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SynodWatch RoundUP for October 20: Our Church is Very Tired; We Need To Listen More To the Emerging Churches;  Are We Ready to Decide on Women Deacons?

There are 365

Some of the journalists try to cast doubt on the synod by asking the same questions over and over.  Maybe if we put some of the answers into a song it would stick:).

But today again, Dr. Paolo Ruffini restated that there are 365 participants including the Pope with another one hundred or so people are involved as theologians, experts, etc. bringing the number to 464.

In response to a question yesterday about how the speakers are chosen from the floor, Ruffini said that Cardinal Grech is giving precedence to those who have not spoken so far.

Sheila Pires

Sheila Pires continued by reporting that participants who warned against clericalism, even among the laity, because it “has led to abuses of power, conscience, economic and sexual.” These abuses have caused the church to lose credibility….so much so that a “control mechanism” is necessary.  The participants agreed that synodality can help prevent abuses because it is a process that has to do with listening and dialogue.

Other needed reforms included the need for greater transparency in financial and economic structures; the revision of canon law and also some “titles” that have become anachronistic. Returning to synodality, the urgency of reinforcing already existing structures, such as pastoral councils needs to be enhanced.  Young people and the digital environment were \ also discussed.

Today’s Speakers

Today’s panel

Joining the panelists today were Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference, Sister Houda Fadoul, from Syria, Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, a Verbite missionary, Archbishop of Tokyo, President of Caritas internationalis, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, and Secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, and Sister Mary Teresa Barron from Ireland, Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles and President of the International Union of Superiors General.

Archbishop Grušas, who talked about the difficult schedule with a long break in the afternoon and late evenings, also related some of the main topics today which included formation for bishops, formation for clergy, formation for seminarians, and formation for the laity.  He said that formation is  a matter of conversion, conversion of heart, conversion of our own minds, be it bishops, priests, consecrated laity, experts, whether theologians or canon lawyers. “We all kind of run into our own mindset and sharing helps us grow in that change of life, change of mindset.”

The other thing from my perspective is that the Holy Father has really put an emphasis on the continental levels, uh, whether it’s, FABC, or South America, or Africa. Sharing and looking at structures and how we can do that, I think is gonna be important also in the life of the church. And finally, I think the, the process, we say formation, but I think under it, uh, it’s a matter of conversion, conversion of heart, conversion of our own minds, be it bishops, priests, consecrated laity, experts, whether theologians or canon lawyers. We all kind of run into our own mindset and sharing helps us grow in that change of life, change of mindset. It’s a very powerful process.

Our Church is Very Tired

Sr. Houda Fadoul

Sister Houda Fadoul gave a very touching a powerful witness bringing tears to my eyes as I considered how difficult life is in regions where violence and natural disasters make life unbearable and how an interaction like synodality can bring real support and healing.

I would like, first of all, to say thanks to our Holy Father for this initiative because, uh, for me, he’s truly a man of prayer and he understands the needs of the church particularly for as far as our own church is concerned, because we spend a lot of time in the war, in the pandemic, there has been an earthquake. So our church is very tired because of all that has happened. So when his calling came, we were not ready for this message — to receive this  message in an adequate way because in, in our diocese, we spent three years without a bishop.

So when a bishop arrived, he started trying to, to recover the situation, and he invited an expert bishop from the Lebanon who took part in the first part of the synod to organize conferences in the different diocese. And also young persons are involved thanks to this effort.  So we, we have realized that we have to work to be with the others. And when I was invited to participate in this assembly in the Lebanon, I felt very grateful because this allows me to share this experience with other churches, and their experience can also be shared.

So this is a time of exchange, and it’s very rich for everyone in the church. We are truly experiencing a Catholic and universal church – diversity and unity at the same time. Because eventually at the end of the day, we are all parts of the same body of Jesus. So we all have our our own difficulties, of course. But when you share your difficulties and when you pray, you feel better, you feel this burden in a different way.

We Don’t Talk Much

The Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo gave witness to the way synodality plays oout in a country where individuality is sublimated to the collective and where people do not often speak out.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi

You know that the Japanese, we don’t talk much. We love silence….we prefer to keep quiet. So it’s very difficult for the Japanese, not only Japanese, but many Asians to speak up. And that’s why this small group discussion is very important. Early this year when we had the continental assembly in Bangkok, we started to use that small discussion group just like what we have right now in a small hall with small round tables with 10 or 11 people gathering together. And everybody’s given the chance to speak up.  The conversation in the Spirit is really working. It worked in Asia and now it’s working in here, in this hall. I really appreciate it because already I have had the opportunity to participate in five different small groups.

We Need To Listen More To the Emerging Churches

Sr. Mary Teresa Barron, the president of UISG gave the final witness sharing how religious communities of women have been using the practice of synodality in making decisions for decades.

In English we have this saying that no two people read the same book and get the same meaning.  We come to the experience with all of our life experiences. And in reflecting on this, I’m a religious sister.  I’m a missionary.  And I think both of those influence how I am experiencing this synodal process.

