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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 18: Too Much Sugar; We Wept; Two Men of Interest

The synod continues under the cloud of violence Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and more. Participants pray daily for justice and peace and hearts break as more and more innocent lives are taken.

One of the things Colleen Dulle reported during her podcast, “Inside the Vatican,” is the exhaustion level of the participants at the synod.  It clear that the demanding schedule is catching up with them.  Cardinal Hollerich made a similar observation and suggested that, “unlike the last week of school,” (participants chuckle) we have to continue our efforts earnestly and with vigor.

Too Much Sugar

Yesterday, toward the end of the press briefing, Cindy Wooden (another shero of mine) of Catholic News Service asked a question that reflected the frustration that many feel about the carefully controlled information coming out of the synod.

Writing for Catholic newspapers with readers who invested in this process, at the end, I’m going to tell them that the symbol of what was accomplished is the round table?  I mean they want to know that the issues they raised and that are listed in the Instrumentum Laboris or issues that are being taken seriously, even passionately, and this idea that well, you know look at our round tables I don’t think that’s going to satisfy people who invested in this process and who are not in the room and are not being able to see the results of the round the small group work there.  There are people who are seriously concerned about the status of women in the church or an attitude of welcoming or not welcoming LGBTQ people.  I mean those aren’t just journalistic inventions. Those are issues that were raised repeatedly at the local, diocesan, national, and continental level and to write it off as a journalistic question I think is, not very nice.

There was applause after her comment/question.  Cindy is a veteran journalist who is well loved and respected.  She is always respectful, but she doesn’t suffer fools and I think she has a lot of support because of her integrity.

Ruffini went into defensive overdrive, but it probably wasn’t anymore satisfying to her than it was to the rest of the room.  Orobator added that the issues were being discussed seriously and passionately; the Bishop Anthony Randazzo twisted her words in order to chide her; and Professor Köhler-Ryan counseled “patience.”

Cindy Wooden isn’t the only journalist asking tough questions and looking for something beyond the sugar.  Christopher White was able to learn about the controversies regarding LGTBQ inclusion from anonymous contributors.  And the story t0ld within the synod of an LGBTQ youth who committed suicide caused heartfelt, emotional reactions from members.  But this kind of sharing, beginning with experience and expressing emotion is just what some of the old timers do not like.  Loup Besmond de Senneville writing for La Croix found that there are a number of individuals who are not satisfied with the process.  From his article, it sounds like the usual suspects — the ones who are digging in their heals about this process and complaining about the fact that people with hearts share their stories and express their emotions.  They seem to be saying, “No, thank you.  Let’s have some safe, detached theological reflection.”

…Old Synod hands, who are quick to point out that the main problem is that theology is being neglected during the discussions. The “conversation in the spirit” used during group work, the method introduced by the organizers, requires Synod members to speak about their personal experience, rather than to address major concepts – in short, it’s experience over ideas.

“The level has dropped a lot,” complained one Synod father, who is not taking it lying down. He said he feels “restricted”, even “infantilized”.

Critics inside the Synod assembly say a second problem is that the emphasis is placed on emotion. From the outset, discussions have been prepped by numerous personal testimonies, some of them describing dramatic situations.

Such was the case of a Spanish layman and president of an association for people with disabilities who spoke on behalf of this whole section of society, which he felt was insufficiently integrated into the Church. Then there was a young woman who very movingly explained that her lesbian sister committed suicide after being rejected by the Church. The assembly’s youngest member – just 22 years of age – was also given the floor. 

All of them were warmly applauded after they spoke. And that applause left some people in the assembly more than a little annoyed.  Read more at:

What is clear is the old guard at the synod who are “annoyed” by tears and stories of real life, are likely also annoyed when Timothy Radcliff eloquently opens hearts to the stories that matter making it possible to touch  and know the very heart of the God who is radically in love with each one of us.

Let’s Talk About Participation, Governance and Authority: New Module (B3)

As is the usual process, when a new module begins, the synod hall is open to the cameras.  B3 is the module that focuses on participation, governance, and authority.  This will be a critical couple of days with many difficult conversations.  I am sure tempers will flare as the old guard is challenged.

Cardinal Hollerich offered both encouragement and caution as they move into the final topic for the synod.

The last module touches us very closely, because it invites us to reflect on the potential of the institution of the Synod itself as a place in which to experiment in a special way the dynamic relationship that links synodality, episcopal collegiality and Petrine primacy. And it asks the groups that will address it to also express an evaluation on the experiment of the participatory extension to a group of non-bishops, chosen as witnesses of the listening and consultation phase.

These are delicate issues, which require careful discernment: in this session we begin to approach them, then we will have a year to continue to deepen them in view of the work we will do in the second session. They are delicate because they touch the concrete life of the Church and also the growth dynamism of the tradition: a wrong discernment could sever it, or freeze it. In both cases it would kill it.

We Wept

Timothy Radcliffe led us all further into the heart of God when he described what was at stake at the Council of Jerusalem when Paul became a fierce advocate for Gentile inclusion into a very Jewish community.  And Radcliffe helps us reflect on who has been excluded as “Gentiles” today.

…The Council of Jerusalem lifted unnecessary burdens from the Gentiles. ‘For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things’(verse 28). They are freed from an identity given by the old Law.

How shall we lift burdens from the weary shoulders of our brothers and sisters today who often feel ill at ease in the Church? It will not be through anything as dramatic as abolishing the Law. Nor will it be through such a fundamental shift in our identity as the admission of the Gentiles.

But we are called to embrace a deeper sense of who we are as the improbable friends of the Lord, whose scandalous friendship reaches across every boundary. Many of us wept when we heard of that young woman who committed suicide because she was bisexual and did not feel welcomed. I hope it changed us. The Holy Father reminded us that all are welcomed: todos, todos, todos.

How Did the Aussies Do It?

Today, Bishop Shane Mackinlay reflected on the widely reported Plenary Council in Australia where many of my reform minded friends live and where a large number of participants walked out when the bishops refused to approve language about the equality of women and men.  Mackinlay related this story to the assembly:

There were 280 members, with about 60% specified by canon law and the remaining members being proposed from parishes, dioceses and other groups in the Church…

During our second assembly, we had a moment of crisis, which has been widely reported. This was in voting on the initial version of the decree relating to the equal dignity of women and men, which failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority amongst the bishops on either of the resolutions that it included. This reflected a range of concerns and reservations across the assembly, rather than a simple division between any two camps for and against, whether that be bishops and lay people, or women and men, or whatever. In the assembly’s consultative vote on the previous day, the first resolution had only just achieved a two-thirds majority, and the second resolution had failed to achieve it. In both the consultative and the deliberative votes, the vast majority of those not supporting the resolutions had voted placet juxta modum (signalling that they had reservations or would like to see amendments), rather than non placet.

There was widespread distress when the vote was announced, as we faced the prospect of the Council saying nothing about the place of women in the Church. We decided to suspend the planned agenda, to give space for concerns from all perspectives and all members to be articulated, initially through conversation in the spirit in our table groups, but then also in the whole assembly. Eventually we established a special drafting group, and returned to the topic two days later, where a revised text was passed overwhelmingly. The positive resolution was only possible because of the shared appreciation by all members that it was critically important to address this issue, and because of their clear commitment to ensure that we worked together towards a document that was more finely articulated and carefully balanced. The members showed great generosity in persisting in dialogue despite the grief and hurt that many had felt after the failed vote. In the interim, the quality and depth of our conversation and reflection had changed, and I think the remaining documents that we considered were significantly improved because of it. This may also be one of the reasons for the broadly positive reception of the decrees by people across the Church in Australia, who have recognised them as being faithful to the long process of consultation, preparation and discernment.

I have reflected often since then about what happened in us on those days. Those present had already spoken freely and openly, and had been listened to respectfully. But, in retrospect, I think we had mostly spoken from our heads, setting out ideas that we had considered frequently and that were already well established in our minds. After the crisis, people spoke much more from the heart, with a vulnerability that exposed them personally, putting themselves on the line to describe their lived experience of how they were personally affected.

And this courageous speaking was received with a different quality of listening. Instead of recognizing familiar arguments and rehearsing objections, we listened better to what was said as being deeply personal, and we had greater openness to appreciating it, learning from it and being changed by it. This asked of us a humility to recognize that we might not have the final answer ourselves.

Many have since described the disruption and new possibilities that it opened as an experience of the Holy Spirit. It certainly was an experience of parrhesia – both courageous speaking and humble listening; and there is no question that it was critical in enriching our communion.

The man who led the Truth Commission on Clergy Sex Abuse in Australia, Francis Sullivan seems to agree with the bishop on his assessment of the Plenary.  There was no revolution; implementation matters; but, it was a move in the right direction.

The Plenary Council even ended up shifting the church towards the prospect of women deacons, within the normal authority structures of the church. It is a modest step forward, not a revolution. The universal church should learn from this flexibility and generosity.

The Australian Plenary Council was a huge operation by any standard and flew in the face of apathy, skepticism and some outright opposition within the Catholic community to reach a successful conclusion. The outcomes must now be explained and “sold” to the wider community. The decentralized structure of the church means that a considerable proportion of the implementation will be in the hands of diocesan and parish leaders.

But in what was a relatively modest array of motions, the 277 council members managed to shift the dial on church reform, embed new shoots for change and instigate models of governance to unshackle the grip of clericalism.

I think anyone who has worked for reform in the Catholic Church knows how painfully slow the process can be.  But, I am not only hopeful, but confident that we are going to see movement toward a more expansive, inclusive church.

Notes from the press briefing today.

Christiane Murray of the Vatican Press office announced the guests at the panel today which included  Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David of Kalookan, Philippines, Cardinal Leonardo Steiner, archbishop of Manaus, Brazil, and Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Riga, and the
Wyatt Olivas from the United States, the youngest participant in the synod at the age of 19, He is a student of the University of Wyoming in Laramie and has participated as a missionary in the Catholic Youth Program sharing his faith with Catholic youth throughout Wyoming. In addition, he’s a catechist in his own diocese of Cheyenne, witnessing the synodal process from the beginning.

There are no women guests are on the panel today.

Sheila Pires shared that all the participants of the Synod will be attending a moment of prayer in St. Peter Square in remembrance of migrants and refugees tomorrow evening.  She also shared that they had received news from Luca Casalini, the special invitee to the assembly who joined the panel to talk about rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean sea.  He shared the new of two boats, one with 47 and the other with 69 migrants, brothers and sisters from various African countries. And among them was a seven year old girl, Jessica, who was arriving from Cameroon with her mother. And then the second boat had many women and children mainly from South Sudan. So the youngest there in the second boat was only two months old, and they’ve all been rescued.

It was lovely to hear the words of the two prelates from the Amazon and the Philippines – both with the Francis vibe — both witnessing to the experience of synodality in their countries and the work of women in their regions.

I was especially touched by Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David of Kalookan, Philippines who offered a counter response to the Latvian prelate.  Pointing to the ongoing kerfuffle about gender, sexuality, and pronouns that seems to be so alive in the Northern hemisphere, Bishops Pablo explained that it is different in his region.  There, people are “just human beings.”  And their language reflects that.  The same word is used for both man and woman. I admit I smiled joyfully as he spoke,  especially thinking of the people I have heard get their shorts in a bunch over pronouns.

Two men of interest

Almost every day, there were questions about women’s roles and LGBTQ inclusion.

Man # 1: Today, I was fascinated by the response of one prelate, Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Latvia, who confessed that he has been converted to a more pastoral attitude under Pope Francis, but still cited the Catechism, the theology of John Paul II with a big dollop of Hans Urs von Balthasar as a foregone conclusion.

Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Riga Latvia addressed the roles of women today and the suggestion that the church could bless same sex relationships.  Much of what he said makes me cringe, but it is also interesting to see how he describes his pastoral conversion under Pope Francis, but still rests in his certainties.

