Image credit: Fordham University

Perhaps the most striking image I have seen of St. Ignatius Loyola is on the Rose Hill campus, just outside of Hughes Hall. The image has St. Ignatius with one foot on the ground and one foot in the air—an expression of his mantra contemplation in action. I always saw this image as stable, centered, and confident. He is in the world and of the world, with arms outstretched towards God. Ignatius is a guy who looks like he knows what he is doing. 

And yet, I find myself reflecting on this image in light of one of Pope Francis’s repeated themes centering on the Italian word squilibrato. Pope Francis uses this word often to inspire hope in the unknown. The word directly translates to unbalanced. Francis is hoping that we engage with this culture of being squilibrato—of embracing the unknown, encountering one another, and working together to determine a way of proceeding (rather than following a rigid, unilateral plan). The encouragement is not to be stable, centered, and overconfident. The encouragement is to be flexible, open to new insights, and humble. Maybe this is what the image of St. Ignatius is actually portraying.

I recently found myself in Rome sitting at the Jesuit Curia, the worldwide headquarters of the Society of Jesus. I was at the Vatican with a group of students whom I am teaching in a course on synodality and the global church. The course was connected to the month-long Synod on Synodality that wrapped up at the end of October. 

Being open to flexibility is a real challenge for a Type-A person like me who lives and breathes according to her Google calendar. Our schedule during our week at the synod was generally packed, but this afternoon had taken an unexpected turn and I had more downtime than I’d planned. I found myself sitting next to a colleague who spoke Spanish to a woman we’d met that morning—it turns out they knew similar communities in El Salvador. Another of my colleagues and I had just visited the chapel in the Curia where we just missed the end of a Vietnamese prayer service for a martyr from that country. These encounters, providential moments born of an unplanned free moment, put into perspective the global Church in a real, unexpected, and squilibrato way. The global Church is human, authentic, unplanned, serendipitous, and all about encountering people where they are. It transcends languages, cultures, and individual people. ‘

So, what does this mean for my students, for the Church, or for the Synod? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the Synod is, what it is hoping to do, what it can actually do, and what I—a young laywoman—would like to see come from it. In the most simplified approach, the Synod for Synodality hopes to create institutional culture change within the tradition. It will not be grand-scale (nor should it). It will likely not be dogmatic. But Pope Francis is trying to break down the image of a Church that appears to act a certain way and is encouraging an openness to the new, the unknown, and the unexpected through a lens of squilibrato—with humility, love, and compassion. And, it starts with us—the human people of God. I have been humbled and inspired to see my students openly embrace this culture change, and I hope to see a new aggiornamento of our days.

Vanessa Rotondo serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the President of Fordham University. She is the instructor of the undergraduate theology course “Church on the GO: Theology in a Global Synod.”