Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, Archbishop of Luxembourg (Archeveche de Luxembourg / SCP)

By Christopher Wells

August 27 2022

At a press conference introducing the Continental Stage of the Synodal Process, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, says the first stage of the Synod produced a great hope that must be transformed into missionary dynamism.

“I am convinced that we are facing an ecclesial dialogue without precedent in the history of the Church,” said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, speaking Friday at a Vatican press conference introducing the second, continental, stage of the ongoing synodal process.

The first stage of the Synod on Synodality was focused on local churches (dioceses and eparchies) and other ecclesial realities, and saw “hundreds of thousands of meetings taking place all over the world, and involving ecclesial realities of various kinds.” The Cardinal, who serves as General Rapporteur of the Synod said, “It was impressive to discover the enthusiasm and creativity of all these groups.”

“It was clear from the very first weeks that the Spirit was at work!”

He explained that the first stage should be understood “as the culmination of communal spiritual discernment,” and that the syntheses produced by the various groups aimed “to gather and express the fruits of the synod process in a way that is understandable even to those who did not participate, indicating how the Holy Spirit’s call to the Church was understood in the local context.”

At the same time, Cardinal Hollerich also acknowledged that “the listening and discernment process was certainly not perfect,” but insisted that “we also know that we are trying to be more and more the image of the synodal Church, we are also learning from our mistakes.”

In an interview with Vatican News following the press conference, Cardinal Hollerich spoke about his own experience of the synodal process in his diocese of Luxembourg. He said one of the things he would have liked to have seen was broader discussions, “so that real dialogue can be established, not only between me [as the Bishop] and the people present, but also among the people themselves.” In that sense, he said, “I think the Synod must continue… also on the local level.”

Nonetheless, he said he was hopeful for the synodal process in the diocese, and said he was looking forward to seeing the dialogue continue.

The Cardinal also noted positive surprises from the Synodal Process in Luxembourg, including how well people coming from different perspectives were able to work together. “It was a surprise how well they got along,” he said. “They had no dissent at all in the team. In their discussions, of course, sometimes, but they all supported the result. So that was for me, very beautiful. People did not follow the direction they were supposed to have or the positions they were supposed to represent, but they all found together.”

“That shows that it functions, that the Holy Spirit works and that He brings people together.”

One year into the synodal process, and at the beginning of its second stage, Cardinal Hollerich said Pope Francis’ description of synodality as a process “exactly expresses” his own feelings. “It is a way together. It is a listening. And it gives me great consolation to read what people say.”

He added, “I am not afraid of the diversity. I think that’s normal. But we have a unity which is much bigger than the diversity we experience now. And I’m looking forward to the whole process and to continue the process and to go into the next continental phase of it.”

Complete transcript of Cardinal Hollerich’s interview with Christopher Wells of Vatican News:

Vatican News (CW): Cardinal Hollerich, thank you for your presentation this afternoon. I wanted to ask, especially after one year of synodality, of the synodal process, Pope Francis has described synodality as a process. What would you say we have learned from the past year? And do you see any changes to the process in light of the experience that we’ve had so far?

Cardinal Hollerich: So first, I am very hopeful that we quoted Pope Francis at the beginning because it’s tremendous, because what he says, in very simple sentences exactly expresses my feeling after one year of the Synodal process. He is so right in saying these things. It is a way together. It is a listening. And it gives me deep consolation to read what people say. And I am not afraid of the diversity. I think that’s normal. But we have a unity which is much bigger than the diversity we experience now. And I’m looking forward to the whole process and to continue the process and to go into the next continental phase of it. So it is… I feel very thankful to the Pope and to God, or to God and the Pope, that I could, can serve the church at this particular moment, which is something very important. We are writing church history.

Vatican News: Do you foresee any changes to the process from what you’ve already planned in light of the experience that we’ve had so far?

Cardinal Hollerich: I do not see an exact change, but I think that we have to pay attention to listen to everybody and that everybody feels he or she gets listened to. So not just the specialists, not just those who want or want to fight a church war and so on, but really listen to everybody and take people seriously. Take the answer seriously because they speak out of their normal life of what they experience, where they get hurt, where they feel happy. And how can I be a shepherd of the church if I do not know this?

Vatican News: One of the things that was very striking in your presentation, you said that we are not perfect. We have been learning things. Can you tell us… You spoke about learning from the mistakes that have happened so far. Can you give us an idea of what you’ve learned from the mistakes and challenges going forward?

Cardinal Hollerich: Yes, personally, I can say that in Luxembourg now, I… in my own diocese, I did not participate in the process because I wanted people to feel free and I had trust. Then, of course, when I got the report from the team I had instituted and then we had one large gathering and I would say, it’s not enough. Now there should have been more gatherings afterward so that the real dialogue can be established not only between me and the people present, but also among the people themselves. But I think the Synod must continue in that sense, also on the local level. I mean, there are so many things which are local, which are important. It’s not just about church politics now, but how can our communities be more full of life? How can they really serve? How can they have their mission? And in general, I felt that mission – I again take the Luxembourg example. Mission is a bit too short.

Vatican News: Will you be able in your diocese to continue that synodal process, maybe in parallel to the universal process of the Synod that’s going on now at the continental level?

Cardinal Hollerich: I shall try to do it. How much I shall succeed, I do not know because I have just 24 hours a day. But of course, we have to do it. We have to continue. And we have also the different councils. So the priest council, the pastoral council of the diocese and so on, the Bishop’s Council, and I want to constitute them all together. And they have of course not, they should not have the feeding. Now we are the important ones, but they represent the people and they should go back to the people they represent also for continuing this dialogue. I’m looking forward to it.

Vatican News: It’s very easy for journalists to focus on the negative or controversial aspects of the Synodal process. But I think we can also expect some positive advancements already early in this process. Pope Francis again has spoken about the surprises of the Spirit. Are there some positive surprises that you’ve experienced that you’d like to share with people?

Cardinal Hollerich: Yes. Already for the team I constituted. So I put two laypeople in charge, a man and a woman. I had three priests in the team and then two young ladies, youth, the students. And I choose one more conservative and one more progressive. And it was a surprise how well they got along. They had no dissent at all in the team. In their discussions, of course, sometimes, but they all supported the result. So that was for me, very beautiful. People did not follow the direction they were supposed to have or the positions they were supposed to represent, but they all found together. And of course, they met more often than the different groups. But that shows that it functions, that the Holy Spirit works and that He brings people together. And I also heard from the people in the team that they got new ideas. So how they can be more fully Christian in our life, in our society. And that’s great.

Vatican News: One final question. Do you have a word of encouragement for people going into the next phase and what the people of God as individuals, as local churches, can do to continue the process of Synodality?

Cardinal Hollerich: [00:06:57] So the first thing, You are the holy people of God, and that is something great and you have something to say. I am a bishop. I do a lot of confirmations. We confirm young people at the age 17 normally. But I have also many, many confirmations of adults, several hundred a year who missed the opportunity. And I believe in what I do. I mean, I confer the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit works in persons and I, who conferred the Holy Spirit, I should be able to listen to Him.

Vatican News: Thank you very much.

Vatican News