I come from Latvia, which is, um, not a very big country. Less than 2 million inhabitants, 20% of them are Catholics. When we received the invitation to participate in the synodal process, there were mixed feelings about it and some initially rejected it. And some were convinced that it would just be something formal that would happen without considering the reality of life.  But a year ago Cardinal Grech came to Latvia and he helped us. He explained to us what the synod is. And so this is just an introduction I wanted to make.

But in connection with the last few days, we have looked at the topic of co-responsibility in the mission, how to share the tasks and duties at the service of the gospel. We have worked intensely, and I would like to give you a synthesis or my summary, let’s say, of what we have done.

The main task of the Synod, the first part is listening to everyone, not just Catholics, but also other Christians, and the representatives of the other religions, the marginalized persons, and also nonbelievers. And try to recognize what the Spirit wishes to tell the church to today.  

Then, how we can expand the kingdom of God in the contemporary world, which is very different. I’m 68 years old, and I can tell you that when I was young, the world was completely different. Also, in the past 30 years since we have been independent, things have changed considerably. And here the gold key, this is the expression we used at the Second Vatican Council, “Awaken the sleeping giant.” It means to awaken the sense of core responsibility for the evangelizing mission of the church in every baptized person. And there is a great challenge. 

First of all, in terms of formation, the formation of bishops, priests,  because their task main task consists in looking to the faithful and recognize their gifts, their charisms, and awaken these charisms if they have not been awakened yet, and help discover and make them, grow and, and, and implement them in the service of the church. So this was a very important dimension.

The second one is a special gift that women have and women as a gift. We spoke about women, the genius of women because women have special gifts. But first and foremost, women are called to maternity, not just physical maternity, but also spiritual maternity. So a woman should not be in competition with men, but it is important to look at their complementarity because a man, a male, to discover his identity needs a mirror. A mirror is Christ himself. But as far as the visible human mirror is concerned, it is a woman who helps the other person to discover his or her identity. And the task of women, all is also represented by this maternal dimension that allows the other, allows me to discover my gifts, drawing inspiration to higher gifts and going beyond challenges. And this is mutual, as a woman said in our group today is, is complementarity and also appreciating women in the sense of giving them more room in the church without changing what is in the gospel and what is part of the church’s tradition. So this is more or less what we talked about today.

Now, I hate to break his bubble, but I am no longer interested in being a mirror for men. And while I love women’s instincts for connection, nurturing, and relationship, we are gifted far beyond our “maternal” roles.  Further, it is true that women are geniuses. And as such, they no longer accept the patriarchal notion that they are cut out for supporting roles.  Geez, women are so much more than that!

Man #2: I am also fascinated and touched by the words of the youngest member, Wyatt Olivas, the lay member from Wyoming who seems to hold conservative views, but who also a) seems to be amazed at the synodal process, b) says he is uncomfortable at times, but is learning from others, and c) wholehearted trusts that the Holy Spirit will guide the synod.  Given my own conservative, small town upbringing, I have a heart for his experience. I also tried to put myself in his place, wondered what the impact of the synodal experience would have been for my own faith journey at that age.  I know that I was so steeped in homogenous narrow frameworks where fear ruled, but I was also a bit of a rebel in my world.  Still, it took years and years of theological education and mentoring to unlearn that programming.  I feel a real connection and tenderness toward a young person who is open to such a floodgate of new ideas.

In case you missed it

Synod participants on pilgrimage last week visited the Catacombs of St Domitilla and learned about The Pact of the Catacombs signed during Second Vatican Council. In 1965.  Forty bishops from around the world gathered in the catacombs and signed a pledge to forsake power and riches and live like the neediest among their flock.  Within a few months, the pledge ended up being signed by approximately 500 bishops. One of the original celebrants of the mass and the last surviving bishop of the Pact who died in 2023, Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, had recounted the story in 2015. At that time he told Sylvia Poggioli that Pope Francis, with his emphasis on serving the poor, is a living symbol of what the bishops were seeking to accomplish.

Bettazzi recalled that “A group of bishops organized the meeting at the Catacombs of Domitilla … most of us learned about it by word of mouth.”  By signing the Pact of the Catacombs, the bishops pledged “to try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport.  According to the Pact, “We renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing … and symbols made of precious metals.”

The Pact was soon forgotten with hardly a mention in the history books about the Second Vatican Council.  One reason, suggested Bettazzi, was that “Pope Paul VI was afraid that too much emphasis on the church of the poor would spill into politics. It was the peak of the Cold War, it could appear the church was leaning toward one side.”  Or more specifically, the communist side.

Church historian Alberto Melloni says the pact is probably one of the Catholic Church’s best-kept secrets. “The Pact of the Catacombs is the outcome of long effort at Vatican II to put poverty at the core of the council and this effort failed,” he said.

But in one part of the world — Latin America — the pact did not disappear.  Erwin Krautler, the bishop of a Brazilian diocese in the Amazon for 34 years, advocates for the rights of landless peasants and indigenous people. He upholds the principles of the Pact of the Catacombs. “This pact is an expression of what we call these days, theology of liberation,” he said.  Liberation theology is a Catholic grassroots movement that spread throughout Latin America in the 1970s but was scorned by Popes John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, who said it was inspired by Marxism. The Vatican disciplined many of its proponents.

Melloni, the church historian, said the Pact of the Catacombs that inspired liberation theology undermined centuries of tradition that had put the Vatican at the center of church power.

What would our church look like today if this had actually taken hold?

The Catacombs’ Pact of the Poor and Servant Church

We, bishops,

– gathered at the Second Vatican Council;

– recognising the inadequacies of our lives with respect to evangelical poverty;

– encouraging each other to avoid any appearance of exeeptionalism or presumption;

– united with all our brothers in the Episcopate;

– counting above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the prayers of the faithful and the priests of our respective dioceses;

– placing ourselves in thought and prayer before the Trinity, before the Church of Christ and before the priests and faithful of our dioceses;

– humbly conscious of our weakness, but equally determined and fortified by the grace that God gives us, commit ourselves to the following:

1) We will seek to live according to the ordinary manner of our people, in the current sense of the term, with respect to housing, food, means of transport and everything else that springs from this. Cf. Mt 5,3; 6,33s; 8,20.

We definitively renounce both the appearance and the reality of wealth, especially

– in our way of dress (sumptuous fabrics, loud colours)

– in marks of distinction made from precious materials, which should in reality be evangelical signs made from “neither gold or silver.” Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; Acts 3,6.

3) We will not possess real estate, goods, bank accounts etc. in our own names; to the extent that this may be necessary, we will place everything in the name of the diocese, or of charitable and social works.. Cf. Mt 6,19-21; Lk 12,33s.

4) Whenever possible, we will entrust the financial and material administration of our dioceses to a commission of competent laity, conscious of their apostolic role, so that we may become less administrators and more pastors and apostles. Cf. Mt 10,8; Acts 6,1-7.

5) We refuse to be addressed, orally or in writing, by names or titles which signify prestige and power (Eminence, Excellency, Monsignor…). We prefer to be called by the evangelical title of Father. Cf. Mt 20,25-28; 23,6-11; Jn 13,12-15.

6) In our behaviour and social relations, we will avoid anything that may seem to confer privilege, priority or any preference for the rich and powerful (including banquets, offered or accepted, class distinction during religious services Cf. Lk 13,12-14; 1Cor 9,14-19.)

7) In the same way we will avoid fostering or pampering the vanity of anyone in order to seek reward or solicit donations, or for any reason whatsoever. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal participation in worship, the apostolate and social action. Cf. Mt 6,2-4; Lk 15,9-13; 2Cor 12,4.

8) We will dedicate whatever is necessary of our time, reflection, heart, means etc to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to other people and groups in the diocese. We will support those laity, religious, deacons and priests who the Lord calls to evangelise the poor and the workers, sharing the work and life of labourers. Cf. Lk 4,18s; Mk 6,4; Mt 11,4s; Acts 18,3s; 20,33-35; 1Cor 4,12 e 9,1-27.

9) Conscious of the demands of justice and charity, and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform aid activities into social works based on justice and charity, which take into account all that this requires, as a humble service to the competent public organs. Cf. Mt 25,31-46; Lk 13,12-14 e 33s.

10) We will do our utmost to ensure that those responsible for our government and for our public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of a new social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of humankind and of God. Cf. Acts 2,44s; 4,32-35; 5,4; 2Cor 8 e 9 ; 1Tim 5, 16.

11) Convinced that the collegiality of the bishops finds its greatest evangelical significance in meeting the challenges faced by the human masses, who suffer the effects of physical, cultural and moral misery – two thirds of humanity – we commit ourselves:

– to participate, according to our means, in the urgent investments of the episcopates of poor nations;

– to call on the international organisations, while bearing witness to the Gospel, as Pope Paul VI did at the United Nations, to establish economic and cultural structures that no longer create cause poor nations in an increasingly wealthy world, but which will enable the poor masses to overcome their poverty

) We commit ourselves in pastoral charity to share our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ – priests, religious and laity – in order that our ministry will become a genuine service.


– We will strive to “review our lives” with them; 

– We will seek out collaborators who will aim to become animators in the way of the Spirit, rather than in the ways of the chiefs of this world; 

– We will seek to be more humanly present, more welcoming…; 

– We will show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion. Cf. Mc 8,34s; Acts 6,1-7; 1Tim 3,8-10.

13) On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us through their understanding, collaboration and prayers.


An Essential Reading for the Synod

Synod participant, Fr. Orobator’s 2015 Voices of Faith speech about the kidnapped Chibok girls.  I believe that this is a Gospel truth that should be part of the required reading (and listening) at the Synod.

Well, I stand here clearly the odd one out, but I feeling deeply grateful, humbled, and blessed to share this platform, which with such a diverse and global group of accomplished and distinguished women.

And I want to say that personally I salute and honor the causes and the commitments that each and every one of you represents and promotes in our world, in our church, and in our communities.

The invitation from Chantel to this event came by way of what perhaps should have passed as a very inconsequential initiative. As you may recall, in April of 2014, the dreaded and infamous group known as Boko Haram abducted and kidnapped 276 school girls from the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. And that event triggered a global outrage and solidarity, outrage against a brazen act of religious banditry and jihadist zealotry. Solidarity for the innocent abductees and their families.

The resulting global social media campaign hashtag :bring back our girls” attracted high profile support.  Now callous and and depraved as that act seemed at the time and still does 388 days later, I felt strong indignation and frustration precisely because of the known challenge and the indifference that characterize the response of the Nigerian government.

Now being a Jesuit, I considered my role in ministry to denounce injustice and social ills that violate the message of the Gospel, which is a message of peace, of compassion, of care, of solidarity with the most vulnerable. My faith compels me to speak out and to act on behalf of justice. So I wrote an open letter to the President of Nigeria. Mr. Good luck, Jonathan demanding his immediate resignation on account of a gross derelectin of his constitutional duty to protect the Chibok girls. I was quite aware of the risk involved. My superiors were also aware and informed. I knew I could have been arrested and intimidated by the government, but it was a price worth paying for the cause of justice, which I deeply believe in as a Jesuit.

Initially in my letter to the President, I contended that the reaction of the president and commander in chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would’ve been significantly different, that is urgent, resolute, and relentless had one of those abductees being the president’s daughter.

Well, come to think of it, I argued what parent will go to sleep, occupy herself or himself with petty political chores while their daughter languished in the forest stronghold of a murderous gang? What parent would do that?

Yet on deeper reflection, the sad reality was not that these girls were not daughters of wealthy and powerful politicians. It was simply that they were girls. Girls, people who society and culture consistently conspire to downgrade their social premium and human dignity to that of second class citizens.  Children, as it were, of a lesser God. You see, unless and until we confront the misguided belief that the girl child simply does not count in the order of gender priority, the impunity of groups like Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and their trademark fanaticism will continue a while longer.