In the introduction, Christiana mentioned my experience as a sister in rural parish in East Africa. And I would say that was my first introduction to a synodal church. You know, I’m from Ireland where we were evangelized in the fifth century. And so we carry the weight of structures that have a long history and then go to a church that was very new.

Sr. Mary Teresa

The parish was established in 1950 with two priests to serve a parish that was like the size of half of Ireland. And that’s not a joke. So there was, in each village — there were 35 villages —  an outstation with a catechist and a very vibrant faith community. My role was accompanying the youth and accompanying the women’s groups in the parish. And it was such a  process.  We listened to each other.  The decisions were taken together.  The out station fed into the center which fed into the parish, which then fed into the diocese. But it was the involvement of the laity. And I think possibly one of the advantages in the younger churches is that many people come to the faith as adults and make that choice to be baptized as adults and are confirmed into a faith where they are challenged to be missionary disciples from the outset.

So that for me, that experience is something that I learned in my early life as a sister. And then I think the experience of sitting around the tables in Paul VI Hall brings me back again to East Africa. The setting is extremely different. I imagine myself outside a mud hut where we met every Sunday for our basic Christian community meetings — a small gathering of people, maybe 10 families in the Christian community. And we sat around and shared our faith rooted in the Gospel of that Sunday. But the key was that we had to decide how we wanted to live that faith as a community and take an action. And what was beautiful for me. 

There was many of the people in that community were not educated. And we shared our faith from the depth of our hearts, and we came to a decision together. Every voice was the same around that basic Christian community, regardless of position in the community, regardless of education, everybody shared their faith. And that is what I experience in the Paul VI Hall around the tables with synodality.  It doesn’t matter who’s at the table. It’s our love of Christ that has called us into this life. It’s our love of desiring a church that can live the mission that Christ left us. I think that is what inspires all of us sitting around the tables. And so for me, I think one of the key learnings is we need to listen more to the emerging churches, the younger churches who still have that kind of grassroots participation in the life of the church.

The second dimension of my life is as a religious sister.  I know it’s been said repeatedly, that religious life by its nature — it’s almost in our DNA– we’re quite synodal in our structures.  I had an experience this this July, which confirmed that for me…We had our general chapter this year, and at the same time that we were having our chapter, another group of sisters were having their chapter.  They were lucky enough to be accompanied by a bishop. They had a bishop as their chaplain. The bishop happened to be from Ireland. And he came to a few of the groups and said, ‘My goodness, when talking about synodality, we bishops were dipping our toes in the water, whereas you people are living it fully.’

You know, because he was accompanying how we share around issues and how we actually decide, you know? So that for me, I think that is it.  I’m bringing that experience to the living synod. I think it’s a great privilege for us, and it’s something I say to our sisters when we come to chapter. It’s a great privilege to be one of the few that are chosen to make this journey on behalf of all the others. And I think that I feel that privilege every time I’m in the room, not just because I’m one of the few women in the room, although we’re quite a big number, but because it is a privilege to be any member in that room that can journey together with these questions. 

 Are We Ready to Decide on Women Deacons?

Christopher Lamb from The Tablet asked, “We know from the Synod working document that many local synods called for women’s inclusion in the diaconate, and that’s obviously been a topic that’s been discussed at the Synod. There have also been a number of commissions on this topic and other studies. Do you think it is the time now for a decision to be taken on whether or not this proposal can move forward? Or is further discernment at perhaps the local level still needed?”

Sr. Mary Theresa responded:

We are in a synodal process. We’re in the synod to discern together on all issues. And I’m sure you’ve heard from last week that this question is on the table.. We have both ends of the spectrum in terms of what we believe, but we’re holding that in tension…to know how to journey forward together. And I think it would be unfair of me to speak outside of that space. We are holding that at the moment, and I think the document that comes out in the end may have more clarity.

Sr. Houda signaled a more John Paul II attitude speaking about complementarity.

 I think that in connection with every concept concerning women, we speak often about complementarity not equal footing. We can speak about anything as long as we use our gifts in the best possible way.

Archbishop Grušas suggested that the discussion on the various ministries in the church is also about the possibly of discovering new ministries in the church.

The Practical Barriers to Synodality

When the question was asked about how the experience of synodality in Rome will be disseminated at home, the two prelates were quick to name the barriers.

Archbishop Grušas first noted that there are a lot of ways that Canon Law can be applied now to make the church more synodal.

I think the challenge is going back into the same structure from which we came with all the same daily grinds that we have and to bring the experience that we’ve shared here and try to convey it to others. Being here for a month and really living the spiritual conversations, having them and valuing them, it’s going to be a challenge to try to bring that back to the whole country, and in my case, all of Europe.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi added that they synodal process started in the middle of the pandemic.

And in Japan the regulation was really strong and all the church activities actually stopped.  So, for the past two, three years, we haven’t have the much opportunity to come together. The people are still afraid, especially the elderly people are afraid. So we don’t have much opportunity to gather the people together to do this similar process together.

Well, maybe we can do it online, but our senior people don’t have much access to this digital world. So this is still the challenge…So what we can, what I want to do is really to introduce this in another way to the local churches in Japan so that people really make it as a daily, decision making style.