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Synodality - An Ecclesial Ethos
Fr Anthony Charanghat
The global synodal process on "Communion, Participation and Mission" that the Catholic Church is undertaking over the next two years was introduced on October 9, and formally launched on Sunday, October 10, with a Mass at the Vatican. The topic of this path-breaking event has been titled "Synod on Synodality"—a term popularised by Pope Francis' efforts to emphasise the ecclesial ethos–of the characteristic spirit of being Church today.
This definition has been gradually augmented from the conventional and more ordinary "council" to embrace the totality of the Church itself. Pope Francis says that "synodality is not so much an event or a slogan as a style and a way of being by which the Church lives out her mission in the world." The Synod's preparatory document tells us that synodality is an ecclesial event; literally, the "form, the style, and the structure of the Church." The Catholic Church is, in effect, a gigantic and perpetual synod.
Pope Francis announced that the Synod of Bishops 2023 will discuss the topic of "synodality" – that is, the Synod will be talking about synods, and all things synodal. In addition to these ambitiously expansive concepts of "synodality," Pope Francis has added a special twist, one that introduces the notion of the synod as a "journeying together." According to Pope Francis, the participants in a synod are not just having a meeting to discuss matters ecclesial – they are quite definitely on a "journey" to somewhere, and they are going there as a group.
The etymology of the Greek word "synodos" is a combination of the prefix "syn" ("together") and the word "hodos" which can mean many things, including "road", "journey", "way", "manner", "method" and "system". Of all of these, Pope Francis prefers "journey". For him, a synod is a "journey together" of the people of God, and that the Church itself is a synod, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the entire Church itself is on a pilgrimage, a "journey together" to Jerusalem. "Every synod should be a journey for all the faithful, in which every local Church has an integral part to play," says the Holy Father.
The path to the 2023 Synod in Rome on the theme "For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission," is designed to engage every diocese, every Bishops' Conference, and every continental Church body. It will unleash the biggest popular consultation in history. It will require, as never before, the assembly of the People of God, in mass meetings at parishes and across dioceses around the world, who are being given "the ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received," in the words of the Preparatory Document released on the eve of the inaugural Eucharist.
The object of the next two years is not a one-off process, but a permanent conversion, one that involves the transformation and extension of the existing synod institution revived by the Second Vatican Council. As the Vademecum (PD) puts it: "While the Synod of Bishops has taken place up until now as a gathering of bishops with, and under the authority of the Pope, the Church increasingly realises that synodality is the path for the entire People of God." That means making pastoral decisions "that reflect the will of God as closely as possible, grounding them in the living voice of the People of God."
Thus, "the purpose of this Synod"—and indeed, the point of a synodal Church— "is to listen, as the entire People of God, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church." It is to make the People of God actors in the process of discernment, rather than passive onlookers. The PD prepares the ground for the initial, diocesan phase of the process. Both documents are clear that what is at stake is culture change.
As the PD admonishes us, "the Synod is not called to defend or to change,creating polarisation; it is called to enable an assembly that discerns what the Holy Spirit asks of the Church at this time in relation to the mission for which it exists: to evangelize. A synod is not a programme, in other words, but a process; or rather, the programme is the process, and never more than in this process, which is precisely about how the Church can become more synodal." If such a spirit of humility and openness to grace underpins our efforts, it will prove to be the synod's main fruit; it will yield a rich harvest indeed.
Return to the Eucharistic Banquet
The much awaited news finally arrived on September 24 – the Maharashtra government had finally permitted places of religious worship to open their doors to devotees from the 7th of October. While the government's intention was to time the reopening to coincide with the beginning of Navratri festivities, they would most certainly have been unaware that this day marks an important feast in the liturgical calendar for Catholics – the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
This will be the second time we reopen our church doors during the pandemic. Will it be for good this time around? Only time will tell. However, we have the supreme assurance and heavenly intercession of our Blessed Mother. The traditional month of the Rosary this year will hopefully prove to be the wellspring of new blessings for the Church in the Archdiocese of Bombay and around the country.
So does this mean getting back to business as usual in the Church, reflecting pre-pandemic times? The answer would have to be an emphatic NO. There will be segments of the congregation still wary of coming to church due to COVID-19 concerns. There is also the question of returning to the in-person assembly, after having been 'habituated' to the comforts of the online medium over a prolonged period of time. However, there is no doubt that the Church has grown in leaps and bounds in incorporating the use of communications technology during this time. Reaching out to parishioners virtually is no longer an opportunity or luxury; it is a necessity. Parishes and institutions will have to adopt a blend of the online and offline to ensure that "no one is left behind".
The reopening of churches is also an opportune time to reflect on how this global and historical crisis has changed us and our way of 'being Church'. Catholics have been exposed to a wide variety of worship liturgies, homilies and spiritual videos during the pandemic. Will we now be satisfied with the spiritual offering in our local parish? Will this propel parishes towards being more 'missional' in their pastoral programmes? Will entering into a deeper relationship with God now be a priority area, penetrating through the dense overgrowth of administrative tasks and entertainment programmes?