So I have come to the conclusion that the abduction of the Chibok girls is a consequence of a prior violation of the fundamental human rights of the girl child, especially the right to education. And statistics on this matter don’t lie. Sub-Saharan Africa records the lowest enrollment ratios of girls and the lowest rate of completion for girls in primary and secondary education compared to boys.

There are underlying factors I believe, that militate against the education of the girl child, and we may not overlook or ignore these factors. Many are the societies in sub-Saharan Africa that still peg the value of the girl child to the economic return projected on her physiognomy, like the color of her skin, the tone of her skin, or even her statue, even when educated. As in some parts of Nigeria, her market value is calculated in function of the level of our education.

You see, the frustration of girls’ dream for education emerges from the same combination of cultural prejudice, religious fanaticism, sectarian hatred, and put together all of these militate against the chances. However, little of the girl child in quest for education for integral development and social transformation.  We are all familiar with the slogan that “the development of the nation is premised on the imperative of educating the girl child,” “educate the gird child and educate the nation.”  While repeated with regularity and frequency, this slogan only seldom translates into reality because the equation is so heavily rigged in her disfavor.

The forces are arrayed against the education of the girl child are legion and they’re formidable. And to quote the British Prime Minister David Cameron, in the aftermath of the horrific massacre at a school in Peau by Pakistan Taliban in December of 2014, I quote, it is horrifying that “children are simply killed for going to school.”

In my experience, the horror of such attacks carries a very significant gender quotient because the odds, the risks, and the toll rise significantly when those children are girls.

Although the perpetrators of this kinds of terror easily and very frequently anchor their brutal assault of the educated girl or woman or on religion, I remain convinced that the gods are not to blame.

And this is my second conclusion that the drivers of a destructive gender-based violence run very deep in the collective sociocultural psyche. Truth be told, any society that relegates women to a secondary status and alots to them menial tasks creates the propitious conditions for gender-based violence and morally depraved ideologies to emerge and to thrive.

In the final analysis, I find it profoundly disturbing. Not only the fact that the educated girl or woman is perceived as a threat to such ideologies, but also the sad realization that such depraved ideologies rendered the educated, independent, and competent African girl or woman, almost an endangered species.

It will take, I believe, an equally compelling counter narrative to prize open the stranglehold of sectarian ideologies, banditry, and zealotry that weighs heavily on the fate of girls and women, especially in developing countries.

Now, promoting this counter narrative is key to a change in mentality. We need strong and bold voices of faith, voices of hope, voices of charity, voices of women rereading and reinterpreting, the secret text of world religion, challenging centuries old patriarchal and misogynistic hermeneutics to which societies and cultures have almost become accustomed. And modeling in creative and innovative ways, the possibilities and potential of an indestructible and creative female spirit, unfettered, unbounded by expectations of a dominant male class.

Finally, back to our Chibok girls, let me be clear. I do not claim to be a voice for those girls. I can only imagine their pain and who knows, regret at the fatal costs of dreaming to be educated Nigerian women as daily they bemoan their fate and the loss of that dream.  Daily they cry,  daily they lament held captive by people who fear and mortally combat the well-educated African girl and woman.

If we listen carefully, there are millions of Chibok girls in our world. There are millions of Chibok girls in our world who are shut out of the house of learning by conspiracy of cultural complacency, gender discrimination, and political shortsightedness.

There are millions of Chibok girls whose dream for education have been truncated by atavistic mentalities that consider women tradable commodities, useful currencies for maintaining our machinery of gender superiority. There are millions of Chibok girls whose fate challenge our claims to unrivaled globalization and technological progress in the 21st century.  There are millions of Chibok girls whose single gifts will forever be lost to humanity because of our shortsightedness.  Because of terrorists who turn our schools into avatars of civilization, any civilization. These are the girls we need to bring back. These are the girls who call on our conscience to bring them back. And I content that as a race, notwithstanding our unparalleled progress, we still remain largely uneducated in the act of honoring the dignity of women, reverencing her unbound spirit, and upholding her rights to social goods. And I contend that unless and until we excel in this kind of education, our world will remain unfinished, incomplete, and violated. We need to bring them back. 

May Fr. Orobator find the space to proclaim this truth — this Gospel – at this synod.

SynodWatch RoundUP for October 17: Pope Francis gets to meet Sr. Jeannine; Women Deacons, I’d Welcome That: Women Priests as Niche; My Favorite Prophet

National Catholic Reporter is doing a bang up job at the synod.  They are pumping out reports and podcasts that really help us understand what is happening within the synod.  Coleen Dulle and America Magazine has also been offering some exciting inside reports.

Pope Francis Gets to Meet Sr. Jeannine

Today, we learned that Pope Francis got to meet one of my favorite sheroes, minsters, and prophets in all the world — Sr. Jeannine Gramick.  Pope Francis is a lucky man!

The Vatican this year barred Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent from ministry involving homosexuals. (CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec) (Dec. 10, 1999)

After decades of being dissed and dismissed by Vatican officials who tried to shut down her ministry to LGBTQ+ people, Jeannine Grammick razed a mammoth barrier for those who have long been excluded and labeled as “disordered” by a fearful institution.  While many reformers keep a distance from Pope Francis because they are ready for greater reforms, Jeannine has never been shy about her admiration.  She admits, “The meeting was emotional.”

The meeting was very emotional for me. From the day he was elected, I have loved and admired Pope Francis because of his humility, his love for the poor and for those shunned by society. He is the human face of Jesus in our era. Pope Francis looks into your heart and his eyes say that God loves you.

Here is the text of New Ways beautiful press release today.

In a moment once unimaginable, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, met with Pope Francis today at the Vatican.

The 50-minute meeting took place the afternoon of Tuesday, October 17, 2023, at Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s residence in the Vatican. Three New Ways Ministry staff members were also present at the meeting.

Sister Jeannine, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, brought greetings to Pope Francis from LGBTQ+ Catholics in the U.S. church. She thanked him for his openness to blessing same-sex unions, as well as for his opposition to the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people in civil society.

This meeting is remarkable because it reflects the steady acceptance of Catholic officials to LGBTQ+ issues and ministry. Previous popes and church leaders have opposed Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry. This meeting now represents a new openness to the pastorally-motivated, justice-seeking approach which Sister Jeannine and her organization have long practiced.

Sister Jeannine remarked about the experience of the papal meeting:

“The meeting was very emotional for me. From the day he was elected, I have loved and admired Pope Francis because of his humility, his love for the poor and for those shunned by society. He is the human face of Jesus in our era. Pope Francis looks into your heart and his eyes say that God loves you.”

The meeting was the latest interaction between Pope Francis, Sister Jeannine, and New Ways Ministry, which began over two years ago. Sister Jeannine has developed a friendly correspondence with him. In one letter Pope Francis called her a “valiant woman,” and later sent her a handwritten note congratulating her on her 50 years of LGBTQ+ ministry.

Having heard from friends that Pope Francis was eager to meet Sister Jeannine, she wrote to ask if she could visit him and bring Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, and Robert Shine, Associate Director, who were in Rome to cover the Synod on Synodality’s General Assembly, and Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry’s Staff Associate. Pope Francis eagerly welcomed her and the group.

Communication between the pontiff, Sister Jeannine, and New Ways Ministry began in April 2021 when DeBernardo wrote to the pope to explain the organization’s mission and work. The letter also noted New Ways Ministry’s occasional confrontations with the Vatican and some U.S. Catholic officials in the course of its 46-year history, particularly focusing on the pioneering LGBTQ+ ministry of Sister Jeannine and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, the other co-founder of New Ways Ministry.

The pope responded quickly to this first letter, explaining that the Vatican sometimes receives partial information about people and organizations. He wrote that New Ways Ministry’s letter narrated the history objectively and helped him to better understand the situation. The Pope’s letter, written on official Vatican letterhead, offered pastoral encouragement. In closing Pope Francis wrote, “I remain at your disposal,” thus inviting further correspondence.

Since that time, Sister Jeannine and DeBernardo have written further letters to the pontiff, always receiving cordial and affirming handwritten notes in return.

DeBernardo commented on the latest encounter with the pope:

“This meeting was an affirmation not only of Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry but of the thousands upon thousands of LGBTQ+ people, parishes, schools, pastoral ministers, and religious communities who have been tirelessly working for equality, and who often experienced the great disapproval and ostracization that New Ways Ministry had experienced.

“Meeting with Pope Francis is a great encouragement for Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry to continue our work in the Catholic Church.”

—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2023

This momentous meeting between Sr. Jeannine and Pope Francis is an indicator of how far the church has come on this issue.  But the issue of inclusion at the synod has been one fraught with emotion.  As Coleen Dulles noted, “We know that there have been some rather emotional moments. We’ve heard that off record from a number of people, enough people that I feel comfortable saying it as fact, that there have been emotional moments in these discussions about inclusion and, and what that looks like…. A lot of the press is focused especially on the LGBT question, which we know was discussed in the context of this question of truth versus love. And that was an interesting question because it kind of introduced this polarity between truth and love that made for a dynamic discussion, rather than some of the other questions are about concrete practices.”

Women Deacons: I’d Welcome That

Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst, Australia, left, an elected member of the Commission for the Synthesis Report of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, CNS photo/Vatican Media

In an interview with Joshua McElwee and Christopher White, we also learned that one of the bishops on the writing commission favors opening the diaconate to women.

Australian Bishop Shane Mackinlay, elected by his peers to be part of the Synod of Bishops’ Commission for the Synthesis Report, expresses openness to ordaining women as Catholic deacons. “In an exclusive interview with National Catholic Reporter, Australian Bishop Shane Mackinlay, elected to the committee role by his peers at the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops, said of discussions about women’s ordination: “I’m glad that it is being addressed.”

Noting that the possibility of ordaining women as Catholic deacons is mentioned in the synod’s working document, Mackinlay said the issue was included “because there was such a wide representation” of people who brought it up during the two-year consultative process ahead of the Vatican assembly.

“I’m glad it’s here. I’m glad it’s going to be discussed,” said the bishop. “And if it were to be that the outcome was for ordination to the diaconate to be open to women, I’d certainly welcome that.”

Press Briefing

The Vatican press briefing included Archbishop of Rabat, Cristobal Cardinal Lopéz Romero; Bishop Anthony Randazzo, Bishop of Broken Bay, Australia, and President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania; and Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan and the young Nigerian Jesuit Agbonkhianmeghe Emmanuel Orobator, among the best-known theologians at the international level. All four are attending their ‘first Synod’; all said they were happy and enriched by this ‘experience’ of listening and learning.

According to Ruffini, participants discussed the possibility of opening the diaconate to women, first clarifying “the very nature of the diaconate”. Concerning the role of women in the Church, Dr Ruffini said that “it was recalled that Jesus associated women with His retinue” and “the question was raised whether it might not be possible to envisage that women, who gave the first proclamation of the Resurrection, might not also give homilies”. “It was also said that when women are present in the pastoral councils, decisions are more practical and communities more creative”, Ruffini continued, quoting a proverb cited in the hall: “When you want something to be talked about, have an assembly of men, but if you want to do something, have an assembly of women”.

Sheila talked about B2.5 which focused on bishops.

We continued with module B 2 of the working document, but I’m going to look more at, B 2.5, which had to do with the bishops. A lot was shared as part of the personal interventions. A lot was shared about the bishop’s role in the church and the fact that the bishop is the one who should promote ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue…Another topic was the  appointment of bishops, which is seen to be delicate.  Still there should be more consultation regarding the appointments of bishops. Another point  highlighted was that the bishop should adopt a synodal style. ..

It was advised that bishops should seek expertise from professionals. We also looked at the ongoing formation of bishops, the relationship between bishops and the clergy, and also with new bishops, what is termed baby bishops — the shepherding of new bishops and priests as well. We also looked at the bishop as a father, the father figure, the one who leads and the one who speaks the truth, but at the same time expresses love, caring, concern, and that bishops shouldn’t shun away from listening to abuse victims. It’s very important that they make room and spaces for this. We also looked at the bishop, the need to pray for our bishops, not just the bishops praying for themselves — but the laity, the faithful, all the baptized. We should always remember to pray for our bishops as well. 

