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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)