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Robert Mickens, in his first post-synod Letter from Rome, looks at the importance Pope Francis places on his role not just as Bishop of Rome but as Primate of Italy. There’s a not-to-be-overlooked significance to this, Mickens writes, especially given new and “surprising” episcopal appointments to the major archdioceses of Bologna and Palermo.

You can talk about living in a universal and globalized church all you like, but the reality is that its Italian component is still the engine that drives the train. [Pope Francis] knows this. And that’s why he’s making exerted efforts to change the mentality and complexion of its hierarchy…. [P]erhaps the real issue now is to see that how Pope Francis is shaping the Church in Italy – especially through episcopal appointments – may be a good indication of how he hopes to shape it in other parts of the world, too. At least, that’s what many are hoping.

Read the latest Letter from Rome here.

Also, the editors comment on the “real achievement” of the just-concluded Synod on the Family, “the reinvigoration of the synodal process itself, one in which bishops feel free to speak their minds, to disagree with one another, and even to explore the possibility that reform is essential to the church’s evangelical mission.” The synod, Francis said,

was about opening “closed hearts” and dispensing with the “superiority and superficiality” with which some approach “difficult cases and wounded families.” He dismissed “conspiracy theories” about the synod, and implored bishops to move beyond formulas “encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.” In defending the family against “ideological and individualist assaults,” he emphasized that the church’s “first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord.” Catholics must guard against the self-righteousness of the prodigal son’s jealous elder brother.

In ceremonies commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the synod process, Francis laid out a vision for the fulfillment of the promises of the Second Vatican Council that was anything but ad hoc or confusing. The Synod of Bishops, he noted, “was meant to keep alive the image of the Ecumenical Council and to reflect the conciliar spirit and method.” This effort at collegial governance “is one of the most precious legacies” of the council. “Synod” literally means walking together, the pope pointed out, and that process of discernment includes all the baptized. The laity are not just recipients of church teaching, but have an active role in safeguarding the faith. It is the faith of the whole people of God, the sensus fidelium, that protects the church from error, Francis reminded the bishops. “How would we ever be able to speak about the family without engaging families, listening to their joys and their hopes, their sorrows and their anguish?” the pope said. A “synodal church is a listening church.... It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.”

Read all of “Walking Together” here.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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