Women Priests as Niche

Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan spoke at length today about women in the church, motherhood, etc.  Most of what she said was pretty

Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan CNS photo

standard fare, but it caught my attention when she called the issue of the ordination of women a “niche” issue.  Her most interesting answers came in response to questions by journalists.

Elise Allen with the Crux News had an interesting question.

In following on the topic of discussion on, on women in the female diaconate, but also different ministries in the church, you know, prior to the Synod a lot of attention was paid to what the Synod might decide or what sort of reflections might come out of it when it comes to the inclusion of women and members of the LGBTQ community.  Specifically when it comes to the women’s diaconate,  women’s ordination or even blessings for same-sex couples. Now Pope Francis did give some specific indications on some of those issues prior to the Synod in his responses to the Dubia that came out. He said more or less on, on women priests, “no,” but that it can be studied and on same sex blessings, “yes,” but with some caveats. So my question to you guys is, since this happened right before the synod began,  and he gave those clear indications, are you glad that he gave those indications beforehand? Or do you wish he would’ve left them open as the discussion unfolded?

Professor Köhler-Ryan responded.

We are glad, I mean, of course, it’s always good to know what, it’s always gonna good to get a bit of a lead on, what the Holy Father would like to guide us in as our spiritual leader. What I have to say mainly is about all of these questions about women. So what I find as a woman working in the church, working alongside, bishops, archbishops, other theologians, priests, my wonderful husband, laymen, you know, everyone in the church, religious, both men and women alike, is that we are not so focused in our everyday life as a woman, I’m not focused at all on the fact that I’m not a priest. I think that there’s too much emphasis placed on this question.

And what happens when we place too much emphasis on this question is that we forget about what women, for the most part need throughout the world. So what does a woman really, you know, what do I as a professional woman want for my, my husband and family and kids? I’ve got a bunch of kids. What do I really want? I want them to be educated, and I want them to be educated in the faith. I want them to have a house, you know, we need to live somewhere. We need to have food on the table. They need to be clothed. I want them to have a future and a future where they are welcomed into the church and everyone they know and love is welcomed into the church. So I want all of these things that isn’t possible for every woman across the world.

So some people are very focused on this idea that only if women become ordained will they have any kind of equality, but we’re not looking at equality as a one for one thing in the church. We’ve spent so much time in the last week looking at how we have unity with diversity. Well, part of that diversity is that there are realities of motherhood and fatherhood that are both spiritual and biological, and that those are really important for understanding what’s going on across the whole church. So I think we can become too distracted from by this particular issue. And what that does is that it detracts from all of the other things that we could be doing. We could be making sure that professional women are not forced to choose between having families and being out there in the workforce. For instance, we could be doing more to make sure that families are supported in all kinds of ways, including with the different economic pressures that are going on as well. So I think that’s a far more interesting conversation for most women. I tend to think of as a fairly niche kind of issue. 

I honestly hate it when women or men do this – draw false dichotomies – as if we can’t think about how to better support working mothers and parents AND think of how to better achieve a system of full equality in the institutional church.  Further, the issue of women’s ordination came up over and over again in the listening sessions – from local to continental. If an issue is important to women and to other Catholics, it is not niche.

My Favorite Prophet

Reverend Agbonkhianemeghe E. Orobator

There is no theologian that I admire more than Nigerian Jesuit Agbonkhianmeghe Emmanuel Orobator who joined the press briefing today.  In 2015, he spoke at one of the first Voices of Faith conferences inside the Vatican.  At the time, he took the floor and told the story of the 276 Chibok girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.  As he spoke, you could hear a pin drop and there weren’t many dry eyes.  When it comes to understanding the second class place of girls and women, he is truly a prophet within our Church. If you have the time, listen to what he had to say. His words would be a rich nutrient at this synod.  Everytime, he speaks, I am transported to the moment in 2014 when I was forever changed.

Today he shared these words about the synod experience:

I would add that this is my first experience of a synod. So we’re all novices, as you can see. But I also want to emphasize the fact that I have been involved in the process for the last two and a half years through the African Synodality initiative, working with the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar to prepare the stages and the phases leading to this particular moment. I would make two, three points, in terms of my own experience of this synod so far. The first is that I’m a theologian, the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. And as a theologian, this is a privileged moment. This is what a theologian lives for.  Because we are part of an experience of a process of the church making and remaking itself in a way. This is a once in a lifetime experience that really calls on theologians to dig deeper into the resources that they bring to enrich this process and to deepen this process and to make sure that this process brings out something new in terms of how we see and experience and live as a community called church. So I feel very privileged to be part of this experience.

The second thing I want to mention is about process. I remain convinced that the process is probably going to be more important than the outcome. And the process for me has been, again, truly enriching, focusing on elements or the mechanisms of frameworks of listening, of dialoguing and discerning. I believe that this is the kind of framework and mechanism that would lead us as a community called church to experiencing new way of being, where people, no matter who they are, no matter their status or station or situation in the church, are able to be part of a process where they’re not only heard, but they’re also able to contribute to a process of discernment. And I’m very grateful for the process that has been adopted.

And the third thing I would say is, I think my colleagues have mentioned this, is just to witness the, the diversity of the church and to draw from the wisdom that is so embedded in this diversity; to draw from the insights and the unique gifts that this diversity offers.

The church, I’m sitting on a group of 12 people right now in on my table, and all of us are from different countries, 12 people sitting at the same table, each person from a different country. And the wisdom that each one brings, the insights that each one reveals, and the gift that each one brings is matter for enriching a universal church. And for me, this experience is certainly one to live for and definitely to work for. And I will close by saying that as well as I’m concerned. Really, the work of the Synod will begin when the gatherings here actually conclude, because synodality, as we have been told, is about how we live and work and journey and boat and swim together, and that is going to be tested in the years to come.

But I believe that the robust process and the mechanisms and framework that’s been trialed and tested and experimented will certainly provide the resources for this synodal journey to continue and to succeed.


SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 16: Another First Woman; Women Use Time and Space Well; Acknowledging the Hurt

For the past few days, the director of the Holy See Press Office has joined the panel.  Matteo Bruni was appointed to the role in 2019 and offers a straight forward view of all things synodal in contrast to the more rambling style of Paolo Ruffini.  And of course, I love to hear Sheila Pires the best.  She is sharp and concise, and I love it when she reports that the synod participants discussed the role of woman.  They were joined today by Fr. Vimal Tirimanna, C.Ss.R, a theologian from Sri Lanka, Sr. Patricia Murray, Bishop Zdenek Wasserbauer, an auxiliary Bishop of Prague,

Paolo Ruffini reported that the first reports from the first week of the minor circles were examined. He also confirmed that the bishops from China who are present at the Synod will leave tomorrow (October 17).  He explained that they are doing so because of “pastoral reasons that call them back to their respective dioceses.”

In reporting on the morning activities in the synod hall, Sheila summarized the discussions:

Listening was once again highlighted throughout today’s morning session.  The other highlight was synodality.  What is the meaning of synodality?  Learning more about synodality.  While some churches may have experienced synodality, others haven’t. It is still a learning process to some.  Also the richness of our diversity was highlighted and how we should preserve the richness of our diversity. We also spoke about the image of the church. We spoke about the church and the roles that we all play within the church.  Just like the body, we have different parts and together we make up the body.  Each part with his own function. 

The other point of reflection was missionary activity, the role of the laity, and the role of the family.  Ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue was once again highlighted. 

During today’s discussions we spoke about in evangelization in the digital era without forgetting those that come from poorer countries with so many young people.  We may be in a digital era, but we cannot forget the young people who don’t have this privilege.  So, we highlighted that as well. 

Of course, [we highlighted] ongoing formation for both the laity and the priests. Also the whole issue of clericalism came up. And yes, the topic that many people are asking about of issues related to women, the role of women in the church, related to the inclusion of women, recognition of women, and female diaconate was also addressed.  This is not the end we are still having more presentations. 

Fr. Vimal Tirimanna, C.Ss.R

Following Sheila’s overview, Fr. Vimal Tirimanna, C.Ss.R, a theologian from Sri Lanka who confessed that even though he didn’t have high hopes for the synod, beyond theory, he is being converted and convinced this is truly a new phase in our church development.

Since [the synod] it began the sessions, I must say, I am becoming more and more optimistic.  As you know, I am a professor of moral theology and also, I, by nature,  expect results.  Before coming this time for this assembly, I was wondering how much this is going to be theory, how much of that is going to be practical.  Although, I was involved all along from the very beginning when the Synodal Secretary started the Synodal process.  In theory I was at home, but I was wondering how the theory and the practical levels would be gapped.  But the good news is the beginning of the third week, and I  am seeing how synodality is lived.

I remember, even when we were deliberating before the synodal sessions began and with the secretary —  I was in the  theological commission also last July when I was appointed a full-time member of the synod.  What we thought was what we heard once again, and again from others “Synodality happens when you do it.’  I thought this is just a cliché and rattling off things.  But I must admit ever since we began that retreat until today, thanks mainly to the great atmosphere of prayer, heavily complemented by the spiritual conversations, we see how the synodal way of living is already lived.

You have heard it from this very table again and again. The round tables themselves that are a symbol of the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium.  This is not a private agenda of Pope Francis.  It is a continuation of Vatican II.  Of course, the church had so many other things to face during the last five decadees, but now the Vatican II theology is being revived.  I stop with that — People of God, based on baptism.  People of God and baptism — these are the two poles.  So when you sit around the table in my experience, dear friends, this is the third table I’m sitting at with cardinals, bishops, lay people, mainly lay women — rubbing their shoulders with a hierarchy in a concentric church not a pyramidal church. A pyramidal church is not bad. We need that, but the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium  is lived.  A synodality where the culture of similarities is lived here.  The challenge is to take it outside.

The next in the line up was Sr. Patricia Murray, who has many responsibilities at the synod including being chosen to be on the Commission for Overseeing the Writing of the Draft Synthesis – a first for women in the Church.  I have always been a fan of Sr. Pat and her words today just filled me with more joy and pride at being a woman in this patriarchal church.

I am a member of a religious congregation. I feel that we have been practicing synodality for over 20 years. Particularly as we were making decisions and coming to conclusion about things that mattered in our lives.  And putting Jesus and the Spirit of the center of our life, and listening to the voice of everyone in a religious community, in order to discern where God is calling us at this time, where God is calling the Congregation. It has been a  practice of many congregations.  So for me, it’s added joy to see it spread into the universal church.  That this is the way that we want to live and be together — participation, communion, and mission.

I mean we are forming in these days the mission of the baptized, and then you have the ministerial mission, but we are all on mission. We’re all bringing the good news whenever we are. And increasingly we know what the complexity of the context in which we live on the needs of people, listening to those who feel excluded and on the margins of life. And more and more to create spaces listening spaces, spaces of accompaniement.

The act is to go as deep as possible. This discernment journey is not just this month. I’m so happy with the fact that there are two stages to this, because as the themes come up and are reflected on through the conversations in the Spirit from many different perspectives, we’re holding a unity in our diversity.  We’re listening to very different opinions and we’re allowing them to enter, and to nourish ourselves – to listen to what God is speaking through these various voices and these differences of opinion.  At the same time,  We, in a way, have to go deeper over the next number of months to we return again in a years time. That’s how discernment happens. You are lead deeper each time to deeper questions.  So for  example is questioning roles and functions ends up asking a much deeper question about the mission of all the baptized in the church today.