The Church will have to be closely connected to the lives of its parishioners who face a cascade of challenges as a result of the pandemic.
However, the core reason for our joy is our ability to return to the physical celebration of the Mass "together". This is an opportunity for a Eucharistic revival in the Church; it is time to make the Eucharist the empowering 'energy core' of our daily existence. At the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest last month, Pope Francis reminded us that the Eucharist is the answer to our question "Who is Jesus?" The Eucharist does this not just in words, but in concrete action of Body broken, Love crucified and bestowed. If we are looking for Jesus, it is at the Eucharist that we will find Him.
Eucharistic revival means that we must 'feed and nourish' the poor and those on the peripheries. It means that we follow in the footsteps of the Master "who came to serve and not to be served." We must be willing to let ourselves be broken for others. Being broken, humbled, and then nourished and strengthened by the Eucharist, we must then return to the post-pandemic world where the challenges are real. Though the pandemic has dented people's blind confidence in the secular optimism of all things scientific, there are many who feel no hunger for the Bread of Life.
Careful we ought to be, and protect ourselves from COVID-19 we must; however, we must not allow 'over-cautiousness' or 'excessive fear' to keep us away from the food that brings us the gift of eternal life. Jesus brought back those who had been physically and socially 'distanced' from the community, and blessed them with physical, social, emotional and spiritual healing. He offers the same to us if only we "do this in remembrance of Him."
Pope Francis was spot on when he identified the three steps that should define us as disciples – proclaiming Jesus, discerning with Jesus, and walking behind Jesus. We need to look for Jesus if we seek an answer; and Jesus IS the answer, which He gives us at the Last Supper, revealing to His disciples who He really is. It is at the Eucharistic Table that we will find the answer to the challenges of the post-pandemic Church.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
Achieving the Impossible
The whole teaching and spirituality of St Francis of Assisi offers a complete guide for the members of his religious community and all Christians to achieve heights in spirituality and holiness. With utmost simplicity of heart, Francis presents his followers an essential working roadmap to achieve a fraternal and loving relationship with God and human beings, along with creatures of the land, sea and sky, and the whole of Creation. His maxim is to start this endeavour by doing what's necessary and what's possible; and then discover the key to achieving the impossible.
Today, life is so complicated by events and situations that are happening around us in these times of the pandemic. The teaching of Francis serves as a lesson, amidst the chaos, disorder and the political, social and economic instability existing in many nations, to discover the solution to overcome what appears to be a losing battle in matters of life and death.
Francis has shown us that it is not only advanced and complicated technology, but also our simple and humble actions loaded with the grace of Jesus Christ, that can bring about changes and transformation in the social and spiritual sphere. When Francis heard (while in prayer) the Lord say, 'Rebuild my Church,' he renewed and repaired a decrepit and broken church by discerning what was necessary and important at that moment. He had attuned himself to listen to the message of the Gospel in its absolute simplicity and fulfilled it in word and deed.
This step in turn led him to delve more into God's Word and realise its deeper meaning for shaping his spiritual life. It became clear that the Lord was calling him to renew the lives of people and the life of the Church. Doing essential tasks and performing and finishing them with sheer faith in God's Word is necessary to attain success, both in the spiritual and material world.
To achieve the impossible works for the Lord, he preferred to abandon material wealth as well as family –tantamount to the vow of poverty. His life of poverty revealed that the things of the world were to be used, not worshipped. We fulfil our vocation from God as human beings not by accumulation, but by liberating ourselves from clinging selfishly to possessions and people. It is the ultimate sacrifice which must be willingly undertaken to achieve the goal and mission of intimate and harmonious relationship between human beings, God, and care for Creation.
Francis demonstrated through his lifestyle of prayer and penance that we need to persevere in all situations and events of life, easy or difficult, joyful or painful, building up the momentum where we experience all possible outcomes, even the suffering of the Cross to experience its exultation, triumph and glory. He asked for the gift of the wounds of Christ (stigmata) which he was granted.
Francis had an awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the Cross on Mt Averna, where his soul experienced pain mingled with a joy of compassionate love. He went through pain, suffering, insults, abandonment, and the marks of the searing pain of the wounds of Christ. It was the spark that ignited his profound spirituality. This transformed Francis into the likeness of the One whom he loved - a mystical relationship between the human person and God.
As a result of the stigmata he had received on his person, Francis was able, through the trials and challenges he experienced, to realise the plan, agenda and mission of God. He began to take care of the lepers which was one of the most repulsive things to do. He was successful in his journey of recognising the lepers as human brothers and sisters, and to see the face of God in them
He was able to accept all challenges to do the impossible, to grow in communion with the Lord and spread the good news of His Kingdom. The great gift of St Francis of Assisi to our world is the insight that who we are is more important than what we have. Liberation comes through the simplicity of life to be free for the things of God. This is a profound liberation that every age desperately needs.
