremost among ourselves."

by Severina Bartonitschek (KNA)