“In many ways it has been an unprecedented experience”: this is how the Letter to the People of God described the First Session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 4-29, 2023) a few days before its conclusion. In the same vein were many testimonies that subsequently appeared in both Church and secular media all over the world. Participants were struck by what they experienced, by an encounter made possible by working in small groups, following the method of conversation in the Spirit. This touched them far more deeply than the topics under discussion, their variety, or the efforts made to understand them and share insights. For many, in comparison with previous synods, the quality of the lived experience was a distinctive element, something unexpected, a surprising gift.
In this light, it seems appropriate in this article written soon after the event, to privilege the lived experience in presenting the work of the First Session, rather than to review the great variety of themes touched upon, which are of significance for the life of the Church and for the realization of its mission of proclaiming the Gospel. These are collected in the Synthesis Report (SR), approved by a very large majority of the Assembly. Here we will limit ourselves to considering some of them, which best highlight how the lived experience of the participants in the Assembly constitutes the key to a better understanding of the results achieved and, above all, of the sense in which they represent an authentic step forward along a path, that of Synod 2021-24 “For a Synodal Church. Communion, Participation, Mission,” which opened well before the beginning of the assembly work and will continue throughout the next year until the Second Session (October 2024), and then beyond, when all the Churches of the world will be called to implement the outcomes of the Synod.