Spiritual enrichment from ‘listening

In a recent interview on Catholic Singapore Radio’s “The Faith Perspective”, Fr Dr Clarence Devadass from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, shared insights on the recently concluded Synod on Synodality.

Nov 10, 2023

Fr Clarence Devadass (top right) with some members of the assembly.

In a recent interview on Catholic Singapore Radio’s “The Faith Perspective”, Fr Dr Clarence Devadass from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, shared insights on the recently concluded Synod on Synodality. Fr Clarence played a pivotal role in the synod’s proceedings. He was a writing member of the team responsible for drafting the final document of the Asian Continental Assembly on Synodality and was subsequently elected as a member of the commission overseeing the synthesis report during the synod in Rome.

Fr Clarence expounded on the dual objectives of the synthesis report. First and foremost, it endeavours to convey the collective experience of the participants during the four-week synod, offering a comprehensive account of their time together. Secondly, the report delves into the topics and discussions that emerged during the synod. He clarified that the synthesis report is not intended to be a magisterial document or an exhortation. Instead, its purpose is to provide a holistic perspective on the synod’s proceedings, not meant to resolve specific doctrinal or policy matters.

He explained that the synthesis report aims to help people understand what transpired during the synod and, more importantly, to shed light on the universal phenomena occurring across the Catholic Church globally. It seeks to identify commonalities, where there is consensus among diverse regions, as well as differences stemming from varying contexts, along with topics requiring deeper reflection.

Fr Clarence observed that the initial section of the document, which delves into the countenance of Christ, commences with an entirely novel experience. This unprecedented approach to synods sets it apart from all previous instances.

“Picture this: bishops, priests, cardinals, laypeople, consecrated men and women, all gathered around round tables, sharing their insights. The primary objective in crafting the report was to encapsulate a universal phenomenon — a collective experience transcending geographical boundaries. It wasn’t about addressing specific issues, but rather about converging on a common thread observed throughout the Church, regardless of the region.

“Next, we encountered another realm where disparities emerged. We understood the significance of context, acknowledging that one’s background plays a pivotal role. While some concerns may overlap, they often manifest or are perceived differently. Moreover, we recognised that certain approaches may prove ineffective in specific locations, prompting us to exercise more discernment. This prompted us to delve into deeper reflection — what topics should we initiate discussions on or continue to explore? These were issues that we may not have seen eye to eye on, but we respected the diversity of perspectives. They may not be part of our daily spiritual journey, but they warrant profound contemplation. It’s essential to stress that the entire synthesis report is by no means a magisterial document. This is a point I particularly wish to convey to everyone.”

The interview also explored the theme of poverty, a central focus in the synthesis report. Fr Clarence emphasised that when addressing poverty, the report goes beyond mere economic deprivation, encompassing a wider perspective that encompasses spiritual, emotional, and digital aspects of poverty. The synod recognises that various regions and contexts present unique challenges and requirements, promoting a more inclusive interpretation of poverty. He underscored the synod’s objective to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of poverty and to revitalise the Church’s dedication to the preferential option for the poor, adapting it to contemporary challenges and settings.

Fr Clarence also addressed the critique that the synod departed from the traditional format of an episcopal assembly. He clarified that it was, in fact, a synod of bishops, but with a distinctive feature of involving non-bishops as well. “It’s important to bear in mind that this is a pioneering event. Many bishops have attended numerous synods, and this one is truly unique. This synod represented a significant change, both in format and conduct. We’ve initiated meaningful discussions, and we’re truly listening to each other.

“One noteworthy aspect of sitting at round tables is that it provides a platform for individuals, particularly those who consider themselves ‘introverts,’ to have their voices heard. Some people struggle to speak up in larger crowds.

When you’re amidst around 400 people, many tend to become reticent and reluctant to express their thoughts. However, in smaller groups, the environment feels less intimidating and more welcoming. In a gathering of 10 or 11 people, everyone has the opportunity to share and converse. It’s not about one person dominating the conversation; rather, it’s about fostering collaborative dialogues. Some bishops who had previously attended the traditional synod compared it to this new format, where there are more opportunities for open discussion, where everyone listens to each other, and found this experience a little bit uneasy.”

Fr Clarence said that the synod aimed to promote a culture of collaborative decisionmaking, moving from an individual “I” to a collective “we.”/'' The interview also touched upon the arduous schedule of the synod, with participants engaged in discussions from morning to evening, six days a week, for four consecutive weeks. Fr Clarence acknowledged the physical and mental toll this rigorous routine took on participants but highlighted the spiritually enriching aspects of the experience. The synod offered an opportunity to connect with and learn from people from various continents and cultural backgrounds, broadening participants’ perspectives and deepening their understanding of global challenges and concerns. He said, “The synod presented an opportunity to live in the ‘shoes’ of others and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and hopes faced by different parts of the Church.

Although the synod may not have provided instant answers, it had set in motion a fresh atmosphere of conversation and teamwork within the Church. Fr Clarence stressed the importance of extending this ethos to the grassroots, making decision-making a collective endeavour that engages individuals at every tier of the Church. He urged the faithful to concentrate on the Church’s over-arching journey rather than solely fixating on the synod’s results.

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