Pope Francis calls silence ‘essential’ at prayer vigil for Synod on Synodality

October 2, 2023 - 10:15 AM
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Pope Francis leads an ecumenical prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, September 30, 2023. (Vatican Media/­Handout)

VATICAN — Pope Francis told those gathered at an ecumenical prayer vigil days before the opening of the Synod on Synodality that silence is essential for Christians.

“In a world full of noise, we are no longer accustomed to silence; indeed sometimes we struggle with it, because silence forces us to face God and ourselves. Yet it lies at the foundation of the Word and of life,” the pope said in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 30.

Before thousands of young people and Christian leaders from around the world, Francis emphasized the importance of silent prayer.

“Silence is essential in the life of the believer,” he said. “Indeed, it lies at the beginning and end of Christ’s earthly existence. The Word, the Word of the Father, became ‘silence’ in the manger and on the cross, on the night of the Nativity and on the night of his Passion.”

Pope Francis spoke near the end of a two-hour prayer vigil held on the eve of the Oct. 4 opening of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The first of two sessions of the synod is taking place at the Vatican throughout October.

The prayer service, called “Together,” which was organized by the ecumenical community Taizé, included eight minutes of silence for personal prayer.

“Like the great crowd in the Book of Revelation, we prayed in silence, listening to a ‘great silence,’” Francis said. “Indeed, silence is important and powerful: it can express unspeakable sorrow in the face of misfortune, but also, in moments of joy, a gladness that goes beyond words.”

Three other heads of churches attended the prayer vigil together with other Catholic and Christian leaders: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Primate of the Anglican Church Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. The three leaders also had individual private meetings with Pope Francis the morning of Sept. 30.

The two-hour service featured the singing of Taizé hymns and other songs, scripture readings, testimonies by young Christians from around the world, a re-enactment of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and a prayer called “The Way of God the Creator,” which reflected on the gift of God’s creation as spoken about in the Bible.

There were also intercessory prayers introduced by Christian church leaders and read by fraternal delegates to the synod. Fraternal delegates are synod participants from other Christian traditions. Unlike most delegates, they do not have the right to vote.

After the prayer vigil on the evening of Sept. 30, through the evening of Oct. 3, the synod’s participants will take part in a spiritual retreat in Sacrofano, Italy, about 15 miles north of Rome.

In his reflection, Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of silence for the Synod on Synodality.

“Silence, in the ecclesial community, makes fraternal communication possible, where the Holy Spirit draws together points of view,” he said. “What is more, silence enables true discernment, through attentive listening to the Spirit’s ‘sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26) that echo, often hidden, within the People of God.”

He added that silence is also essential for the journey of Christian unity.

“Indeed, [silence] is fundamental to prayer, and ecumenism begins with prayer and is sterile without it. Jesus himself prayed that his disciples ‘may all be one’ (John 17:21),” he said.

Pope Francis emphasized that silence is also an important aspect of evangelization, because “truth does not need loud cries to reach people’s hearts.”

“God does not like declarations and shouting, gossiping and noise: rather, he prefers, as he did with Elijah, to speak in the ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12), in a ‘thread of resounding silence,’” he said.

“We too, then, like Abraham, like Elijah, like Mary, need to free ourselves from so much noise in order to hear his voice. For only in our silence does his word resound,” the pope said.

During the prayer vigil, copies of the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” and the San Damiano Cross — before which St. Francis of Assisi received the Lord’s commission to rebuild the Church — were present on the terrace in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

After the formal end of the service, people were invited to approach the cross and icon for a moment of personal prayer and meditation while the song “Jesus, Remember Me,” was played.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of Christian young adults from around Europe participated in workshops and a praise and worship service organized by the Diocese of Rome at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, before walking about three miles to St. Peter’s Basilica for the ecumenical prayer vigil.