Mexican Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi: Synodality Isn’t a Fashion

‘You Are a Living Part of the Church and She Also Depends on You’

Mexican Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi
Participation © Cathopic. PJ Itapúa Py

Mexican Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi, Bishop Emeritus of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and responsible for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM), offers Exaudi’s readers his weekly article entitled “Synodality Is Not a Fashion.”

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 There is no lack of those that judge Pope Francis’ insistence on our being a synodal Church as if it were a novelty, a passing fashion, a personal idea. It’s not so. Whoever affirms this, doesn’t know the history of the Church. The Church has always proceeded like this, in one way or another, with more or less consultations.  The fact that Pope Paul VI instituted the Synod of Bishops over 50 years ago, shows that, above all, since Vatican Council II there has been a desire to consult the ecclesial community on different issues.  For example, before being a Bishop, I took part in the Synod of Bishops in 1990, when the subject of priestly formation was addressed. The Exhortation Pastores Dabo <Vobis> issued from it. I was convoked as an expert on these subjects, given the offices I had held as President of the Organizations of Seminaries in Mexico and in Latin America. A form has always been sent to all dioceses, ecclesial organizations, and Universities to consult them on the subject of the respective Synod. The fact is that many never took into account that consultation or contributed anything. There is always a wide consultation of the People of God for the election of new Bishops but in a very discreet and reserved way. Synodality isn’t a novelty; Pope Francis is only insisting on it.

The Code of Canon Law, especially in its 1983 update, ordered that different Councils be established everywhere, for the Bishop to listen to the People of God before making decisions. The Presbyteral Council and the Economy Council, the College of Consultors are prescribed and the Pastoral Council is proposed, in which laypeople and Religious also take part. Moreover, in many dioceses, there is a Council of the Laity, a Seminary Council, a Council of Consecrated Life, although they might have different names. This consultation is so important that, in some cases, if the Bishop hasn’t asked for opinions ahead of time, his decision is legally invalid. Pope Francis has asked us to give life to these Councils so that they not remain a mere formality without significance in diocesan life. In the appointment of new parish priests, the Bishop listens to the community in different ways; however, public consultation isn’t held, as if it were an assembly proceeding by majority vote. The Church isn’t a democratic system, but a participatory community with a responsible hierarch.

When we established the regulation in Toluca’s Seminary, we priests wrote a draft, which we presented to all the students so that they could give their word; their opinion made us change some articles. When in 1991 I arrived as Bishop in Tapachula, in Chiapas, I asked the diocesan assembly, made up of priests, women religious and laypeople, to propose names for the diocese’s most important offices: Vicar General, Chancellor, Bursar, Rector of the Seminary, and Vicar of Pastoral Care. I did the same every three years in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. They proposed their candidates in secret ballots and then, in prayer and after new consultations, I took the decision. There was a case in which, in the Diocesan Pastoral Care Council, we had to decide on the subject of the diocesan assembly. Subjects were proposed among the thirty members; I suggested different ones. The proposals were taken to all the parishes and, after two months, the majority suggested a different subject from the one I proposed. As they know the realities better than I do, I accepted their opinion and didn’t impose mine. I authorized what the majority proposed.  The result was magnificent and all were happy with the community participation. So, synodality isn’t a fashion, but a way of living the Church as communion, as People of God, in which we all take part. The episcopal or parochial authority isn’t removed, but the participation of all the baptized is promoted.


 The fact that synodality isn’t something new, even if called in another way, was expressed by Pope Francis in an address to the top executives of Catholic Action in France. “Your Catholic Action Movements have developed, in their history, true synodal practices, especially in group life, which is the basis of your experience. The Church as a whole is also immersed in a synodal process, and I count on its contribution. In this connection, let us remember that synodality isn’t a mere discussion; it’s not an “adjective.” Never adjectivize the substantiality of life. Neither is synodality the pursuit of the consensus of the majority; a Parliament does that, as is done in politics. It’s not about a plan, a program to implement. No. It’s a style that must be adopted, in which the main protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who expresses Himself first of all in the Word of God, read, meditated, and shared in common: (01-13-2022).

In its Preparatory Document, the Commission for the World Synod of Bishops, states: “Synodality is much more than the holding of ecclesial meetings and Bishops’ assemblies, or a question of simple internal administration in the Church. Synodality indicates the specific way of living and of working of the Church — People of God –, which manifests and carries out concretely her being communion in walking together, in coming together in assembly, and in all her members taking part actively in her evangelizing mission” (No. 10).

“In the first millennium, ‘to walk together,” namely, to practice synodality, was the usual way of proceeding of the Church understood as ‘a people gathered in virtue of the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ It’s in this ecclesial horizon, inspired by the principle of the participation of all in ecclesial life, that Saint John Chrysostom can say: “Church and Synod are synonymous.” Also in the second millennium, when the Church has stressed the hierarchical function more, this way of proceeding did not diminish: when Popes wished to define dogmatic truths, they consulted the Bishops to know the faith of the whole Church, resorting to the authority of the sense of faith of all the People of God, which is “infallible ’in the faith’” (No. 11).


If your parish priest or your Bishop invites you to express your word on different ecclesial subjects, express what the Spirit inspires you in prayer, always be ready to accept the decision of the one who presides over the ecclesial community. And if they don’t invite you, look for a way to have your opinion reach them, in a respectful but clear and incisive way. Propose the changes you consider necessary for the Church to live better her vocation and mission. Don’t say you don’t care, or that they haven’t asked you for your opinion; you are a living part of the Church and she also depends on you. Courage and participate!

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester