Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Gerard O’ConnellMay 02, 2024
Parish priests who are part of an international gathering to provide input to the Synod of Bishops on synodality meet in small groups April 29, 2024, at a retreat center in Sacrofano, outside of Rome. (CNS photo/Courtesy of the Synod of Bishops)

Pope Francis has told parish priests that without their voices, the church will “never be able to learn how to walk together and to set out on the path of synodality.”

The pope said this in a letter that he gave to nearly 200 parish priests who had participated in an international gathering of “parish priests for the synod” held outside Rome, from April 29 to May 2, whom he received in a private audience this morning.

The international meeting was convened to “hear the voices” of the world’s parish priests in preparation for the final session of the Synod on Synodality, which will be held this fall at the Vatican from Oct. 2 to Oct 27. Participants at the first session of the synod in October 2023 recognized that the absence of contributions from parish priests was a major weakness in the synodal process.

Parish priests from more than 100 countries across the globe, including seven from the United States and three from Canada, were invited to Rome for the international meeting as representatives of the world’s roughly 400,000 priests, the vast majority of whom work in parishes.

Francis began his letter by recognizing the dedication of parish priests and thanking them for their invaluable service. “The Church could not go on without your dedication and your pastoral service,” he said. “So before all else, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the generous work that you do each day, sowing seeds of the Gospel in every kind of soil.”

He recalled the vastly different kinds of parishes in which priests serve, from “those on the outskirts of the great cities,” such as he had experienced in Buenos Aires, to “those in sparsely populated areas that are the size of vast provinces,” as well as “those in town centers in many European countries, where ancient basilicas house dwindling and aging communities, to those where celebrations are held beneath the branches of great trees and the songs of birds mix with the voices of small children.”

“Parish priests know from within the life of God’s People their joys and hardships, their resources and their needs,” Francis said, and for this reason, “a synodal Church needs its parish priests.” Indeed, he said, “Without priests, we will never be able to learn how to walk together and to set out on the path of synodality.”

He recalled that the synthesis report from the synod’s first session in October 2023 clearly stated that “parishes, beginning with their structures and the organization of parish life, are called to think of themselves primarily as being of service to the mission that the faithful carry out in society, in family life and the workplace, without concentrating exclusively on their own activities and their organizational needs.”

He insisted that, “Parish communities increasingly need to become places from which the baptized set out as missionary disciples and to which they return, full of joy, in order to share the wonders worked by the Lord through their witness (cf. Lk 10:17).”

Francis told the world’s parish priests that by listening to the Lord’s spirit “we will discover how to set our ministry free from the things that wear us down and rediscover its most authentic core, the proclamation of God’s word and the gathering of the community for the breaking of bread.”

The Jesuit pope then offered three suggestions that “can help to inspire your lifestyle and activity as pastors.”

First, he asked them “to live out your specific ministerial charism in ever greater service to the varied gifts that the Spirit sows in the People of God.” Quoting the decree on the ministry and life of priests from the Second Vatican Council, he said, “It is urgent to discover with faith, the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, be they of a humble or more exalted form,” which “are indispensable for evangelizing any number of human situations and contexts.”

Pope Francis said he was “convinced that in this way you will bring to light many hidden treasures and feel less alone in the demanding task of evangelization,” and “you will experience the joy of being true fathers, who do not dominate others but rather bring out in them, men and women alike, great and precious possibilities.”

Second, he suggested that they “learn to practice the art of communal discernment, employing for this purpose the method of ‘conversation in the Spirit,’ which has proved so helpful in the synodal journey.” He said he felt certain that by doing so they would “reap from it many good fruits, not only in structures of communion such as parish councils, but in many other fields as well.”

[Cardinal Cupich: 3 ways the synod’s ‘conversations in the Spirit’ can revolutionize the church]

He recalled that the synthesis report highlighted discernment as “a key element in the pastoral activity of a synodal Church,” and emphasized the importance of discernment taking place “in pastoral settings, in a way adapted to differing contexts, in order to illumine the concreteness of ecclesial life.” In this way, the report said, the community can “plan in the light of the Spirit pastoral projects that go beyond the mere programming of activities.”

As a third suggestion, Francis urged parish priests “to base everything you do in a spirit of sharing and fraternity among yourselves and with your bishops.” He said this suggestion emerged forcefully from the International Conference for the Permanent Formation of Priests held in Rome in February in which over 800 bishops, priests, and lay and consecrated men and women from 18 countries participated.

He told them: “We cannot be authentic fathers unless we are first sons and brothers. And we cannot foster communion and participation in the communities entrusted to our care unless, before all else, we live out those realities among ourselves.” Indeed, he said, “Only in this way will we be credible and our activity not end up scattering what others have already gathered.”

Pope Francis concluded his letter by inviting the over 200 parish priests who participated in the international meeting “to be missionaries of synodality, among yourselves and, once you return home, with your fellow parish priests.” He asked them “to encourage reflection, with a synodal and missionary mindset, on the renewal of the ministry of parish priests,” and to provide their contributions to the General Secretariat of the Synod. He told them, “The purpose of the present International Meeting was to listen to parish priests, but that cannot finish today: we need to continue to hear from you.”

“I am at your side in this process, in which I myself am taking part,” he assured them. “I bless all of you from the heart, and in turn, I need to feel your closeness and the support of your prayers.”

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts during Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 19, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)
The pope devoted his entire Pentecost homily to describing how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians with both “power and gentleness.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2024
Today’s text from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that henceforth, as a rule, the Holy See will not declare any alleged spiritual phenomenon, such as an apparition, as authentic‚ that is, “of divine origin.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 17, 2024
Cardinal Robert McElroy, Bishop Robert Barron and Bishop Daniel Flores joined moderator Gloria Purvis for a roundtable discussion on the rise of polarization in the church.
Michael O’BrienMay 17, 2024
Whether carefully reflected upon or chosen at random, picking a confirmation name is a personal and spiritual journey for Catholics, reflecting a connection to the saints or a loved one and a commitment to embodying their virtues.
America StaffMay 17, 2024