Monthly Archives: February 2022

Listening to the People of God

By Jessamyn Anderson Magri

In conversation about the upcoming event, Building Bridges North-South: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students, Dr. Felipe Legarreta emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is at work.  He cites the fact that this encounter, and the series of events associated with it, have transcended all expectations; shows evidence of the Holy Spirit challenging us to listen to its voice in the cry of the poor and in the cry of our Common Home, cf. Romans 8:15.  This opportunity to listen came about while working with colleagues, Dr. Emilce Cuda, Dr. Peter Jones, Dr. Michael Murphy, and Dr. Miguel Diaz, through a playful suggestion to invite Pope Francis to a synodal dialogue with university students.  That suggestion quickly turned into a happy reality.  Upon reflection, Dr. Legarreta said the potential for this historic event has been percolating in the background for some time and he feels the Holy Spirit is saying; Listen up!  This is the time.


Legaretta cites the groundwork for this event as the publication of the document, Ecclesia in America.  This document was published in 1992 under Pope John II, during an assembly of bishops that gathered around the theme, “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America.”  Building on that theme of solidarity established during that assembly, the CELAM (Conference of Latin American Bishops), invited Pope Francis to come to their assembly to discuss these ideas.  Pope Francis gently declined; asking the bishops to go back and “listen to the People of God”.  Instructing them to find the people on the peripheries, the margins, and listen to their stories, needs and concerns.

This brings us to now and Pope Francis’s second redirect to a leadership team to “listen to the people of God’ and to listen to the people on the margins.  Dr. Legarretta explained that the original idea was to invite Francis to dialogue with faculty, staff, and students at Loyola University Chicago.  Francis said, yes, I will come, but I want to talk to only students and students from all across the Americas, not faculty.  Thus, we land here with the anticipated historic event of university students in direct communication with the Holy See.

In thinking about such a monumental occasion, I asked if the dialogue would be structured or moderated in anyway.  Dr. Legarretta said that the only guidepost for students was the topics of migration and economic justice.  He, and the team putting the initiative together, want to give students true freedom in asking the questions that are on their hearts.  The only limiting factor in the conversation will be time.  Each student representing a different region of the Americas will be given about three minutes to ask the questions they have, and then Pope Francis will respond for about five minutes.  Again, Dr. Legarretta referenced the Holy Spirit and how this event was so far beyond anyone on the team’s wildest dreams, that the only explanation is the Holy Spirit is at work and we should step out of the way to let that work happen.  He framed the dialogue in terms of dialects.  The dialect of youth – passion, urgency, and hope, conversing with the dialect of wisdom, as found in the ancient wisdom of the church.  There are plans to continue this dialectic dialogue throughout the synodal process with events that give students a platform to raise their voices and be heard.

“To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students.



Listening to the signs of our times

By: Michael M. Canaris

As the two-year global synod process begins, this special time in the Catholic Church demands that we pay attention and read the signs of our times, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has asked the entire church, even across denominational “borders,” to help him navigate a path forward in passing Christ’s message on to the next and every generation. This requires work and collaboration on the part of the whole (and holy) community.

We learn in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 11 that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch, in the Roman province of Syria. However, this took some time to spread along with the nascent religion across the ancient world, and so the first generations of believers called themselves followers of “The Way.” Thus, the synodal roots to our Church run deep, as the word synod literally means “traveling together on the way” in Greek (syn + hodos). We often see the pope use a related Spanish phrase: “caminando juntos.”

Saint John Chrysostom – a preacher so rhetorically effective that his nickname that comes down to us in history literally means “golden-tongued” – once even went so far as to say that church and synod can in fact be used interchangeably.

If one wants to learn more about Pope Francis’ vision of this process and how it colors his entire ecclesiology, some important resources may help:

The first is his programmatic homily given Oct. 17, 2015, at the ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the modern synod of bishops created by Pope Paul VI. Many theologians see that speech, along with “Evangelii Gaudium,” as a roadmap for understanding the goals of the Francis agenda from its earliest formulations.

In that homily, Pope Francis expresses his desire for what he calls an “inverted pyramid” ecclesiology. He says that in the church founded by Christ, with special reference to the washing of the feet found in John’s Gospel, “the top is located beneath the base.” Thus, he upends the familiar power structures with the pope at the top, the clergy serving to carry out his mission as dutiful foot soldiers or franchise managers, and the vastly most numerous segment of the Church – the believing laity – left mainly to “pay, pray and obey.”

Instead he says the bishops, cardinals and pope are themselves “ministers,” which comes from “minus” the Latin word for “less.” Interestingly enough, its polar opposite leads to the word magisterium, from “magis” meaning “more,” albeit through a circuitous etymological route. Christians cannot bifurcate these two realities, pitting one against the other. Yet, the institutionalism that would put the clergy somehow “above” the people of God is critiqued constantly by Pope Francis’ condemnation of clericalism and triumphalism.

The second indispensable reflection on the topic was given to the faithful of the diocese of Rome on Sept. 18, 2021. This rather lengthy exhortation calls the Body of Christ across differences in charism and state in life to recognize ever more fully the “infallible sensus fidei in credendo.” This means emphasizing that each of the baptized have a “sense of the faith,” and that anyone in a shepherding role is called to walk “in front, in between, and behind” the flock.  Only in this way can the sensus fidei give “everyone a share in the dignity of the prophetic office of Christ, so that they can discern the paths of the Gospel in the present time.”

It is in this text that we get Francis’ rejection of a parliamentarian approach to collective discernment, where one side must either absorb or obliterate the other. Instead, the question and response that must interrogate our lives is as follows: “If I am a Christian, if I believe in Christ, how do I give that gift to others? God’s universal saving will is offered to history, to all humanity, through the incarnation of his Son, so that all men and women can become his children, brothers and sisters among themselves, thanks to the mediation of the Church. This is how reconciliation is accomplished between God and humanity, that unity of the whole human family, of which the Church is a sign and instrument.”

The last reference shedding light on Pope Francis’ vision for the synod was given on Oct. 9, 2021, mere hours before the 59th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, from which this whole process and event cannot be dissociated. It’s here that he quotes the French conciliar theologian Yves Congar in saying “there is no need to create another Church, but rather to create a different Church.” Pope Francis traces three potential risks for the synod and the renewed church he hopes to develop through its processes of candid discussion and collective discernment: formalism, intellectualism and complacency. All three would result in an undercutting and distorting of the culture of encounter and theology of proximity that should result from active listening and honest storytelling (in that order) as we journey the road of ecclesial belonging together.

He prays for and with all of us at the conclusion: “Come, Holy Spirit! You inspire new tongues and place words of life on our lips: keep us from becoming a ‘museum Church,’ beautiful but mute, with much past and little future. Come among us, so that in this synodal experience we will not lose our enthusiasm, dilute the power of prophecy, or descend into useless and unproductive discussions. Come, Spirit of love, open our hearts to hear your voice! Come, Spirit of holiness, renew the holy People of God! Come, Creator Spirit, renew the face of the earth!”

Our events at Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America are geared toward contributing to this collective spiritual renewal.  We are immensely grateful that so many students in our network are going to be able to speak to their experiences frankly and openly to one another and to others in positions of influential service in the church, even including the Servant of the Servants of God himself, Pope Francis.

*This piece is adapted from one that ran in the Catholic Star Herald Newspaper, Oct. 21, 2021.

To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope francis and University Students.

Michael Canaris, PhD is an Associate Professor with the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.  Further bio and publication information can be found here.