So for me, I see the different stages has been very important. We’ve been asked for example to prepare individually before we come to the round table, to do your own personal prayer reflection and preparation. So you’re not talking – just reacting to something – but you’ve really talked deeply about what you were asked to reflect on in the group. And then in the process you’ve heard it several times, in this room, I’m sure, but in listening to those different voices you can feel one’s own position being widened. broadened, deepened, because of different context, cultures, different perspectives, very different opinions, different ecclesiologies, and so forth.  And then the deep respectful conversation does lead you, at the end of the day, to a different place.

So, for me, naming the tensions, naming the areas that we still have further work to do is important in this process.  And that’s why I’d say, ‘time is a gift’. And we have to use that time to time when we meet together and the time inbetween the two assemblies to use that as a church, as a whole, for the prayer reflection and discernment.

Finally, Bishop Zdenek Wasserbauer, an auxiliary Bishop of Prague, said he was moved by the apostolic exhortation on St. Therese of Lisieux, who sees in the document a compass for the entire Synod. “During this work,” he told reporters, “I perceived very clearly that the word ‘mission’ is a key point for us. And St. Therese of Lisieux is co-patroness of the missions.”

He offered two reasons, in particular, as to why the exhortation can be seen as a guide or a beacon: “The first is related to the fact that the Saint, when she entered Carmel, had the desire to save souls. Well, I realized that here all 400 members meet every day seeking the good of others, their salvation. The second reason refers to the dark night that St. Therese of Lisieux felt in her soul in 1856. Some say that even today, the Church of the Third Millennium is going through darkness: here, the Synod is a light that illuminates the darkness.”

Q & A

Another First Woman

Joshua McElwee of NCR asked Sr. Pat Murray about her reaction to be appointed as the first woman to the Commission on Writing the Synthesis Report. “Can you tell us how you understand the work?”

Sr. Pat replied that it was an honor and a surprise to be appointed.  “I think these appointments are symbolic.”  As to the work of the group, we had our first meeting.  I was short.  We looked at the task of the commission and any indications to what the document would look like — that it wouldn’t be too long and divided clearly into sections.

Women Use Time and Space Well

Zac Davis of America Magazine asked Sr. Pat Murray.

This is, there’s of course, a historic level of women’s involvement in this gathering, and it’s also historic because, as we heard the topic of women deacons is being brought up. However, the view I have from the press box up there becomes clear that most tables only have one or two women present at them for those discussions. And we know that each participant has an equal amount of time to speak and respond, but do you feel that women are being given a just amount of time to contribute to this meeting? And secondly, can you tell us if any women have been elected as reporters for their tables? 

Sr. Pat responded.

With regard to time, I mean, obviously there two or three women at a table are participating in the general conversation, but I think as women, we’re well able to make our point and to use our time and space well.  With regard to other interventions, any individual in the room is free to submit their individual reflection. So I’m sure many of the women, as I have done, have submitted our ndividual reflections as well as contributing to the work in the group. So I do think, given the percentage of women in the room, I do think, quite honestly, space has been well created for the voice of women to be heard. And it’s not only women. There are many others who are speaking at the tables about the importance of the role of women in the church. So there are many other voices, there are other, clerics, both the cardinals, bishops and priests and brothers, because not to forget that there are lay brothers present in different capacities, also at the synod. Yes, women are participating as facilitators as reporters equally to others. They’ve been elected in their various groups.

Acknowleging the Hurt

Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry asked,

The readers of my publication are primarily LGBTQ plus Catholics and the pastoral ministers who support them. They’ve been very inspired by the process of the Synod and the willingness the church leaders show to listening to their concerns and the joy of their Catholic faith, but somehow are not as positive because they had lived through decades of exclusion and repression under previous popes and church leaders. So my question, primarily for Sister Patricia, but for the others, if they’d like to add my question, is, so while this new spirit of synodality is greatly welcomed as a present and future way to be church, it’s important to know if there has been any discussion or if there will be anything in the report, acknowledging and responding to past hurts, not just to LGBTQ plus people, but others as well, past hurts before the spirit of synodality began.

Sr. Patricia answered

I think at many of the tables, if not all, the question of hurt and the woundedness of people, both individually and collectively, has been dealt with and listened to. And equally there have been discussions around how to symbolically, n a sense, represent that hurt. Some people have said, ‘sorry,’ is not enough. So how does the church in her own pastor in liturgical way, give, sign and symbol of seeking forgiveness for hurts that have been caused? And this is something under reflection. There are two more weeks to go and how, and what will appear in the final document, would be foolish for me to say.   But just to say there, there’s a deep awareness of the pain and suffering that has been caused.

Don’t Miss These Resources

Both the National Catholic Reporter “The Vatican Briefing” podcast with Joshua McElwee and Christopher White, as well as America’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast with Coleen Dulle and Gerald O’Connell are simply excellent!

A Key Bishop Considers Women Deacons

As discussion turns to women deacons, the synod ‘gets interesting’

The Vatican Briefing podcast: Francis opens a synod that could change the Catholic Church (an interview with Catherine Clifford)


SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 12: The Power of Prayer; Healing for Isolation; We are Supported Here

Today’s press briefing was shortened because the synod participants will be participating in a pilrimage to St. Domitilla and other holy places.  According to Paolo Ruffini, the small groups have finished their reports on Communion and are sending them to the synod officials.  And tomorrow the new module will begin, B2, Co-responsibility in Mission in the Church.

Today, three people joined the press briefing.  Margaret Karrem president of the Focolare Movement, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda, Cameroon, who is also the president of the country’s Bishops’ conference, and Sister Caroline Jarjis, a doctor at the Baghdad health centre and a religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sheila Pires reported that there were 334 members present yesterday.  There were 36 interventions at the assembly.  They worked on B1 to B5.  Regarding interreligious and intercultural dialogue, there was a call to strengthen this work.  There was also a call for working to undo the impact of colonialism.

The Power of Prayer

Margaret Karram, president of the Focolare Movement, an Arab Catholic of Israeli and Palestinian origin spoke first.

She told journalists that the prayer of supplication on Thursday morning at the Synod was “a very strong moment”, because “ever since the war broke out, my heart has been broken and I wondered what I was doing here at the Synod. Joining in prayer with everyone was a very profound moment.”

According to Margaret Karram, many efforts are needed for peace, but “the power of prayer is crucial”.

And perhaps I could do something better or different to promote peace. So the first thing was for me to unite myself in prayer,and share the words of the Pope. So I thought it was good that we are all convened here in at the Synod.  Representatives from all the whole world and from all continents, and that we could truly devote a moment, albeit short, of deep prayer to God, asking for peace altogether.

So it was a very deep moment because I believe that we can do many things to promote peace, but I also believe in the power of prayer. And I was really struck by the fact that today’s gospel talked about this precisely. Knock on the door and it will be opened. Ask and you will be answered. So I felt that this faith should grow and also the faith of my people in believing even more in the power of prayer. And I thought that even being here at the synod is not in contradiction with the principles of my life.  My life living for peace, because these days, experience is teaching me what it means to journey together. It’s not easy to listen to the others and understand them. Having a dialogue allow you to be questioned by the others. And over these past few days, I made this deep reflection if what we are learning here at the synod for a whole month, if we manage to do this altogether amongst us. And if we, allow this lifestyle to become not just a methodology, but a lifestyle precisely for the church. And if we can bring this to many other contexts at the social political level in listening to the other, with respect beyond our diversity differences, different opinions.  Well, I think that this could truly help us also at a higher level in terms of being able to build bridges for peace. 

Healing for Isolation

Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda, Cameroon spoke next.

I think this synod is a very big consolation to Africa because with the problems we have in Africa, sometimes we feel isolated and abandoned. But coming to the synod we join with the rest of the universal church to sit down and pray together for the problems that are going on in Africa, and especially for the countries that are affected by war. This for us, is a very, very big consolation. Secondly, the synod gives a chance for the voice of Africa to be heard.  Africa has its own specificities and their own peculiarities. And when we come together to the, in the universal church, in a synod journey like this one, it is an opportunity for Africa’s voice to be heard and to be heard where it is supposed to be heard. We are not worried about social media or about what others are saying, but we are with our brothers and sisters.  We feel the unity that binds the church together. And there we are able to express ourselves freely and happily. And I think that this is a very wonderful opportunity for Africa to make its own mark within the synod.  And for this, I am very, very grateful. The last point is that we have learned from what is happening in the continent. The wars that are  going on Ukraine, Palestine, and Israel and other places, we all have to be pro-peace. War can never be the solution. We all have to be pro-peace and join together as one church, God’s children, united praying for peace. Peace is possible.

When someone asked him about synodality he said it is already happening in his region.

Synodality forms part of the African culture, because we always do things together as a family. And when we do things as a family, we consult everybody within the family. And, in the local churches, which we have, we believe strongly in the basic Christian communities because in those basic Christian communities, everybody is able to express themselves.

We are supported here

Finally, Sister Caroline Jarjis, a doctor at the Baghdad health centre and a religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus read the Gospel in Arabic at the synod gathering.  She spoke about her experience.

The experiences that we will take home from this assembly, it’s not just a document, an official report, but it’s rather a strong Christian experience similar to that of the early Christians who were sharing everything, their sufferings, well, the suffering that we hear, the, the wealth, the richness that comes from the words of the others. So I can say that this is my experience. I have come from a country, where it’s a Christian minority.  We have suffered all our life. Unfortunately, this is a steady element in our lives. But I still have hope, hope for our church, even though we are a minority in my country. Still our church is rich, because we have so many martyrs, their blood give us strength to go on. And today I am, I am bringing this strength here, and I will go home with even greater strength because there is a universal church behind me that supports me. And I will bring this all back to my own community, to my Christian people. And also I will bring this back to the other people. I will bring this experience to share it also with the other religions. I come from Baghdad and I will share it with them.


SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 14: A whoopsie; Sr. Maria’s grace; Antioch again?

A whoopsie

Whoopsie!  It appears that the confidential small group discussion documents were infiltrated by a conservative journalist who found an open link with no password requirements.  He reported it to synod officials. The National Catholic Register took note of the leak and complained that even though the reports are no longer secret, officials preferred to fix the link refusing to release the coveted reports.  During the press briefing, Ruffini addressed the “whoopsie” — the leaking of small group documents and the issue of confidentiality. Ruffini explained that because some members could not access the documents, the General Secretary created an open link which contained some of the small group reports.  After they learned it was being accessed by others, they reinstated the secure link.  During the Q & A, Fr. Thomas Reese asked if the documents could be shared with all journalists since they were leaked, but Ruffini said it was a closed matter.

On the press panel, Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires were joined by Sister Maria De Los Dolores Palencia Gómez who is one of the Presidential Delegates for the Synod; Enrique Alarcón García, president of ‘Frater España’, a Christian fraternity that brings together many people with disabilities in Spain; and Father Mauro Giuseppe Lepori, Abbot General of the Cistercian Order.

Ruffini explained that at the end of the second week participants are discussing the third module, B2; the conception of ministry, the relationship of ordained to non-ordained, the role of women, and other topics.  He also explained that there were different small groups working on different questions within B2.

Ruffini also addressed the “whoopsie” above — the leaking of small group documents and the issue of confidentiality. Ruffini explained that because some members could not access the documents, the General Secretary created an open link which contained some of the small group reports.  After they learned it was being accessed by others, they reinstated the secure link.

The first person to speak today was Enrique Alarcón García, president of ‘Frater España’, a Christian fraternity that brings together many people with disabilities in Spain. He arrived at the press conference in a wheelchair. He spoke of his gratitude saying it was, “First of all, for the Holy Father who wanted me at the Synod.” Because my presence is not just a formality, I was not placed here to be displayed like a flag”. He believes that Francis, “is always interested in how people with disabilities live in the Church and what they think of it. We were not used to this”.  “Persons with disabilities are the greatest minority in the world,” and Garcia hopes that there will truly be inclusion in our Church. Pope Francis is making a way.

