Since the start of the Synod on Synodality in 2021, complaints, comments, and questions have come in to the Vatican from around the world – from priests, bishops and laity alike – suggesting that the outcome of the three-year synod process would eventually be determined only by Rome, that the “agenda” would be controlled by a small group of people. Some even suggested that the role of the bishops in this entire process seemed to be diminished.

In answer to those comments, a letter was sent to bishops today from Cardinals Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod and Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg and general relator of the Synod. It starts:

“As you know, at the conclusion of the consultation stage ‘in the particular Churches’, the Synod 2021-2024 process foresees the celebration of Continental Assemblies. It is in view of this Continental stage that we address all of you, who, in your particular Churches, are the principle and foundation of unity of the holy People of God (cf. LG 23). We do so in the name of our common responsibility for the ongoing synodal process as Bishops of the Church of Christ: there is no exercise of ecclesial synodality without exercise of episcopal collegiality.”

It also says:

“On the eve of the Continental Assemblies, we feel the urgency to share a few considerations for a common understanding of the synodal process, its progress and the meaning of the current Continental stage. There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the Synodal Assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the Synod, with the intention of steering the discussion and determining its outcome. However, the theme that the Pope has assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission’. This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process. The expectations for Synod 2021-2024 are many and varied, but it is not the task of the Assembly to address all the issues being debated in the Church.”

Vatican News has summarized the letter that was published in Italian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese:


In a letter addressed to all the diocesan and eparchial bishops throughout the world, the General Secretary and the General Relator of the Synod offer considerations on the role of Bishops in the synodal process.

Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich – respectively the Secretary General and the General Relator of the Synod – have addressed a letter to all the Bishops of the world in which they share “a few considerations for a common understanding of the synodal process, its progress, and the meaning of the current Continental stage.”

Cardinal Grech:

The Cardinals begin by noting that, as Vatican II teaches, each Bishop has “responsibility” for their own particular Church as well as “solicitude for the Universal Church.” The very reason for the synod, they explain, is “to enable the exercise of the latter,” with the current synodal process making “the role of Pastors and their participation in the various stages even more crucial.”

“For a Synodal Church”: the sole theme of the Synod

In their letter, the Cardinals highlight the sole theme of the Synod: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.”

“This is therefore the sole theme we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process.”

The exclusive focus on this theme precludes the possibility of other themes being “surreptitiously introduced” by those who would “exploit the Assembly and disregard the consultation of the People of God.”

The Cardinals say “it is understandable” that in the initial phase of the synod, “the scope or margins of the theme were not clearly defined”. However, they say, these have been gradually clarified in subsequent steps. “It is important to remember,” they say, that the syntheses produced in the diocesan stage “are the result of the discernment of the Pastors regarding the contributions made during the consultation of the People of God.” TO CONTINUE: Letter from Synod leaders highlights crucial role of Bishops in synodal process – Vatican News

Also this from Vatican news:There is no synod without a bishop: In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, explains the role of the Bishops in the synodal process, and why it is important to highlight that role at this stage in the synodal process. Cardinal Grech: There is no synod without a bishop – Vatican News




This is a look at the island nation of Malta that Pope Francis will visit over the weekend, and a personal story at the very end of how one of my trips to Malta, and the Malta stamp in my passport, became the focus of an investigation.

Pope Francis will spend this coming Saturday and Sunday in Malta, the southernmost nation of Europe and an island nation that I have visited several times.

My first visit was in 1983 to attend and report on a Marian Congress being held in this island nation. I made many friends and kept in touch with several of them for decades and we had a reunion on second trip.

My second visit was in the early 90s when I was working at the Vatican. We had six days off at Easter and I decided to return to Malta to spend Holy Week there, and it was one of the more exceptional Holy Week experiences of my life. To spend – to share – especially the Triduum and Easter Sunday with people, 90 percent of whom profess to be Catholic and the majority of whom are practicing Catholics, was a delightful but eminently spiritual experience.

Some priests I knew at the Vatican had told me to contact priests and a bishop who were friends of theirs in Malta, and I ended up learning a lot about the Church in Malta as well as having many privileged viewpoints during the Holy Week liturgies.

