Bishops reflect on the synodal process

The 109th Plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (CBCMSB) held online, witnessed the participation of all eleven arch/bishops from Malaysia-Singapore and the administrator from Brunei.

Jan 21, 2022

Arch/Bishops from Malaysia and Singapore, the administrator for Brunei with the executive secretary meet virtually for the 109th Plenary meeting.

The 109th Plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (CBCMSB) held online, witnessed the participation of all eleven arch/bishops from Malaysia-Singapore and the administrator from Brunei. The focus of the Conference was mainly on the progress of the Synod in the respective dioceses and the spiritual conversations around it.

The first day saw the Charge d’Affaires, Msgr Marco Sprizzi, addressing the bishops. He recalled the previous encounters with the Conference and expressed his joy at being present.

Msgr Marco underlined the importance of the call of the Holy Father to transform our minds and hearts on the path of synodality. It is not only to prepare reports or meet the deadlines, he said, but to install, in our priests, people and structures, the mentality of working together – a Church of communion, participation and mission. We are asked to bring the spirit of synodality into every aspect of the Church. He stressed that, “It is not the academic exercise but the discipline of the synodal journey that will make the difference.” Msgr Sprizzi also highlighted that 2022 is an important year in the life of the Church as it marks the celebration of 400 years of the existence of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. He shared some words of encouragement from the President of the Congregation, Cardinal Antonio Tagle, to the bishops, and hopes that all countries can symbolise this anniversary locally. Msgr Marco also extended the Holy See’s gratitude to the bishops and all Catholics for their annual contributions to the Peter’s Pence collection.

The Synodal Process in the arch/dioceses
The bishops then proceeded to listen to the preliminary reports on the progress of the Synod journey in each diocese. Among the challenges was the difficulty to go to the peripheries or the interiors with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of internet access. In some places, people fear being judged, or are indifferent to the Synod process when they do not understand the purpose or the need to engage. One bishop recalled that some of the earlier Malaysian bishops and their pastoral approaches had indeed laid the groundwork for a more synodal Church.

Re-look at leadership at every level
There is a need to rethink the roles and responsibilities in ministry and where our energy is spent. The bishops spoke of the realisation to re-look at leadership in the Church at every level — how we select, train leaders, and how leaders relate to the people. While it is too early to conclude, the bishops agreed on the need for healing and conversion in Church culture, attitudes, structures, and pastoral practices. There are also creative efforts to engage the children and teenagers in a number of dioceses; and the use of digital technology to capture and process all the responses that are coming in.

The Arch/Bishops share
The following day saw the bishops sharing their own journey of faith and personal reflections as part of a spiritual conversation. The questions posed were:

-- What graces have you experienced so far in your diocese process?
-- What tensions or challenges? 
-- What are your own personal consolations and desolations?
-- Where do you sense the movement of the Spirit? or where do you find God in all this?

The CBCMSB President, Bishop Sebastian Francis concluded by saying, “We have been asking the people and the priests about their ideas and struggles. Our own sharing this morning as bishops has been powerful and it is good the people understand we have our own struggles too.”

The bishops then requested the Executive Secretary to meet with the Synod contact persons from all dioceses to decide on the timeline and process for the next phase of the Synod.

The meeting concluded with the angelus and blessing by Bishop Sebastian. The next Conference will be from August 8 to 12, 2022.

Other items discussed

Report and message
The Conference discussed matters at hand such as the country report for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) 50th Anniversary and the message for the Sunday of the Word of God which is being celebrated on January 23, 2022.

CBCMSB working structure
There was a brief revisiting of the CBCMSB working structure, as a follow-up from the previous meeting. A work meeting has been set for May 9, 2022.

Pastoral Care for the unvaccinated
After the common agendas were cleared, the Malaysian bishops continued to discuss the topic of pastoral care for the unvaccinated. The bishops hope to develop some pastoral guidelines in relation to this.

National Relief Fund
The bishop-in-charge of Caritas Malaysia, Rt Rev Bernard Paul then reported on the National Relief Fund for the floods. All were grateful for the responses on the ground and the generous contributions.

Formation of Seminarians Some discussion took place around the formation of seminarians in Penang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, and the kind of priests we need. The bishops affirmed the need for human-pyschological aspects of formation. A three-year formation for Philosophy was put forward by the Peninsular Malaysia Bishops for College General in Penang. The bishops present felt, whatever direction is set, it has to be accompanied by a whole spirituality.

PMPC 2026
The final presentation was on the journey towards the Pan Malaysia Pastoral Convention (PMPC) 2026. The finalised dates for PMPC are Sept 9 to 13, 2026, inclusive of the travelling dates. Dioceses that have had their diocesan and parish assemblies, are asked to share their tools with Archbishop Julian Leow or the Conference Secretariat by end January 2022. The PMPC working committee will then compile a basic kit on animating parish / diocese assemblies for all dioceses

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