Sr. Maria’s grace

For the first time ever, on Friday, a synod session was chaired by a woman: Sister Maria De Los Dolores Palencia Gómez, of the order of San José de Lyon. At the press briefing, Sr. Maria said the following:

My name is Maria and I have been a sister for over 50 years and my journey through life was marked by peripheries. Almost all my life was spent with indigenous peoples, rural people, and also with migrants. At the moment I’m living in a place where I work every day and where I welcome migrants from Southern and Central America and also from Africa, Asia.  I welcome them on a daily basis.

Being here is a real grace and a gift for my life to have the opportunity of being invited to the synod and to participate in this synod work.  I also worked during preparatory stage in all the different steps and, I must say that this was a learning and an unlearning path.   A learning path that was very important is to listen to every reality of every person in every culture.  So it’s not just a matter of listening it is also a matter of echoing through the others’s words – the Spirit through the common discernment that we are experiencing tin the synod.  It is a time of listening and encounter, listening and understanding, and through listening and understanding we’re trying to discover with the Spirit is suggesting so that we may better serve our Church and to take steps forward based on a strong desire that of being a message of hope in the name of the Gospel in the world. 

Yesterday I had the grace of being invited to be the delegate president and I presided over the assembly in the morning session.  I must say that it was a very deep experience, very exciting, and very moving as well.  I sat down with the Pope.  We were sitting at the same table with the Secretary General and the Rapporteur.  And I realized that this is a modus vivendi, forever, a way of life, a co-responsibility that strongly emerges from the synod.  With co-responsibility that unites us through our baptism, it is an invitation to be attentive, to pay attention because as baptized men and women we must continue to listen to the Spirit.  We must continue to journey together respecting what at the cultural level must be different, what needs different responses to journeying together with a permanent and ongoing dialogue.  I have read Ecclesiam Suam written by Paul VI about the importance of the church as a dialogue. The church is dialogue. This is truly what we are experiencing on a daily basis in our synod. It is something that for me is a great grace.

Having been the first woman, as a cardinal was telling me yesterday, the first woman in 20 years to preside over an assembly of bishops, well for me, this was a gift and a grace.  I think it is also a symbol of this openness that the church has, a desire that sees us all as pilgrims along the same route.  Something that places all of us at the same level — the role of women — the charism that we can offer the church. These are all steps in this synodal journey.  They represent a great joy for me, as well as a great responsibility. We have always felt responsible for our role in the church, but today this resounds in a much stronger way because we are publicly recognized. And we must show that as women, both lay women and sisters, we can put at the service of the Gospel and hope.

After Sr. Maria’s words, Father Mauro Giuseppe Lepori spoke.  The Union of Superiors General appointed him to represent them at the synod.  “As a monk, I am learning a lot from the synod,” he said. “I feel very compelled and challenged by this synod, because it calls for a conversion to listening.”  After being initially fearful about the synod, Fr. Mauro has come to believe that the Spirit will speak as they listen closely to each other.  He believes they are going in a direction that is good for the Church.

Q & A

One journalist asked if there would be a declaration from the synod on the Israeli Palestine war and all wars.  Ruffini did not answer directly but spoke about what had been done already in terms of prayers.

A journalist from Peru asked Sr. Maria.  “What are your expectations concerning listening?  Do you feel you will be listened to?  Sr. Maria, responded that the synod is a process with steps that goes little by little but that there is going to be another synod that will be much more decisive.   “We are being invited to give our own contributions. We have already made strong steps ahead,” she said.

Mr. Garcia agreed with Sr. Maria but also said that the synod is very pedagogical in nature.  The bishops realize that we can not only listen, but they can have real dialogue as co-equal brothers and sisters.

Diane Montanya from the Catholic Herald asked about the synthesis report.  “Can you tell us what the members will be voting on?”  Given that this is the first assembly is with lay people, will we be given a breakdown of how they voted?

Ruffini responded by saying that the final report has not been drafted yet so he cannot say what will come out.  The final report will be different from other synthesis reports because there is going to be another session in 2024.  As far as voting, there will be bishops and non-bishops.  He defended the make-up of the synod body stressing, “We are part of the same assembly. It is a consultative synod.  Lay members are united by a common baptismal priesthood.”

Women Priests and Bishops?

Diane Montanya also asked Fr. Mauro, “Since you are a priest, we know there are both bishops and laity at the synod who are pushing for women’s ordination.  It is mentioned in the Instrumentum Laboris as inclusion in the diaconate. The push for women deacons in the synod is no different than the feminist push for women deacons in the Anglican communion which led to women priests and bishops.  How is this not a further step in ordination?”

Fr. Mauro said, as far as female priesthood, this topic is not dominating our discussion.

What is important is the participation of women in the life of the church. So how can we better recognize the dignity of women in the church?  From what I have seen so far, no one has spoken about female priesthood….The great temptation when we discuss these topics is to be too superficial.  We are speaking at a deep level.  I am in a group that is speaking about the role of women.  I chose this.  Monks and nuns belong to the same order and are members of the same general chapter.  There are no distinctions.  Living the life of the church with her two lungs enriches the church.  How this will be expressed is not something I am able to say.  We always seek what is good for the Church and the theme of women’s roles in the church is essential.

Another journalist from Mexico asked about the sensitivity of the synod participants to the plight of migrants.  Sr. Maria said that she believes there is a sensitivity in the synod.  She hopes that the synod will continue to speak about migration and that this cry is never silenced.

Antioch again?

The final and important question from Coleen Dulle of America Magazine to Ruffini.  Regarding discussions on sexuality, Dulle asked, “it sounds like there were different points of view offered from delegates on various topics in the past, especially around sexual identity.  Do you think this synod is having better conversations around these issues and if so, what do you think contributed to that – the media fasting, the round tables, the retreat, etc., or do conversations still feel polarized?

Ruffini responded:

In general terms I can tell you what I participated in and in what I could bear witness to.  It is true there is a serene dialogue or exchange even though people do not share the same opinion.  In small groups members are asked to highlight those issues where there are disagreements.  What I can say is we are halfway through our journey, there may be more polarized exchanges and less based on communion.  But what I am witnessing is an extraordinary exercise in communion.

Dulle’s question was likely sparked by the debate that was reported by Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter.  Under the cloak of anonymity, several participants shared the rising tensions regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ people into the church.

According to White:

According to the interviews, given under the condition of anonymity due to the synod’s rules on confidentiality of the assembly’s discussions, speeches about LGBTQ Catholics were given by delegates from a range of areas, including Eastern Europe, Africa and Australia. To varying degrees, the remarks expressed skepticism toward efforts to better integrate LGBTQ Catholics into the church’s ministries. 

Those interventions were then reportedly countered by several personal testimonials calling on the church to urgently reexamine its approach to LGBTQ persons, which were reportedly met by open applause from synod delegates.

This is the beginning of a long overdue conversation.  It won’t be any easier than the struggle between Peter and Paul about inclusion of the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-16). But it is a start and, in the end, we will have justice within our church.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’[a] 

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified[b] not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.[c] And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,[d] and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 13: The first woman presides; Bishops are not pioneers; Let’s talk about women

Today is the beginning of a new module, B2 which is about co-responsibility and mission.  There are 344 participants present, and each small group will take up questions around, “How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?”

The First Woman Presides

For the first time in synod history, a women will preside over the opening.  Sister Maria de los Dolores Valencia Gomez offered the opening comments for the synod today.

Bishops are Not Pioneers

Cardinal Hollerich offered a truly beautiful opening and offered some concessions that brought tears to my eyes.

Cardinal Hollerich

When speaking about reaching those who live on the “digital continent.”

Many of us see the internet as simply a tool for evangelisation. It is more than that. It transforms our ways of living, of perceiving reality, and of living relations. Thus, it becomes a new mission territory.

Just as Francis Xavier left for new lands, are we willing and prepared to sail towards this new continent? Most of us cannot be guides in these new mission contexts … we have to be guided by the people who inhabit the digital continent. Mostly we bishops are not the pioneers of this mission, but those who are learning along a path opened up by the younger members of the People of God.

With regards to women in the church taken up in B2.3  his words were challenging, healing, and prophetic. The question reads: “How can the Church of our time better fulfil its mission through greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women?” Hollerich reflects:

I want to dwell a little more on the other three Worksheets, because an Assembly like our needs to be very careful when dealing with them. As members of the People of God, all the themes of the ‘Instrumentum laboris’ concern us closely and touch us. But these three do so in a particular way. In fact, with respect to these three themes, each of us is the bearer of a point of view that is essential, but to address the themes effectively, we are also called to realize our own partiality. The best way to understand what I mean by this is to review the three Worksheets.

 Most of us are men. But men and women receive the same baptism and the same Spirit. The baptism of women is not inferior to the baptism of men. How can we ensure that women feel they are an integral part of this missionary Church? Do we, the men, perceive the diversity and the richness of the charisms the Holy Spirit has given to women? Or the way that how we act often depends on our past education, our family upbringing and experience, or the prejudices and stereotypes of our culture? Do we feel enriched or threatened when we share our common mission and when women are co-responsible in the mission of the Church, on the basis of the grace of our common Baptism?

He goes further to challenge ordained members as they address B2.4, “How can we properly value ordained Ministry in its relationship with baptismal Ministries in a missionary perspective?”

Besides being men, most of us are also ordained ministers. In the People of God there are also other components, other charisms, other vocations, and other ministries. What is the relation between ordained ministry and other baptismal ministries? We all know the image of the body Saint Paul uses. Are we ready to accept that all parts of the body are important? Are we ready to accept that Christ is the head of the body, and that the body can only function if each part relates to the head and to the other parts? Can the body of our Church act in harmony or are the parts twisting in all directions?

Finally, in B2.5 he challenges his brother bishops.

The last Worksheet concerns Bishops, whose ministry by the Lord’s will structures the communion of the Church. How should it be renewed and promoted in order to be exercised in a manner appropriate to a synodal Church? Most of us here are bishops. This question cannot but challenge us in a particular way, because the answer will have a direct impact on our everyday lives, on the way we manage our time, on the priorities of our agenda, on the expectations of the People of God towards us, and on the way we conceive our mission. 

We must be well aware of the degree and intensity of our involvement. And when we are so involved in a particular question or reality, we need even more the courage to take a step back to authentically listen to others, make room within ourselves for their word and ask what the Spirit is suggesting to us through them. This applies to the way we listen to those who are not bishops and who are therefore bearers of a different point of view, but also to other bishops because, in the end, each of us has his own way of being a bishop. Sharing our own experience of episcopacy and how this has changed over time, can be of great help.

Let’s Talk About Women

Sr. Liliana

After Cardinal Hollerich offered his reflection, there were a few personal witnesses shared.  The witness of Sr. Gloria Liliana Franco Encheverri, ODN. was especially powerful and beautiful.

When thinking about the role of women in the Church, it is appropriate to look to Jesus and learn from Him. The Gospel recounts Jesus’s willingness to see and feel women, to raise them, dignify them, and send them. True reform comes from an encounter with Jesus, echoing His Word, learning from His attitudes and criteria, and assimilating His style.

From this conviction, I want to start by sharing the experiences of some women: Doña Rosa, at seventy years old, visits the sick in her neighborhood every evening, ensuring they have food and a dignified life. Until six months ago, she also brought them communion. However, the new priest told her that this task was no longer for her. Now, male Eucharistic ministers, equipped with striking uniforms, will deliver communion. She continues visiting the sick. She can no longer bring the Eucharist due to protocols, but every night, after praying, she feels that God carries her, and through her, He offers genuine comfort to the most vulnerable.

Martha completed her doctorate in Theology with better grades than her male counterparts. The Pontifical University she graduated from decided not to give her a canonical degree because she’s a woman. Instead, she received a civil title. Yet this is progress, as until recently, women in her country couldn’t study theology, only Religious Sciences.

Many women have no place on parish or diocesan councils, despite being teachers, catechists, caregivers for the sick, attendants to migrants, guides for youth, and playmates for children. They nourish faith in paraliturgies and creatively sustain hope amidst violence. From the perspective of many Council members, women’s roles are seen as maternal, basic, and pastoral, while they view the Council’s objectives as more administrative and strategic.

