The Experience of a Church on a Synodal Journey – Cardinal Tobin and Fr Tirimanna share their reflections


‘The Experience of a Church on a Synodal Journey’, under this title, the round table took place in the Aula Magna of the Accademia Alfonsiana in Rome on Monday, 30 October 2023. The event, led by Prof. Mario Boies CSSR, was graced by two of the Redemptorists present at the Synod of Bishops: Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark (U.S.A.) and Father Vimal Tirimanna, Invited Professor of the Alphonsian Academy.

“A moment of theological, ethical pastoral reflection and sharing after the closing of the first session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality” was how Father Boies presented the purpose of the meeting to those present.

Cardinal Tobin began with the statement: ‘Today, the voice of the Alphonsian Academy is needed more than ever’. He then recounted that in previous synods, the structure of the proceedings did not allow for the exchange of ideas, proposals and experiences among all participants. The bishops, and not all of them, spoke about what they could share from their realities, but many times, what they said remained as a single intervention and ended there. “On this synod,” continued Cardinal Tobin, “the novelty was seen in the preparation itself: a spiritual preparation, which drew awareness to the fact that the real protagonist of the synod is the Holy Spirit”.

The other novelty was the theme of the Synod. Cardinal Tobin recounted that already in 2018, among the three themes proposed (migration, life and mission of priests and synodality), the Holy Father chose synodality with the clear motivation: a Church that does not know how to manage, how to evaluate itself in listening to the People of God, cannot act on the reality that this people lives in the world.

Pope Francis has said on several occasions that synodality is an invitation to listen to the People of God. That shows why a pastoral theology is needed, and we Redemptorists, Cardinal Tobin added, know something about this when we see the work of Saint Alphonsus. Concluding his intervention, he invited everyone to pay attention to how often the word ‘pastoral’ appears in the text of the final report of this first session of the Synod to recognise the importance of the concept.

Fr. Vimal Tirimanna was very clear: “I would like to share my experience talking about the differences with other synods,” he said to begin. The first is theme and consultation coming from the grassroots, not from above, as before this Synod. The second was the mechanics of development, working in small groups that became symbols of the local churches, where there were bishops and lay people, women and religious. This Synod was attended by 70 non-bishop members who had not only the floor but also the right to vote.

The event of the Synod marked a transition from one ecclesiology to another, said Fr Tirimanna. “It takes time and goodwill to have the change,” he stressed. – Now, the challenge for all of us is to walk toward a Church that succeeds in living synodality. The challenge for those who worked within the Synod is to bring this experience out of the hall to our local Churches, Father Vimal concluded.

EC/ Scala News
Photo: A. Kukła CSSR

The meeting was broadcast live on the YouTube channel of the Alphonsian Academy – to see the video (Italian), click here.