The Bishops of France will open their next assembly to lay experts on the environment in an unprecedented “synodality exercise”.

Driving the news

The French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) announced the power-sharing gesture October 11, as La Croix reports.

The idea is that the bishops bring to their next plenary up to two baptised people – man or woman, lay, religious, deacon or priest – who wish “to reflect on the future of mission in their diocese”.

On the agenda at the assembly at the Marian Shrine in Lourdes November 5-6 is the ecological conversion to which the Church and world are called.

Announcing that theme, the CEF said ecological transformation is “both a challenge to our habits of thought and life, and a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of God’s Revelation”.

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The big picture

“Everyone will be mixed, like in a shaker. The aim is to demonstrate the ‘brain storming’ to which the assembly is invited”, the CEF explained with respect to the assembly of laity, religious, deacons, priests and bishops.

“In order to promote freedom of exchange, the meeting will be held behind closed doors”, the Conference continued.

Not that there would have been much room for the press, anyhow.

La Croix said the CEF conference room at Lourdes will be full to capacity, with an estimated 330 people expected to attend the meet.

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Go deeper

The opening of the assembly to non-bishops is the brainchild of CEF President Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the Archbishop of Reims.

De Moulins-Beaufort told La Croix in June that although the “parliamentary mode of functioning” that now characterises Bishops’ assemblies had marked an “evolution”, there was still work to be done in bringing dicussions down to the ground.

That work involves giving laypeople a greater say in the running of the Church, to avoid the temptation to “clericalism” so often condemned by Pope Francis.

La Croix said six non-episcopal guests are slated to speak at the assembly, including the moderator of the Association for Friendship (APA) for homeless people, students and young professionals, as well as the coordinator of the “Farms of the Future” project.

“The idea is to renew the form of the plenary assembly’s interventions, with a kind of 20-minute TED talk, designed to shake things up”, the CEF explained.

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Why it matters

In its announcement of the “synodal exercise” on ecology, the CEF explained that the goal of the assembly is for bishops to be “pushed” by young environmental activists.

“Around Christian communities, many young people are choosing lifestyles that are more or less visible in contrast with the ordinary course of our societies, in the name of their ecological responsibility”, the Conference acknowledged.

“If they do not need the Church to change, some feel that they need a light and another word so that their ecological demand does not turn into an ideology, possibly a violent one”, the CEF continued.

The bishops admitted that the French Catholics “struggle to fully enter into the perspectives opened” by Pope Francis, history’s greenest pope.

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For the record

“It is a wonderful initiative, an opening to the laity in action, a very symbolic first step,” President of Catholic Relief Services, Véronique Fayet, told La Croix.

Fayet – who said she hoped there would be “many women among the guests, but also young people, people with experience of precariousness” – added that:

“Integral ecology is not a matter of debate, but it highlights the urgency of addressing this issue by taking up the clamor of the poor and the clamor of the earth. Christians must be the spearheads of this”.

Including laypeople in the twice-yearly Bishops’ assemblies could become a permanent fixture in the French Church, in the context of the three-year “synodality” reform process the Bishops embarked upon in January.

The process will be marked “consultation, mutual listening, gathering experiences and a taste for shared mission” between bishops and laity, Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, the President of the CEF Studies and Projects Committee, explained at the beginning of this year.

In the meantime, however, the bishops will have work to do after their assembly in Lourdes.

Each prelate will be invited “to reflect with his two guests on the conditions and the implementation of a pastoral care of integral ecology in his diocese”, according to the CEF.

“Back in the field, the latter can then play a role as a stimulus. It is up to each of us to see”.

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