A journey of global insight and local action

Fr David Garaman, from the Diocese of Sandakan, served as the delegate for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei (CBCMSB) at the World Meeting of Parish Priests held at the Vatican from April 28 to May 2, 2024. Presently, he fulfils the role of Rector at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tawau while also overseeing responsibilities as head of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission. He shares his insights and experiences from this global gathering.

May 24, 2024

Fr David Garaman (right) with two of the participants.

HERALD: Describe your feeling on being selected as the sole representative from this region to attend this meeting.
I extend my gratitude to the CBCMSB and organisers of this international gathering of parish priests. I felt honoured and excited as this is a great privilege for me to contribute and experience the synodal work at a universal level.

What is your take away from the few days in Rome among clergy from around the world?
Fr David: The few days being in the Synod for Parish Priests have been enlightening for me. Apart from being able to make new priest friends, the most enriching experience is the listening and sharing of pastoral experiences from all the priests from different countries. Using the methodology of Conversation in the Spirit has been very inspiring where the sharing of experiences is done without prejudice or judgement. This experience fosters a deep sense of understanding and appreciation for one’s varied and unique pastoral undertakings and backgrounds. There is a sense of deep gratitude to all the priests for their unwavering dedication, boundless commitment, loyalty, and passion in advancing the sacred mission entrusted by Our Lord. Therefore, this significant event served as a powerful encouragement in strengthening the process of synodality in the church, highlighting the unity in the diverse location and cultural setting.

Apart from that, in the recently concluded synod for parish priests, Pope Francis has given all the parish priests the mandate to become missionaries of synodality. The Holy Father is well informed about the challenges and struggles of priests. They are the ones who are often faced with the groans and complaints of communities struggling in the currents of the world, which often lead to questions about the reality of life. They are the ones who continue this process of synodality, and without them, it is very difficult to pursue this process without the active involvement of the priests. He wants to hear more from the priests and has great hopes for them because they are the ones who are very close to the reality of the lives of the people in the community and society in general. Therefore, the Holy Father, in his letter of mandate, called on parish priests who have attended the synod for parish priests to become synodal missionaries to other priests. He clearly said that the synod is very important but still not enough because we need to do more if we want to involve a larger number of priests in the synodal dynamism. This is a timely encouragement for all the priests: wherever we are the Holy Mother Church is listening.

What do you understand from the Pope’s objective of promoting a synodal local Church in mission?
Synodality is meant to foster a better understanding of what it means to be a church. Indeed, as a Church that is missionary in nature, we strive to journey together in communion with Christ along with everyone, regardless of their background. This is a call for better listening, dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration, uniting us more and more as the People of God, who commissions us to pursue our mission as a prophetic witness that embraces the entire human family. To do this, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit to enable us to engage in communal discernment to bring about the transformation that the Lord desires.

How has your understanding of synodality deepened through this experience?
Journeying together has always been practiced in the life of the Church. As a priest, I always encourage participation from the laity, especially in the administration and pastoral life of the Church. However, I often hear the cry from many about how the Church is often self-serving rather than out-serving. In reality, there are many who still feel left out and not heard by the leaders of the Church. There is also the notion that the leadership and mission of the Church belong to the ordained. All these realities and misconceptions somehow become discouragement and a stumbling block preventing active participation from the people.

So, the call of synodality has been a great wake-up call to go deeper into the administration and pastoral method, approach, and understanding of being Church. In other words, synodality calls for greater participation from every member of the church. Their voices, charisms, and contributions are important, especially in discerning the way forward for the Church. So, synodality is not about focusing only on my personal abilities and capabilities but also on being able to engage others to take ownership of the mission of the church, recognising that they too, by virtue of their baptism, shared equally the life and mission of the church in one common priesthood. I truly believed that the more the parish embraces the synodal way, involving parishioners in discussions about the details of parish life, including the formulation and communication of the parish’s mission, the more likely it is that the parishioners will see themselves as partners with the priests and will embrace rather than criticise the synodal process.

You are a member of the national synodal team, could you share some of your
experiences and challenges here.
In the beginning of the call of the synod on synodality, it is notable that many of the structures necessary for the parish and the diocese to implement synodality already exist in many dioceses, such as the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Finance Committee, and many other groups, for example, the Basic Christian Communities and Basic Ecclesial Communities. These structures are necessary and very important bodies in organising the synod consultation and process. But it is also necessary to well organise these structures and bodies to bring meaning to synodality rather than focusing on orienting people based on control and power. The process of synodality is all about community building and transforming people, whereby we develop the culture of encounter and give opportunity to time and space, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our body, mind, and spirit to conform to the will of God for humanity.

The synodal process can become an enriching experience if we put ourselves in another person’s shoes and go beyond our familiar territory. A good synodal process will often take time and patience, and it may even result in being surprised by the Spirit. We have experienced how the Spirit invites us to be bold and courageous and truly calls for trust in each other and courage. We experience the challenge of being honest and transparent and creating authentic relationships where the lay faithful feel confident speaking honestly in the presence of the pastor. We experience the cry of those marginalised and vulnerable, where their voices for justice and help are often unheard. Nevertheless, the challenge is and has always been: the how can we be more open, inclusive, and discern together without prejudice to one’s status or background? The synodal process requires a kind of listening to the Holy Spirit and discernment in wisdom, which can help everyone in the parish and the diocese become active agents in the synodal process so that people may not feel condemned, rejected, overlooked, sidestepped, or unjustly treated.

Have your views changed or enhanced now that you have experienced a global view?
Listening, reflecting, and praying about all the experiences, I cannot deny the uncertainty of what the future of the church will be like. At the same time, a sense of encouragement and happiness came up, as synodality is, for me, a hope for the future mission of the Church, and it begins here and now.

As Christians, we are all disciples, and all disciples are missionaries. We have been called to the same mission entrusted by God to His disciples, and He has also given us the same Holy Spirit to encourage and move our lives, actions, and dealings with one another. We need to draw all of our disciples into the role of disciplemakers and assist other disciples to adopt that identity. Learning how to do this in our particular community is a synodal process because each community has their own experiences, history, culture, leadership, and, most importantly, their own need to adopt that identity. This is our common calling and mission as Christians: to be the witnesses of Our Lord’s truth and to proclaim His love to all. This is not just the work of missionaries or the responsibility of priests, bishops, or other lay ministers of the church. In the spirit of synodality, we share in this same mission to evangelise to the peoples as part of our common baptism, which we have received at the moment when we become members of the Church, be it as infants or as adults. We all have a part to play, and that is why we live to become role models and inspirations to one another in how we carry ourselves out in life and in how we interact with each other.

What notable contributions has your parish community made to the life and mission of the local Church in the context of synodality?
The call of synodality has indeed created awareness of the importance of the spirit of journeying together in communion, participation, and mission. Many parish communities, ministries, and groups have now realised that the call to serve is not simply to themselves and within the Church only but also to go out of their comfort zone. This means service is a gift for the good of all people, regardless of whether they are old or young, poor or rich, and so on. In other words, all the baptised are called to be co-responsible for missions. All are called to contribute according to one’s vocation, gifts, and talents.

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