Malta is an awesome crossroads of peoples and cultures and histories and rulers – Romans, Moors, Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (more commonly known, of course, as the Order of Malta!), the French and British. Architecture, art and cuisine all reflect these many cultures.

Almost all Maltese are fluent in three languages, Maltese, English and Italian.

Malta is just the right size to be able to visit in four or five days, including the second largest island of Gozo where Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, head of the Synod of Bishops, is from. You will probably find yourself so enjoying Malta, feeling so laid back and relaxed that you could easily decide to spend week.

There is a plethora of water sports, as you might imagine, to which you can add hours of exploring archaeological sites and the islands’ numerous churches. I was particularly enthralled by Mdina and Rabat. Punctuate all of the above activities with hours of enjoying both local and international cuisine.

St. Paul was shipwrecked here and there is a church that bears his name – the church of the Shipwreck of St. Paul – San Pawl Nawfragu in Maltese.

As the sitewww.visitmalta.com, tells us:

Christianity has almost 2000 years of history in Malta. According to tradition, it was brought to the Islands by none other than the Apostle Paul himself in around A.D. 60.

Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel, but the ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm only to be wrecked two weeks later on the Maltese coast. All aboard swam safely to land.

The site of the wreck is traditionally known as St. Paul’s Island, and is marked by a statue commemorating the event.

The welcome given to the survivors is described in the Acts of the Apostles (XXVIII) by St. Luke:

“And later we learned that the island was called Malta.
And the people who lived there showed us great kindness,
and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… ”

As the fire was lit, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but he suffered no ill effects. The islanders took this as a sign that he was a special man. This scene is depicted in many religious works of art on the Islands.

According to tradition, the Apostle took refuge in a cave, now known as St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat, Malta.

During his winter stay, he was invited to the house of Publius, the Romans’ chief man on the Islands. It was here, according to tradition, that Paul cured Publius’ father of a serious fever. Publius is then said to have converted to Christianity and was made the first Bishop of Malta. The Cathedral of Mdina is said to stand on the site of Publius’ house.

Archaeological evidence seems to support this tradition, as Malta was one of the first Roman colonies to convert.

In a more secular vein, I have to tell you what happened when I left Rome for the U.S. for Christmas after my second visit to Malta.

I was standing in line at the TWA check-in counter when a TWA staff member asked me, as they were asking all of us inline, to see my passport. He rifled through the pages and asked me if I had other ID on me. I had a California driver’s license and don’t remember what else.

He walked away with all my documents in his hand to consult with several officials and, for several minutes, I was without any documents to prove who I said I was! A really scary feeling, to be honest!

When he returned all the documents, he never explained why they were being examined – and never answered my question – but I later found out during a conversation with an embassy friend that it was most likely because I had a Malta stamp in my passport.

For those of you who may remember, a PanAm plane exploded over Lockerbee, Scotland in December 1988, killing all aboard. Wreckage of flight 103 that originated in Frankfurt and was en route to New York, was strewn for miles, and 270 people lost their lives. Lengthy investigations eventually discovered a tie with Malta.

As the LA Times reported: “newspapers said that a bomb concealed in a Toshiba radio had been placed in a Samsonite suitcase filled with clothing and put on board Air Malta Flight 180 from Valetta to Frankfurt on the morning of the explosion. The passenger who checked the suitcase for the flight, which was tagged for New York via Pan Am 103, did not board the Air Malta plane, although most airlines take steps to ensure that no baggage is put on board a plane unless it is accompanied by a passenger.”

U.S. airlines for years checked any and all people who had a Malta stamp in their passport. I was stopped and questioned every time I travelled. It ended only when I got a new passport.

But I’d return to Malta in a flash!

PS. I wish I knew where all my Malta photos were! I did not have a digital camera at the time so they must be in one of my dozens of albums!


In an interview with Vatican Radio, Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, shares his expectations for Pope Francis’ 2-3 April Apostolic Visit to Malta this weekend.


Click here for a brief video of Cardinal Mario Grech, Maltese, and head of the Synod of Bishops, followed by a written interview: Cardinal Grech: Peter’s presence on Paul’s island will confirm our faith – Vatican News