ROME — While synods may be Pope Francis’s major tool for the reform of the Church, according to Sister Nathalie Becquart, he is also using them to gradually build consensus and preserve its unity.
Becquart was an auditor for last October’s Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, and last May, the pope named her, along with three other women, as consultors to the Synod’s General Secretariat — marking a historic first for the Church.
While in Rome for the final days of the Synod on the Amazon, Becquart told Crux that she sees a strong link between the two synods, linked by the topic of inculturation.
“During the synod on the youth, the main topic was a question of…the inculturation of the Gospel in the culture of the youth. And that was also the main topic for the Amazon people,” she said.
Further, she said, inculturation necessitates another major aspect of synodality, which is vesting local churches with more decision-making power.
“When you speak about inculturation, you speak about decentralization and that’s the main thing also for the reform of the Church nowadays,” she added.
Becquart, who is a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was the first woman to serve as the Director of the National Service for Youth Evangelization and Vocations in France, a post she completed just before arriving in Rome to participate in last year’s synod.
Of last year’s summit she believes the Church is “now in the main stage for the reception of the synod, and it’s a long process.”
She recalled a recent conversation with a long-time member of the General Secretariat who told her that receptions of synods often take ten to fifteen years.
“We are still at the beginning,” she said.
While she says that last year’s auditors are still on a WhatsApp channel and exchange near daily messages and is quick to point to regional events and initiatives taking place in Lebanon, Vietnam, and England as proof that the synod is taking hold on a local level, she also wants to remind folks that a synod’s outcome document — in last year’s case, Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit, which he issued in March — is only a starting point.
“Christus Vivit provides a clear GPS for youth ministry,” she says. “It’s the first time you have a magisterial document about the youth.”
“But a synod is not only a text,” she continues. “The text is the fruit of the experience, and now we have to share the experience.”
One of the major takeaways from last year’s gathering was that “you can’t do youth ministry without the youth. You have to change to do youth pastoral care with the youth,” she says.
Yet even with such a realization, she says the Church can be slow to learn its own lessons.
“They should have invited young people to be among the auditors,” she says of the Synod on the Amazon. “You can see it takes a long time to change the mind and practices.”
Going forward, she believes the key task is to connect last year’s synod on young people with this year’s on the Amazon — which she believes can easily be accomplished through an embrace of Francis’s 2015 letter on the environment, Ladauto Si’.
“Young people are very aware of the problems,” she says of the pope’s call to resist the degradation of the environment. “During last year’s synod, they were already talking about this.”
“Now with this synod, it’s truly clear, for the whole Church, we have to work for this conversion toward integral ecology,” she said. “And my strong conviction is that young people are the ones who will help the Church to do that, because they are very committed to that topic,” adding that she was pleased several Brazilian bishops who participated in the Synod on the Amazon had recently made that very point to her.
In the same way that the two most recent synods advanced environmental issues, she believes they have also done the same for the issues of migration and women’s leadership in the Church.
“The synod of bishops is a tool of the reform of the Church. It’s a school of conversion, transformation,” she observes.
On the issue of the role of women, she notes that “it was already strong [last year], and here it was bigger.”
As for the hot-button issue of ordaining women to the diaconate, with the pope agreeing to institute a new committee to study the issue further, Becquart says “it’s an interesting idea,” but she — like the pope himself — remains undecided.
“It’s one way, and it could be a good way,” she says of green lighting women deacons. “But as the challenge is de-clericalization, maybe there could also be another way,” noting that part of the current problem is the focus on ordained ministry.
“Maybe the other way is to imagine the Church with another ministerial system, less focused on ordination.”
Yet while the question of what role women can and should play in the Church is still up for debate, Becquart considers it forward progress that it’s now a dominant topic of conversation.
“More and more, the question of women is not only a question from the women but now, it’s a question coming from bishops, cardinals, and even the pope,” she says.
“And if we don’t go further, many young women will continue to leave the Church,” she adds, noting that it’s a question that can’t be delayed.
As for whether all of this will result in a synod on women, Becquart is somewhat ambivalent.
“It could be,” she says, “but if it’s a synod, of course you’ll name women as auditors and experts, but if it’s mainly a synod of bishops — with bishops speaking about women, maybe it’s not the best way.”
Regardless, she’s convinced that synods are an effective means of moving the Church forward, even if cautiously — noting that the pope has told the consultors to the General Secretariat that he is considering the topic of the next synod to be ‘synodality’ itself.
“The pope is very aware that his role is to work for communion in the Church,” she says. “It’s a question about an inclusive church and a synodal church rooted in the theology of the people of God.”
“He wants to preserve the communion,” she says of Francis’s approach to it. He “is going step by step.”
Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212
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