On September 28, upon arriving in Rome, I attended Mass. Behind me was a mother with her two children. During communion, she asked her eldest child if he would take part. Immediately, the younger girl, six-year-old María Antonia, asked, “Mom, what is communion?” This question has echoed powerfully throughout the days of the Synodal Assembly.

The journey of women in the Church is filled with scars, moments of pain and redemption. The love of God has always been evident and unyielding. Some may try to obscure the presence and contributions of women in building the Church, but the Church has a female face. The assemblies, parish groups, liturgical celebrations, apostolic ministries, the quality of reflection, and the warmth of the Church’s dedication often and predominantly originate from women’s hearts. This is evident in all contexts.

The Church, as a mother and teacher, is also a sister and disciple. It is feminine. This doesn’t exclude men because the power of the feminine – wisdom, kindness, tenderness, strength, creativity, courage, and the capacity to give life and face situations boldly – resides in everyone, both men and women. We are all called to be nurturing, embracing, comforting, and supportive. A feminine Church has the power of fertility, a gift from the RUAH.

In the synodal process in our continent, we see that a missionary Church pulsating with feminine energy has these perspectives:

    1. Jesus and the Gospel are the ones who convene us. The encounter is for remembering and renewing our commitment, aware of being sent as missionary disciples. Faith is read in deeds, and discernment underlies every action or process.
    2. Inclusion and participation in decision-making arise from recognizing our identity as God’s people and the dignity baptism bestows on us.
    3. Opting to care for all forms of life is a choice for the Kingdom. There’s a push to build communities that naturally uplift the downtrodden, heal the wounded, welcome the marginalized, uphold human dignity, and promote the common good and rights of individuals and the Earth.
    4. A new way of establishing relationships fosters a renewed identity: more circular, fraternal, and sororal. With new ministries that weave bonds of solidarity and proximity, connections are made beyond hierarchical and functional roles.
    5. There is belief in the value of processes, prioritizing listening, and recognizing that fecundity is the fruit of grace, from the action of the Spirit, the only one capable of making all things new.

At the heart of the desire and the imperative for a greater presence and participation of women in the Church, there is no ambition for power or a feeling of inferiority, nor a self-centered pursuit of recognition. There is a cry for living in fidelity to God’s project, who wishes for the people with whom He made a covenant, to recognize each other as brothers and sisters. This is about a right to participation and equal co-responsibility in discernment and decision-making, but fundamentally, it’s a longing to live with awareness and coherence, with the common dignity given to all by baptism. A desire to serve.

Hopefully, at the conclusion of this synodal process, we can all look straight into the eyes of little María Antonieta and say to her that to take communion is to walk as brothers and sisters, with our gaze fixed on Jesus, to renew that feast where there’s a place for everyone, where love translates into deeds, and the truth that shelters us all is simply and plainly the Gospel.

The leaders and witnesses at the synod provided a hopeful foundation for the small group discussions that will focus on some of the most contested issues in the church, women’s roles, women’s ordination, and the relationship between ordained and lay.  It would also be quite useful to read the other witnesses since they offer perspectives and insights into worlds not our own.—Galli.pdf—Valladares_De-Urquidi.pdf—ORIGINALE.pdf

To view the entire session go to

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 11; No human is clandestine; Catholic with a tiny, tiny “c”; Listen to Grace

At today’s press briefing Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires were joined by Canadian Cardinal Lacroix, Grace Wrackia from Papua New Guinea, and Luca Casarini, an Italian migration activist.

Today general discussions focused on poverty, migration, abuse, the role of women, and sexual identity.

Dr. Ruffini reported on a “small ‘working group’” held on Tuesday at the Casa Santa Marta, where some of Rome’s poor were invited to lunch with Pope Francis and Papal Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.  Those who took part in the meal were also asked what they expected from the Church. “Their answer was: ‘Love. Just love’.”

There are general congregations yesterday and today, devoted to small group reports with free interventions, where people can react to what they heard.

We are at the Module B1 which is divided into 5 sections/questions.  Today the participants talked about B1.4 and B1.5.

Sheila touched on the highlights of the day.  One theme that came up was the desire for a church that is poor, that walks with the poor.  The poor have many faces.  We also discussed migrants, climate change, women, the participation of men in the church, the abuse of women, and more.  Some bishops asked for assistance from other bishops who are doing well in providing assistance to migrants.  They also looked at the social doctrine of the church where the poor are excluded.  Another topic that came out quite strongly was to strengthen relationships to the Eastern churches.   And the question of how to put this synodal process into practice was also discussed.

Ruffini said there were a lot of discussion about “truth and love.”  The topic of sexuality was brought up.  Some said that there is no need to talk about sexuality.  But others said that there is no room for “homophobia.”  And there was much discussion about love, acceptance, and truth.

Canadian Cardinal Lacroix spoke about Vatican II.  “What we are living and experiencing is in continuity,” he said.  John XXIII was prophetic and offered the words the pope spoke at the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

It is but natural that in opening this Universal Council we should like to look to the past and to listen to its voices, whose echo we like to hear in the memories and the merits of the more recent and ancient Pontiffs, our predecessors. These are solemn and venerable voices, throughout the East and the West, from the fourth century to the Middle Ages, and from there to modern times, which have handed down their witness to those Councils. They are voices which proclaim in perennial fervor the triumph of that divine and human institution, the Church of Christ, which from Jesus takes its name, its grace, and its meaning.

Grace Wrackia from Papua New Guinea, explained that the Catholic Church has been in the region for about 150 years.  “It is a country of 1000 tribes, 800+ languages.”  We see each other as family.  Melanesian spirituality is very important to us.  We build relationships beyond those who look like us and extends us into a very big community.  And my ancestors are proud of our identity.  We live synodality.  We live in communion.  A village comes together to makes big decisions together.  Everyone speaks.  Women speak.  As she recalled her beautiful way of life, she made it clear, “We have been listening.  And now we want to speak because we have something to offer this synod.”

No human being is clandestine

Vatican media captured the testimony of Luca Casarini beautifully.  His words were powerful and moving.  Casarini is an Italian

Mediterranea Saving Humans

activist and former proponent of the Tute Bianche movement. Casarini was influential in the development of the “white overalls” movement, that practiced social and civil disobedience while dressed in white overalls.  He was arrested at the G8 Summit in Genoa for his participation in violent protests.  Under an NGO he established in 2018, Mediterranea Saving People, he and his crew continue to set sail in the only civil rescue ship flying the Italian flag.  In thirteen missions they have recovered two thousand shipwrecked survivors. But also corpses in the waves. Pope Francis wanted him at the synod because of their courageous work.  “There are some groups of people who are dedicated to saving people at sea. I invited one of them to participate in the Synod. They tell you terrible stories”, Francis told journalists, returning from Marseille, to explain Casarini’s participation.

Casarini began by describing himself as “a privileged man”, because “in a world where there is a race to see who kills the most people, a world dominated by hatred, to come to the aid of a life, to embrace brothers and sisters in the middle of the sea is an infinite gift that changes lives. It has changed mine…”

“In the middle of the sea we meet these brothers and sisters, and at that moment you meet two poverties.”

On the one hand, there is the economic and social poverty that forces people “to leave their land, their family, their memory”, their only riches; on the other hand, the desolating poverty of a part of the world that now considers “horror normal”.

“We are no longer able to cry for a child who dies,” Mr. Casarini said. “These two poverties help each other and make room for something we should desperately seek today in the world of hatred: love. This is how I met Jesus and God.”

Catholic with a tiny, tiny “c”

I have always loved the idea that the words catholic, with a small “c” means universal.  But today, I witnessed someone who found a way to make that “c” so tiny it hardly seems “catholic” in any sense of the word at all.  After the powerful words of Luca Casarini were offered, it was stunning and embarrassing to see a tone-deaf journalist from LifeSite News stand up and ask if participants at the synod are expected to adhere to Catholic teaching. There was a kind of silent shock.  Could anyone be so petty in the face of such a profoundly moving testimony?  There was some uncomfortable movement and it took a bit of time to sort out who would answer.  The cardinal bent over backwards to say that the synod was not about doctrine and he continued to talk about the discernment process for a few moments. I was feeling more like a mother who gives her child “the look” when the child continues to misbehave.

Edward Pentin, asked who would be writing the final synthesis of the synod report.  And, wow! he asked if Luca Casarini was “sorry” for “illegally” rescuing migrants.

Casarini replied, “For Genoa, I underwent eight years of trial and was acquitted in all three levels of prosecution,” He said that he “could not understand” Pentin’s accusation.

“For me, no human being is clandestine… I understood that I was under investigation because I helped 38 people from 38 days in the middle of the sea. The biggest stand-off Europe has ever known. Among these people was a girl who was raped by five Libyan guards before going to sea. For 38 days she did not even see a doctor. Did I commit a crime? Arrest me, I’m glad I did it.”

Another journalist asked asked him if he felt “out of place” at an event like the Synod, punctuated by various rituals and spiritual moments.

“I always feel out of place and inadequate in every context”, he smiled. “I really do consider everyone present at the Synod my brothers and sisters, I am learning to turn anger and resentment into piety.”

“I am trying to learn is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That we should not expect to solve everything ourselves, but it is the Holy Spirit who acts. So crazy things can happen… like the fact that I am at the Synod.”

The journalist from America Magazine asked if the conversations around polarizing topics like sexual identity and others have gone more smoothly than in the past and what accounts for that.  Ruffini explained that his experience was not polarized.  People were free to speak and there was a sense that we needed to have more encounter in order to understand the experience of others.  And they are getting encouragement from Cardinal Grech to remember that tensions within a family are normal.  The cardinal agree that it is good to listen and to consider new ideas.  “Everyone can express themselves and they will be listened to.”

Listen to Grace

Grace Wrackia

A journalist from Belgium asked about indigenous communities, Catholic missionary activities, and the past sins of colonialism in places like Papua New Guinea.  He wanted to know what evangelization should look like today.  We need to walk together, but not without truth or justice.

Grace Wrackia from Papua New Guinea gave a most eloquent response!  I want to fall down on my knees in gratitude.

In those early years when Christianity first came to Papua New Guinea, that evangelization as how those missionaries knew how to do it…Now there is a new evangelization where we are more aware of each other‘s culture.  So when missionaries come to us now, they come with an open mind respecting the cultures that are already in our land. And evangelizing according to how we, the local people, the indigenous people, believe; respecting our land, respecting our waters, and respecting the way we have been living as a community for thousands of years.  So I would say in those  previous years, those early years of missionary activities, it was different.  And now it will not be the same method of evangelization because now we know each other.  So for the Gospel to take root in this time and era,  evangelization will have to take a new form.  And one of them is listening to us, the indigenous people and not just us listening to the foreign missionaries.

Now I don’t know about you, but hearing this kind of testimony changes my heart, changes my very being.  I am transformed.  Maybe you are transformed as well.








SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct 10: A Sister’s Love Note; The Overseers; Joe Tobin Rocks

Photo collage by FutureChurch

At the press briefing today, Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires were joined by Sr. Liliana Franco Echeverri, a member of the Company of Mary and president of the Latin American Confederation of Religious and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, a Redemptorist, Archbishop of Newark, and, one of the men Pope Francis appointed to be a part of the synod.

A Sister’s Love Note

CNS photo/Lola Gomez

Sr. Liliana Franco Echeverri is one of those people who radiates the Holy Spirit.  In her comments she said that she wants to bring the Spirit of Jesus who welcomes the other to the synod. “We really have a desire to live as Jesus lived.  A Jesus who humanizes and gives dignity and who is inclusive.  A Jesus who opens the door to the other,” she said.  She wants to be a part of a different journey that relies on conversation in the Spirit.  “In our small groups, we recognize this dignity, a dignity that comes from mutual respect and communion,” said Sr. Liliana.

