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.
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
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:
- 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.
- Inclusion and participation in decision-making arise from recognizing our identity as God’s people and the dignity baptism bestows on us.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
To view the entire session go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vh4j56zwhaI.