2023-11-08 VATICAN

Brother Ernesto Sánchez in the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Brother Ernesto Sánchez, Superior General, was one of the 5 representatives of the Union of Superiors General (USG) at the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in October at the Vatican. Here down you can read Br. Ernesto’s text sent to the Provincial in his letter dated 6 November.

During the Assembly of the Union of Superiors General last May, five representatives, including myself, were elected to participate in the Synod Assemblies of October 2023 and 2024. The rules of procedure of this Synod, in n. 2 § 2 indicate: “Among the Members ex electione, the Roman Pontiff has established that the ten Clerics belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life, mentioned in Art. 2, 4° of ICSA, are to be replaced by five women and five men belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life, elected respectively by the Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General (Sisters)”. In October 2018, when I participated in the Synod on Youth, an article of the regulations stated that the Pope had given voting rights to the two participating Brothers (De La Salle and Marist). Now the regulations indicate that any member of the USG (brother or cleric) will have the right to vote, as well as the religious sisters. Lay participants have also been given the right to vote. We welcome the opening of this door in the Church, as part of the synodal process that has been underway since 2021.

On 30 September, we celebrated the Ecumenical Vigil “Together”, in which Pope Francis invited us to deepen our understanding of the theme of silence. He said: “Brothers and sisters, in common prayer we ask to learn again to be silent: to listen to the voice of the Father, the call of Jesus and the groaning of the Spirit. Let us ask that the Synod be a kairós of fraternity, a place where the Holy Spirit will purify the Church from gossip, ideologies and polarization”.

For the next three days, from 1 to 3 October, the Synod participants were on retreat in the “Fraterna Domus” residence. It was an excellent experience, a very helpful way for all of us together to start the Assembly that would last the whole month. Every morning there were two meditations with time for personal silence. In the afternoons there were times for sharing in groups. These days helped us to get to know each other, to focus on the theme of prayer and listening, and to create a fraternal spirit that continued throughout the Assembly.

Assembly in the Vatican

On 4 October we began the Assembly in the Paul VI Hall, using round tables (called “small circles”), each with eleven participants and a facilitator. The table membership changed every 4 or 5 days, allowing us to meet and exchange with different people throughout the month. I can say that I had a very positive experience at my four roundtable groups.

During the Assembly, it was important to remember what Pope Francis said to us on that first day:

“I want to say that the Synod is not a parliament; it is something else. The Synod is not a gathering among friends to resolve some current problems or to give opinions; it is something else. Let us not forget, brothers and sisters, that we are not the protagonist of the Synod: it is the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is in our midst to guide us, it will be a good Synod. If there are other ways of going about things, based on human, personal or ideological interests, it will not be a Synod, but more of a parliamentary meeting, which is another thing. A Synod is a journey that the Holy Spirit makes”.

Throughout the month, we discussed in some depth the topics of synodality, mission, communion and participation. This Assembly has been part of the process of synodality that began in 2021 at local, diocesan and Episcopal Conference levels. Continental reports were made and released prior to this Assembly. The two Unions of Superiors General also offered our contribution. Based on these contributions, an Instrumentum Laboris was prepared, which served as a basis and guide for our discussions.

The final document, approved in the Assembly by more than 2/3 in all its parts and paragraphs, expresses the thinking and ideas coming from the small circles and the Assembly, in the light of the Spirit. There are key points in the document that both encourage and challenge us: “The Face of the Synodal Church”, is the title of the first chapter. “All disciples, all missionaries”, the second chapter; and the third: “Weaving bonds, building community”.

Prophetic role of consecrated life

The document reminds us of the prophetic role of consecrated life: “The diverse families that compose religious life demonstrate the beauty of discipleship and holiness in Christ, whether in their distinctive forms of prayer, their service among the people, whether through forms of community life, the solitude of the contemplative life or at the frontier of new cultures. Those in consecrated life have often been the first to sense important historical changes and to heed the promptings of the Spirit. Today, too, the Church needs their prophetic voice and action.” (translated from the original Italian) (Synthesis Report of the First Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 4-29 October 2023, n. 10, b).

The document on “A Synodal Church on Mission” presents a number of important themes, several of which touch directly on Marist life and mission. I believe that many of the processes that we use in the Institute, in our organisations and structures, include this feature of synodality. In recent General Chapters, as well as in Provincial and District Chapters and Assemblies, more and more time is being devoted to fraternal and contemplative dialogue, in search of listening to the Spirit. As brothers and lay people, we are increasingly making progress in the area of co-responsibility and shared leadership. We are being invited, then, to continue journeying together, in synodality, building the global Marist family, through meetings, networks, sharing of resources, solidarity, etc. There are themes in the document that invite us to be closer to the poor and the young, with open ears and hearts. The topic of migration appears, a phenomenon in so many parts of the world as a result of wars and political and economic upheavals.

There is also an important call to us, as religious and lay Marists, to try to connect better with the synodal processes in parishes and dioceses. Perhaps not many of us have been involved so far, either because of not feeling invited or lack of interest.

The experience I have had this month has led me to feel a greater connection to the Church. I was happy to meet a large number of Cardinals and Bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay men and women who participated in the Assembly, who know and appreciate the life and mission of our Institute. Our personal presence in Synod events at the local and diocesan levels will also help to raise awareness of the Marist vocation, both consecrated and lay.

The synodal process is opening new doors in the Church. The Spirit is moving us to conversion, both personal and communal, and to engage in mission in full communion and participation. As Marists of Champagnat we are called to be the maternal face of God in the Church and in the world, following the inspiration and example of Mary.

Br. Ernesto Sánchez – Superior General
Letter to the Provincials and Superior of Districts – 6 November 2023

Interview with Br. Ernesto Sánchez,
representative of the USG at the Synod on Synodality


Declaration for peace and the cessation of vi...


Fratelli Maicao: a ray of hope in times of ad...