Interview with writer Austen Ivereigh on Synodality
This is Enrique Soros’s interview with Austen Ivereigh, the well-known Catholic journalist, writer, and commentator. He lives in the United Kingdom and is known for his books on and with Pope Francis, which have been translated into numerous languages, and for his work in the media on topics related to the Catholic Church.
Here, Ivereigh analyzes the experience of synodality at the Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America in Mexico City (November 20-28, 2021), placing it in the context of the universal Church. He also offers some insights on the book he wrote with Pope Francis, Let Us Dream.
What is this Ecclesial Assembly for you?
I think the whole world is looking at this Ecclesial Assembly here in Mexico because it’s an example of how the Church could be in the future when the people of God are invited to participate in the decisions which affect them and when they are invited to become missionary disciples to proclaim Jesus Christ and, at the same time, to announce that there are relationships that the Church represents; relationships of respect and listening which is part of the proclamation.
The Ecclesial Assembly is an example for the Church and humanity
So, for me the Ecclesial Assembly is not just an example of how the Church can be, it’s also a lesson to the whole of humanity; a humanity that is often polarized and stuck often in divisions and positions. So, maybe synodality offers the whole world away through, a different way of thinking, a bigger way of thinking that allows us to work together.
I think the important thing to realize about this assembly is that people are not here discussing Church doctrine or changing Church structures. They’ve been asked to listen to the cry of the people of God, to understand what is really going on in people’s lives and to come together to reflect on what they’ve heard and to help the bishops work out pastoral priorities so that lay people in this process are subjects of the process, they are active subjects of the discernment and that’s what makes this assembly unique, different from any synod or indeed any other kind of Church gathering that I’ve ever been in.
You can feel in the air, you can feel here from what people say, they feel intensely involved in the future of the Church and that’s a wonderful thing because, when people feel recognized and listened to when they feel that they are genuinely participating then that’s when they take responsibility also for being missionary disciples to take the message of Jesus Christ out into the world.
This Ecclesial Assembly is a baby step, it’s the first step really that the Church anywhere in the world has taken towards being a synodal Church, where the people of God actively participate in the decisions which are taken in the Church. So, you know, one can say that it’s been a very limited process.
When there is synodality, decisions are shared, generating commitment
We’ve learned a lot of lessons this week, things have not always gone well, but one thing that really strikes me is that ordinary Catholics, lay people, religious, whomever—they want to be part of the Church’s decision-making processes. They want to be discerners, if you like, they want to be open to the Holy Spirit, they want to help the Church to be the Church and that’s very important because I think when people feel involved, they feel engaged, then, of course, we have a Church that goes out. We have an evangelizing Church in which people really accept that the equality of the baptized means that they are responsible also for evangelizing the society in which we live.
We already have the doctrine of the Church. Why do we need synodality if we have it all written down?
In the Second Vatican Council, we are asked to read the signs of the times. The Church always proclaims its message in a context, in a social and cultural context, and it’s up to every generation to look at the times in which they live, the society in which they live and to ask: What is the Holy Spirit asking of us? How is it that we need to change in order to evangelize these circumstances?
Synodality consists in asking ourselves what the Holy Spirit is asking of us
And that question: What is the Holy Spirit asking of us? that is the synodal question. Every synod begins with that question and that’s what we’ve begun with here this week in Mexico City and it’s been fascinating, exhilarating, it’s been a lot of fun. There’s life here, there’s real-life here and joy because people feel that they are participating in the Church and that’s a great thing.
Tell us about Let Us Dream, the book you wrote with Pope Francis.
Shortly after lockdown began in March 2020, I wrote to Pope Francis and I said: I think this could be the moment to write a book in which you explain how we can come better out of this crisis. What is the process? How do we convert? How do we change to come out better from this crisis?
He accepted my invitation and we put together a book. It’s called Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. It was published in December 2020 and it’s a short book. You can read it in a sitting, in probably about three hours, and it really helps you.
It’s spiritual guidance for humanity in a time of turbulence and trial that allows us to look at the world we’re living in, to see with the eyes of a missionary disciple, to choose the paths of God, and to realize where we’re being tempted away from them and to take actions, propose actions that help to lead us to a better future.
What is different about this book compared to others?
Let’s see what is happening in the midst of the pandemic, where is God working.
What is completely unique about Let us Dream is that it’s the first time that a pope has ever addressed humanity in a moment of world crisis specifically about that crisis and what he does is he effectively sits down with you, the reader, and he says: Come on, let’s talk this over, let’s look at what’s happening, where is God working? Where is the opposite—the enemy of God—active?
How do we learn to distinguish between those two things? And what are we being called to do? What is the action that needs to follow from that discernment?
So, if you like, it’s a manual of spiritual guidance, of discernment for humanity in a very difficult time that allows us to navigate the crisis and come out of it better, opening ourselves to grace and to the Holy Spirit.
The greatest risk in any crisis, whether it’s a personal crisis or a world crisis, is that we close in on ourselves, we start to pine for the past, or we start to take refuge in abstraction.
What the Pope invites us to do in Let us Dream is to look at the world concretely, see what is happening with the eyes of the missionary disciple, with the heart of the Good Shepherd. Where is the suffering? Where is the pain? Where is God speaking to us through all of this? How do we learn to look out for those signs and to effectively choose the paths of God and build, therefore, a better future.
Transcription of the interview in English: Maribel Acaron, Puerto Rico
Image: Adobe Stock. By Gabriel O.
Enrique Soros, originally from Argentina, has lived for 25 years in Washington, DC, USA, with his wife Erica, with whom he has a son, Martín. He is a social communicator, writer, and public translator. He is a pastoral and communications specialist in the United States, where he is vice-president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry (NCCHM), whose mission is the promotion and integration of the Hispanic pastoral forces in the country. He participates in pastoral and communication projects in Latin America and since 2012 collaborates with CELAM (the Latin American Episcopal Council) in pastoral integration efforts between that institution and the Church in the United States.