Synod process begins in the local Churches

The Synod process begins in the local Churches and will kick off on October 17.

Oct 13, 2021

Nathalie Becquart, XMCJ (Photo by Peter Julian)


By Agnes Chai

The Synod process begins in the local Churches and will kick off on October 17. In the preparation for it, the representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences of Asia met with Sr Nathalie Becquart and members of the Synod Secretariat for an online meeting Sep 17.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (CBCMSB) was represented by Bishop Sebastian Francis as President of CBCMSB, and Executive Secretary Charles Bertille for the virtual meet.

Why a decentralized Synod? It is the desire of Pope Francis since the beginning of his pontificate: to make synodality concrete and visible. Therefore, the next Synod of Bishops, which is scheduled for October 2023, will not only be celebrated in the Vatican but in each particular Church of the five continents, following a three-year itinerary divided into three phases: diocesan, continental and universal.

Speaking at the virtual meet, Sr Nathalie, one of the two Undersecretaries to the Synod of Bishops, recalled to the participants the three key words of the Synod theme and to be open to the challenge evoked by them. The theme chosen for the next Synod of the Bishops is “For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission”.

She quoted the pope, “Synodality expresses the nature of the Church”, and we have to learn synodality. The Synod is therefore a process, and not an event, which requires a synodal conversion of the Church. The word “synod”, means “walking together”, and in fact it contains everything we need to understand.

Sr Nathalie announced that the Preparatory Document and the Vademecum (Handbook) have been released. The preparatory document and its questions are “at the service of the synodal journey” to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the people of God in the particular Churches; while the handbook offers guidelines for bishops and those who help in facilitating the synodal process locally on how they can best listen to and consult with Catholics and the wider community.

Meanwhile, the basic and most fundamental question guiding the whole process is “How is the synodal process or “journeying together” taking place today? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?’

The Q & A session that followed presented the opportunity for the bishops to field some of their own questions:

Q: For the synthesis at national level, do we put together all the reports or do the bishops need to meet and discern together?

A: The key here is that synthesis is an act of discernment, not an academic exercise. The national team or secretariat drafts the synthesis, which becomes a working document for the national level.

It is important to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit can speak through a voice here or there, it could be something mentioned just once or twice.

Q: India has 16 major languages. There are many smaller groups who have no access to the institutional offices or official structures. How can we reach them?

A: Normally these groups are muted. Therefore, there is a need to reach these peripheries so as to listen to those who are not often heard. You can have the preparatory documents in local languages or a simplified and shorter version. Various methodologies are possible for them to express themselves, using perhaps a national website as a platform, or a webinar, to reach the diversity of peoples, so that no one should feel excluded from this synodal journey, especially the poor.

Q: We are a vast country. We have very short time to carry out the synodal exercise. Do we try to meet the deadline or try to reach everyone?

A: Pope Francis has said, we need to initiate processes – time is more important than space. The Synodal conversion of the Church will take time, it will not finish in April. And it is different in each culture. Remember this is not a university examination. Listen to the call of the Holy Spirit and be on the road!

Q: Do we have to ensure that the lay voice be heard at the national level?

A: Yes, we encourage that. And it is the same for a team at the diocese level. We prefer a team with laity included in the pre-synodal exercise at both diocese and national level.

It is a Synod of the Bishops; the bishops will be there, but we also need the diversity of the people of God.

Our challenge of the Synod is to empower the laity to be the protagonist for a missionary Church. We can envision the pastors and lay people working together.

Q: Do we also send the diocese reports? Can it be in the local language?

A: The Instrumentum Laboris will be drafted with the syntheses from the various Bishops’ Conferences. You can also send the diocese reports in your local languages, which will be symbolic, and will be kept in the archives.

Q: We are facing a national lockdown with the COVID-19 pandemic; all the churches are closed.

A: We understand it is not possible to gather. You can adapt according to what is possible. This requires creativity.

The meeting concluded with the assurance from the Synod Secretariat that it is available to meet the Bishops’ Conferences if needed. English-speaking and Asian members in the four working commissions on theology, methodology, communication, and spirituality are available to participate or to help in the local synodal process if needed.--Catholic Sabah  

 (Source: CBCMSB Secretariat)

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