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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 7: Sister Hope; Non-Bishops with Authority?; Stoking Fear

Sister Hope

Today, Pope Francis appointed Sister Simona Brambilla, M.C., an Italian-born Consolata Missionary, as the Secretary of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  Since 2019, she has been a member of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and will now take up the #2 position in the Dicastery.  The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) praised the move as another concrete step in raising more women into positions of authority in the Church. 

Photo: Vatican media

The press briefing summing up the work of the week and the end of Module A was held today.  For the first time, two guests accompanied Paolo Ruffini and Sheila Pires.  Secretary of the synod and President of Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu and head of the diocese in Kinshasa, Congo, as wellas, Sr. Leticia Salazar, Chancellor for the Diocese of San Bernadino, were present.  Sr. Leticia has been part of the synodal process from the beginning and took part in the drafting of the final continental documents.

Paolo Ruffini explained that the reports for each Small Group were sent to General Secretary of the Synod.  Topics covered included being a welcoming church and ending clericalism and Sheila Pires reported that the small groups that met in the afternoon yesterday, listened to more reports and heard some participants give a short presentation about their experience thus far.

Sheila Pires explained that there were 302 members at the assembly.  It has been reported that some of the members were sick with Covid.  She relayed information about prayer opportunities and explained that Cardinal Grech offered information about pilgrimage next Thursday – a compulsory pilgrimage Catacombs of St. Domitila, a second century catacomb.  During FutureChurch pilgrimages there, Sr. Chris Schenk and Sr. Lyn Osiek pointed out a fourth century fresco of two women, Veneranda and Petronilla, holding a codex and scrolls, signs of their ministry of the Word, a very important bit of history of all Catholics, but especially those at the synod.

Sr. Leticia Salazar shared that the experience of being with the Global church has been amazing and that she is constantly learning new things.  Cardinal Besungu shared that this synod is the fourth synod that he has participated in, but this synod is not like the others.  The cardinal is persuaded that this will bear will bear good fruit for the church.

Q & A

One of the reporters asked if Pope Francis was at the synod in the afternoon on Friday.  Sheila responded that he was there, even though it was not expected, and many of the participants expressed gratitude for his presence.

The same reporter asked Cardinal Besungu about whether the topic of married priests was discussed.  The cardinal responded saying that the topic is being discussed but there will be no decisions until October 2024.

Sr. Leticia was asked about the discussions on migration.  Sr. Leticia was adamant that in her diocese and throughout the Church, we need to be a welcoming church.  At this worldwide synod, “it is for us to discern how to be a welcoming church,” she said, “and to learn to be brothers and sisters to each other.”   Sheila added that the discussions also touched on how migration affects the family structure and how there are now many child-headed families now because of poverty and war.

Non-bishops with Authority?

Another reporter challenged the idea of a collective discernment and asked if it was really the General Secretary that decides.  He

also wanted to know what gives the non-bishops the authority to make decisions.  Cardinal Besengu responded to the challenge by saying that it is baptism that gives all the authority to speak and discern.  He also asked, “How do we together try to find the best solution?”  We adopted this method and we believe this will bring us much closer to what would be the will of God.  Sr. Leticia added that the prayer element is helping the collective community to be attentive to the Spirit of God.

Stoking Fear

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, representing Catholics fearful of gay people, asked Cardinal Besungu, “Given how

CNS photo: Justin McLellan

much the homosexual issue is taboo in Africa, what is your opinion on the emphasis being placed on the LBGT issue during this synod, and are you concerned that these discussions may lead to an acceptance of same sex blessings in the church?  And if that happens, will the African bishops accept it as the will of God?” The cardinal, responded by saying that this is a synod on synodality.  In journeying together, he asked how they could address the issues that are being raised?  “If there is the LGBT and homosexual issues, then the Lord himself through the collective discernment, will tell us ‘you need to follow this direction,” replied the cardinal. He continued, “I don’t want to express my own opinion because that would move away from the spirit of synodality.”

Justin McLellan, an Ecuadorian American journalist based in Rome with Catholic News Service, asked if the Africa and other developing countries are being properly represented in the synod.  Sr. Leticia explained that synodality is not a concept but an experience and this experience is new for her.  She did feel that all were being represented.  Cardinal Besengu, responded by saying that the synodal participants did talk quite a bit about seminary formation. He agreed that there is not a lack of seminarians everywhere but that it is a problem in other places.  Referring to his own diocese he explained, “I have more than 130 seminarians.”

A final reporter asked if the huge expectations around the synod would just cause frustrations.  The cardinal explained that the synod is defining a new way to act and to addressing problems.  It is a call to conversion.  Sr. Leticia’s agreed, expressing her greatest hope for the synod, “How can we learn to be brothers and sisters?”