Cardinal Tobin expressed his gratitude to be in a small group that is diverse with a Russia woman and a Ukrainian mother and where he is able to listen and learn from others.

Paolo Ruffini shared the list of 13 who will oversee the writing of the draft report for the synod.  Sr. Patricia Murray is one strong woman, but it is sad to see that more women weren’t chosen for this critical task.

Seven members were elected by the synod assembly yesterday.  Three members were personally appointed by Pope Francis, and three are members from the Secretariat of the Synod.  The following list was created by Courtney Mares.

Below is the list of those who will oversee the drafting of the synod synthesis report.  This is always controversial because some worry that the voices that do not agree with Pope Francis will be written out or diminished.

The Overseers: The Commission Writing the Final Synthsis

Members Appointed by Pope Francis

Father Giuseppe Bonfrate, Italy, is a theology professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he teaches courses on the sacraments and the Second Vatican Council. He is the director of the university’s Alberto Hurtado Center for Faith and Culture and served as an expert in the 2015 Synod on the Family and the 2019 Synod on the Pan-Amazonian region.

Sister Patricia Murray, IBVM, Ireland, has spent nearly a decade as the executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). The sister with the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) previously worked as a secondary school teacher, principal, and a peace education officer and was appointed as a consultant for the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education earlier this year.

Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, IMC, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is the world’s youngest cardinal at the age of 49. Originally from northern Italy, Cardinal Marengo has spent two decades as a missionary in Mongolia, where he was appointed apostolic prefect in 2020.

Members elected by the synod assembly 

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, OFMCap, Democratic Republic of Congo, is the archbishop of Kinshasa and is the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2019. The African cardinal said at a synod press conference on Oct. 7 that the outcome of the Synod on Synodality will be “welcomed by everyone as the will of God.”

Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, France, is the archbishop of Marseille, where he has emphasized the importance of dialogue between Christians and Muslims and welcoming migrants. Pope Francis made him a cardinal in 2022. The Algerian-born Frenchman has headed the French bishops’ conference council for interreligious relations since 2017. He welcomed the pope to Marseille last month.

Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, ISPX, Canada, has served as the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada since 2011. He spent eight years as a missionary priest in Colombia with the Pius X Secular Institute and served as director general of the institute for nearly 10 years. He was named in early 2023 to the pope’s Council of Cardinals.

Bishop Shane Anthony Mackinlay, Australia, has served as the bishop of Sandhurst since 2019 and was the master of Catholic Theological College in Melbourne for nearly 10 years. He participated in the German Synodal Way session in March, where he is an advocate for LGBTQ people.

Archbishop José Luis Azuaje Ayala, Venezuela, has been president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference and is currently vice president of CELAM. He participated in the 2019 Synod for the Amazon. In an interview in 2018 he said: “I think Pope Francis is doing what a pope should do: encourage, get to the heart of the message. … With parrhesia the pope carries the weight of renewal and does so looking to the future with hope. We see it in the convocation of the youth synod, in the agreement with China, and in its constant rapprochement with minorities.”

Bishop Mounir Khairallah, Lebanon, has served as the eparch of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Batroun, Lebanon, since 2012. He studied at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome and at the Catholic University of Paris.

Father Clarence Sandanaraj Davedassan, Malaysia, is the director of the Catholic Research Center in Kuala Lumpur. A priest of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Davedassan is the executive secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences’ Office of Theological Concerns and has been a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since 2013. He gave a livestreamed testimony at the Synod on Synodality’s General Congregation on Oct. 9.

Members from Synod Leadership 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, relator general, is one of the leading organizers of the ongoing Synod on Synodality as the relator general. The Jesuit archbishop of Luxembourg was added to Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers earlier this year. He said in an interview in March that he believes that a future pope could allow women priests and that he finds “the part of the teaching calling homosexuality ‘intrinsically disordered’ a bit dubious.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the General Secretariat of the Synod, is the former bishop of Gozo, Malta. He was one of two authors of the Maltese bishops’ pastoral guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, which stated that divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases and after “honest discernment,” could receive Communion. Last year, Grech decried criticism of the German Synodal Way.

Father Riccardo Battocchio is one of two special secretaries for the Synod on Synodality. The Italian priest from the Diocese of Padua is the rector of the Almo Collegio Capranica in Rome and the president of the Italian Theological Association.

Q & A

Joe Tobin Rocks

Sandro Magister, a long time Italian journalist who is quite explicit in his criticism of Francis and Francis’s Curia, asked Ruffini about the division of the small groups and the questions small groups would be discussing.  Magister objected to these divisions arguing that they are “coming from the top down.”  I have to smile.  Sandro loved Benedict XVI’s top down management style, but again, this is a veiled complaint about the person at the top — Francis — and not the process.  Nonetheless, Ruffini gave a very long answer about the process and then Joe Tobin spoke.

This whole process has really impressed me.  I’ve been involved in the planning since 2018 and what has impressed me has been the sensitivity to reflect honestly on what has been heard, first, at the diocesan phase in this very complex diocese that I serve in northern New Jersey, where we celebrate the Eucharist and 23 languages every Sunday. And where we had to prepare materials for at least eight or nine major language groups.  At the end, when people examine the report that we sent to Washington, like all the US dioceses, people said ‘yes’ what I said is there.  Maybe not with the emphasis everybody wanted because people have different passions. But they didn’t say ‘I was ignored,’ which is amazing. And then this was repeated in the national synthesis that served as a basis for the continental meeting.  Now North America, uniquely among the continents, choose to do conduct our continental meetings online.  So I purposely went to one meeting in English, one meeting in French, and one meeting in Spanish. And I was very impressed and I would say a little surprised that I didn’t hear of any of those people saying, ‘what I said or what was said in our our local church isn’t there.’  That is a real tour de force. Now, I think the Instrumentum Laboris is following in that tradition. We will see as we go ahead because we’re still fairly new in the process, but I am quite confident that things did not come down from on high rather the beauty of this process is it begins from the base.

Another journalist asked about how the conflicts in the world are playing out in the synod hall and at the small group tables.  She also wanted to know how topics like polygamy, divorced and remarriage, LGBTQ relationships, etc. were being addressed in the synod hall.

Joe Tobin answered first.

The war in Ukraine did come up as well as the conflict which broke out, as we all know, over the weekend.   The wars are in the headlines, but there are also  wars that unfortunately are not always covered in the press like the wars in Africa of the conflicts in Asia.  These are part of our reflections as well.

I think the other outreach that is a concern is a concern of my diocese is outreach to people who feel that they are not at home in the Catholic Church. Not so many years ago, I welcomed a pilgrimage of people who felt marginalized because of their sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ people, to the Cathedral. I couldn’t stay for the whole service because I had another commitment, but I welcomed them and one of my auxiliary Bishops, a Cuban-American, had a wonderful reflection.  He said after I gave the initial welcome, ‘We have a very beautiful cathedral and I hope you see it sometime. It is arguably the most beautiful cathedral in North America and it’s 5 feet longer than Saint Patricks in New York (laughter).  It is French Gothic and it was made by the Italian architect who had immigrated and built this wonderful structure in 70 years….This is a wonderful, wonderful, beautiful place but it’s most beautiful when the doors are open.’  I  think are the real beauty of our Catholic Church is clear when the doors are open and welcoming.  And its my hope that this synod will help us do that in a more significant way.

The synod is based on the context, our land…a world that wants to build walls….An option that allows us to understand we are all brothers and sisters.  In my small group we talk about the people who are excluded.  We have a cruicial role to go and look for those who are not in our church.  Those who are the victims of trafficking, etc.  We must protect human rights.  We must have a voice that is prophetic.  

Joshua McElwee of National Catholic Reporter asked Joe Tobin about the blocking of the media.

Tobin said that Pope Francis wants the synod to be free.  He went on to say that he didn’t really understand the problem.  “I think there will be plenty of time to be accountable.”

Another journalist asked, “Among the problems that were raised in the continental assemblies, one that emerged was the issue of liturgy.  In the B1.5 there is a specific question — addressing the need for re-developing liturgy according to the local cultures.  Was this topic addressed?”

Ruffini said that those topics would be taken up the next day.

Diane Montanya asked Joe Tobin about the banishment of Catholics from parishes that held the Traditional Mass.  She explained that while the cardinal had suggested the church is most beautiful when the doors are open, that Catholics who are trying to live a good life and attend the Traditional Mass are being turned away and that is not being addressed in the Instrumentum Laboris.

Joe Tobin started his response by talking about the pain Catholics feel when their parishes are closed due to demographic and population changes.  But then, he also acknowledged that changes in the Mass have shifted the opportunities for attending Traditional masses and that he understood the grief.  And he knows that there are people who identified with that mass, but “I don’t think they have been banished from the Catholic Church.”

Another reporter from the National Catholic Register asked again about the composition of the Small Groups and the fact that they are being assigned to specific themes.  “How would you respond to concerns that this approach won’t allow all the members to weigh in on all the themes evenly.”

Ruffini replied that every member can speak freely on every topic. During the general congregations, anyone can ask for the floor and give their opinion.

Joe Tobin followed with a response.

Sr. Lilliani and I and all the members, in advance, were asked to provide personal information, contact information, but also our preferences regarding the language of the small groups and the list you of the different aspects of the three sections, communion, mission and participation.  We saw the list that you’ve seen and we were asked to give in order of preference a couple of choices.  I believe I heard Cardinal Grech say that just about everybody got their preferences.  So it wasn’t that you were frog marched into a group when you didn’t want to be there.  I also think that people do have an opportunity to weigh in because listening to the interventions has happened across the floor. Last week people who were not looking at a particular aspect, still have the opportunity to talk about it. This is different from prior synods. I can tell you.  This is the first time of those seven synods that I come as a bishop.  But I came in the first five synods as a superior general.  I used to feel very sorry for the bishops, especially in some of those synods..because ‘we can’t talk about what we want to talk about.’ I don’t think anyone of us can say that now.  And more importantly, the bishops and other members have come prepared because they’ve been listening in different configurations the people of God for several years now to hear what they believe is important.  So I don’t feel handcuffed at all and I don’t think I’ve heard that at least expressed to me.

After an important question about human trafficking and a response from Sr. Lilliana, another reporter from Australia asked about the way the “sensus fidelium” fit into the process of the synod.  He wanted to know if Pope Francis will end up deciding what goes forward.

Joe Tobin’s response was practical, but also somewhat distressing since there was a consensus from the bishops at the 2019 Amazonian synod regarding married priests and women deacons — but those ideas were not accepted by Pope Francis at the time.  I think many of us who have been following the synods, and know what Pope Francis wrote in Episcopalis Communio felt betrayed by his unwillingness to follow thru with the Spirit of the synod then.

Before I left the diocese, somebody asked me a question about discernment.  I said you could decline the verb to discern this way in the context of the synod, I discern, you discern, he decides.  Now that may sound rather authoritarian or totalitarian, but actually it is not because I have an able to cooperate with the Francis in different things. He listens very carefully.  He is remarkably well informed and he takes seriously the unity of the church.  So I am confident that, whatever he does, accept, and thgere have been synods recently, where the pope didn’t accept it at the time.  I believe he said, ‘This is a parliamentary decision.  It wasn’t a decision that was reached by serious discernment.’  That aspect, that value is built into the process.  For example, this value of silence….after people speak, after about four speakers, there’s a pause for 3 to 5 minutes, just so people can can be silent and try and process, even ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what was said.  The prayer is anything but perfunctory.  It’s actually a preparation and it’s a theme that goes through goes through the whole day.  And there are particular moments like you probably were aware yesterday, where we began with a beautiful Catholic liturgy of the Eucharist in the Byzantine tradition….And yes,  I think there are discernment is opportunities Brother Mark.  I hope we’re availing ourselves of it.  I believe that the Holy Father is going to take seriously whatever comes out of th