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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