“Many are enthusiastic about synodality, but not everyone”

Pope Francis receives greetings from Bro Timothy Radcliffe, OP
During the Synod of Synodality

Interview with Bro Timothy Radcliffe, OP, who preached the retreat for bishops from around the world participating in the Synod.

“Many brothers are enthusiastic about synodality, but not all. Some see it as a waste of time. But we all have a duty to the Church to give it as much support as we honestly can. Open disagreement is fine.”  Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master of the Order (1992-2001), who was commissioned by Pope Francis to preach the retreat for bishops from around the world participating in the Synod on Synodality, where he was one of the brothers who assisted in the synodal work,  apprises us in the following interview with the Ordo Praedicatorum media.

“Dominicanes in synodi coetu de synodalitate”

1 – Your participation in the Synod is like the presence of a preacher who tries to enlighten the enlightened. What are the historical or spiritual resources of the narrative of the Dominican charism that accompany the Church on this journey?

            It is true that for the first three days, the members of the Synod had to listen to me, but my hope in being there was to listen to them and to learn! Marie-Dominque Chenu taught us that Dominicans are always students! After every encounter his question was ‘What did you learn?’

Our great gift for the Church at this time of the synod is eight hundred years of “communitarian government”, as it called by the Book of Constitutions and Ordinations (LCO). All our lives are founded on listening: listening to God’s Word, to each and other and to the people to whom we minister. This is a great art in a society which is filled with the noise of people shouting.

2 – What lights do we have to preach in the midst of pandemics and wars?

            The pandemic has left millions of people isolated and lonely, afraid to engage with others. We should invite people to take the risk of giving their lives to others. It is risky. As Herbert McCabe liked to say; ‘If you love, you will get hurt or even killed. If you do not love, you are dead already.’

The war in Ukraine was raging when the Assembly began. Hamas committed its horrific atrocities four days after the Synod opened For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, there is the danger of nuclear war. I never thought that I would live to see this. We shall only be able to preach peace if we are deeply at peace, with those unlike us, with our brothers and sisters and, most fundamentally, with ourselves, by the grace of Lord who promised his peace which the world cannot give. 

3 – What would be the fundamental issues to be discussed in the Church and which require urgent decisions?

                     Pope Francis is always saying, ‘The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of the Synod’ and we cannot tell the Spirit to hurry up! We can beg God to hurry up, but grace works as He wills. For me the three vital issues which we need to address are: the development of new ministries so that the laity, and especially women, can have a more active role in the life of the Church; 

Secondly, at the last session of the Synod, I felt that many of our brothers and sisters in the Global South did not feel fully heard. How can the Church can become a sign of unity for the world, a community in which every culture is able to offer its gifts and be liberated from its biases? Finally, the Synod was deeply, and rightly, critical of clericalism which Pope Francis sees as poisoning the Church. I agree, but we need therefore to present an attractive and affirmative theology of the ordained priesthood. We shall get nowhere without the energetic support of the clergy and that is often absent.

For all of these issues, we need the full participation of theologians to aid us in our dialogue with the Word of God, the Tradition and the world. We need their help to discern what is a healthy development of the Church’s teaching and practice and what would be a deviation. 

4 – How can a Dominican contribute to building peace in the world?

                  By Friendship and conversation with those who think differently. This is at the heart of our fraternal life and government. Friendship in Christ belongs to our participation of the eternal friendship of the Triune God. Friendship is more than feeling warm about others. It needs all of our empathy, intelligence and imagination to reach out to them, and feel with their skin. True friendship is transformative of who we are. 

5 – Would you like to add anything?

                        When he was Master, Vincent de Couesnongle spoke of how courage and cowardice are both contagious and that we all have the duty to spread courage. We all have the Christian duty to radiate courage and hope. Many of the brethren are excited by synodality, but by no means all! Some see it as a waste of time. But we all have a duty to the Church to give it all the support that we honestly can. Open disagreement is fine. Cynical detachment is not. 

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, (London, 1945), is a Dominican theologian, a son of the Province of England. He taught Sacred Scripture at Oxford University, at the Dominican Centre known as Blackfriars Hall, and was elected Prior Provincial in 1987. Subsequently, he was Master of the Order of Preachers from 1992 to 2001.
In January 2023, Pope Francis commissioned Bro Timothy to preach the retreat for bishops from around the world participating in the Synod on Synodality. The retreat took place from 1 to 3 October, on the eve of the Synodal Assembly. Timothy’s meditations were published by the official Vatican media.

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