2023-09-29 GENERAL HOUSE

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

Br Ernesto Sanchez, Superior General of the Marist Brothers, will be one of the five representatives of the Union of Superiors General (USG) who will attend the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 2023 and October 2024).

The 2023 assembly will begin on 4 October and run until 29 October. Activities in Rome begin on 30 September, when Pope Francis will preside over a prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican entitled “Together”, which will be attended by patriarchs, bishops and church leaders from other Christian traditions, as well as young people from around the world. Synod participants will also be present, followed by a spiritual retreat on 1, 2 and 3 October in preparation for the Synodal Assembly.

Below, in an interview, Br Ernesto talks about his journey towards this important moment in the life of the Church and his hopes.

You participated in the 2018 Synod. What are your hopes for this next Synodal Assembly?

Br. Ernesto: The 2018 Synod on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” was a very positive experience for me. I remember that besides the Pope, Bishops, Priests, and Religious, forty young people attended, coming from all over the world. They were actively involved and their participation was very well received by the Synodal Assembly. 

This October’s Synod is part of an extended process of synodality that we have been carrying out in the Church since 2021, and the Assembly will continue with the same participants in October 2024.

I believe that the preparatory process over these years, as well as the Synod Assemblies themselves, have been and will be important for the Church. All who have taken part at diocesan level and in Bishops’ Conferences, as well as those of us who will be at the Assemblies, have received a clear invitation from the Pope to listen to the voice of the Spirit. The “Instrumentum Laboris” document, the planned group dynamics, and the times of prayer, beginning with the three-day retreat, are all aimed at promoting dialogue, a path towards a deep listening to the Spirit.  My hope is that we will all be truly open to listen from our hearts to the intuitions that the Spirit dictates to us and thus respond better as a Church to the needs of the world in our time. Such openness calls for simplicity in listening to the voice of all present, closely and without prejudice.  Such openness calls for us to be ready, to learn and to be flexible.

You have been asked to represent religious life at this Assembly. What does this mean?

Br. Ernesto: For the Synod Assemblies in October 2023 and 2024, 5 Religious men from the USG and 5 Religious Sisters from the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) have been elected. In this Synodal Assembly, in addition to the Pope and the Bishops present, 25% of the participants will be men and women religious, lay people and priests. This gathering represents the Church of which we are all a part. Each participant has the right to speak and vote during sessions of the Assembly.

I believe that the presence of religious in the Synodal Assembly is important, given the life and mission we have in the Church in so many parts of the world, along with our ongoing call to be prophetic witnesses.

I also believe that the synodal process that we have engaged in over the last few years, as well as the dynamics of the next Assembly, is something that we have been trying to implement for a number of years in our General and Provincial Chapters. I well remember our 2009 Chapter in Rome, when for the first time we used round tables and a process of dialogue to reach a consensus.  In 2017, in Rio Negro, Colombia, during the General Chapter, we encouraged contemplative dialogue at round tables.  And I know that many Provincial and District Chapters in the Institute use similar processes.  Many religious congregations are doing something similar these days. Hence, we bring the benefit of our experience to the Synod through our presence and contribution. This can help all who belong to the Church, starting with the Pope, the Cardinals and Bishops, to communicate and relate better. At the same time, our presence makes a statement that the life and mission of our Religious Institutes remains an integral part of the Church. 

How can we, as a Marist Institute, continue to participate in the synodal process?

Br. Ernesto: The invitation is that we get involved in the synodal process that the Church is embarking on.  This means listening to one another without exception, so that we can listen to the voice of the Spirit in our daily lives and in shaping our vision for the future.  It is a call to the Institute to organise various activities and assemblies with the active participation of all, brothers, laypeople, young people… We are also being invited to become more and more integrated into the dioceses where we conduct our Marist mission.  Right from our origins, St. Marcellin Champagnat urged us to be always in communion with the Church and with other religious congregations. 

We are being invited to follow closely what will happen at the upcoming Synod and also next year’s process leading up to the 2024 Assembly.  Important themes will emerge that need further reflection and implementation in the different societies and cultures where we are established as an Institute.

We count on the inspiration of Mary, who was able to understand the voice of the Spirit, be open and then ready to respond.  She continues to accompany us on this synodal journey of the Church. Let us pray together in a spirit of communion during the Synodal Assembly.


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