(Guest editorial) Fr Michael Baptist Fernandes, OFM Capuchin
“WE” Can Make A Difference
Pope Francis has reiterated his pet theme of ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Oneness’ of the human family in his message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees which will be celebrated on Sunday, September 26, 2021. Titled ‘Towards an ever wider WE’, he urges us to no longer think of migrants and refugees in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. Throughout the course of human history, God has reached out to humanity as ‘one people’ making no distinctions. Human beings themselves have, on the other hand, fractured this unity on the basis of race, class, caste, ethnicity, language, economic conditions, and in recent times, with “myopic forms of nationalism and radical individualism.”
The Pope therefore makes an appeal to re-establish a common fraternity and renew the human family as ‘WE’, for the sake of building a future of justice and peace, and ensuring that no one is left behind. The Church is particularly called to lead the way by reaching out to foreigners, migrants, refugees and the dispossessed, those living on the existential peripheries, due to the evil of war, civil strife, poverty and unemployment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply brought into focus the myriad injustices faced by the migrant population not just in India, but around the world. Ramachandra Guha, noted economist and historian, states that the pandemic has been the greatest man-made tragedy in India since the Partition. The most impacted, by the sudden onslaught of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown, were migrants living in urban centres, far away from their families and villages in search of better employment opportunities. These are forced to live in slums due to lack of proper housing in the big cities, and are quite often exploited due to their poor economic backgrounds and social conditions.
The sudden lockdown became a traumatic experience for most of them, faced with loss of livelihood, accommodation and the fear of becoming infected and facing the spectre of unaffordable healthcare bills. Looking back in hindsight, we now realise how indispensable the migrant workforce is in the development and maintenance of life in the big cities. It is imperative that we refrain from treating them as second-class citizens, and instead provide them strong social and economic protections.
Throughout the pandemic, the Archdiocese of Bombay reached out to the migrant population and conducted a number of outreach activities through the agency of its parishes, religious congregations, Community Centres, NGOs and individual members of the laity. The lay faithful donated generously with money and rations to sustain them. In the first wave of the pandemic, migrants were provided with accommodation, travel arrangements to return to their native villages, food and medical assistance. In the latter stages, they were provided help with vaccinations, monetary support and employment opportunities.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5). The Church’s role doesn’t end here, with providing relief to immediate problems. Pope Francis gave us four keywords last year with respect to migrants and refugees — Welcome, Protect, Promote, Integrate. If we stand together with them, we become ‘US’. We must uphold their human rights and dignity and ensure social and economic justice. In our common home, a certain section of people cannot be treated as second-class citizens. It is time that we recognise their contribution to the national economy, and also their indispensable presence in our own lives. We must give them greater visibility and acknowledgment in our churches, SCCs and educational institutions.
The scourge of people forced to flee their homes and native lands due to war, strife and economic collapse seems to have become the norm today rather than the exception. Latin America, Myanmar, Africa, the Middle East and now Afghanistan are regions of the world which are failing to give their peoples the dignity of employment and a peaceful life. This has happened partly due to unjust policies of the developed world which look towards these countries as resources to be exploited. Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned this “globalisation of indifference”.
We are called to support them, sustain them in their human dignity and help them realise their potential as members of the one human family. We must walk with them as Jesus walked with the neglected of society.“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Fr Glasten Gonsalves is the Secretary, Commission for Migrants, Archdiocese of Bombay.
A Significant 52nd International Eucharistic Congress
Fr Anthony Charanghat
It is of great significance that Budapest hosted the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress that was held from September 5-12, 2021. The Congress was originally scheduled for September 2020 but had to be postponed due to the pandemic until autumn 2021. Over the last 140 years, 26 countries have hosted an International Eucharistic Congress, of which only 11 have done so more than once. Hungary is the 12th country to join the latter group as it had celebrated an International Eucharistic Congress earlier in 1938.
The first-ever Congress was held at Lille in 1881 which was designed to promote devotion to and belief in Jesus Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. It has now returned to Hungary, a country that has witnessed many challenging moments in its history down through the intervening decades. On Sunday, Sept. 5, Christian worshippers from European delegates from the five continents of the world formed a mosaic of a community with a unique power to respond positively to the questions and challenges of the modern world.
The theme for this event "All my springs are in You" (Psalm 87:7), celebrates Jerusalem as the place where God lives among his people. In his welcome address, Cardinal Archbishop Piero Marini, Chairman of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, said this event can offer to those present and to today's secularised society, deprived of the perspective of eternity, a Eucharistic celebration in which all can encounter God in the humanity of the Lord Jesus.
Here, in the heart of Europe, around the table of the Lord, he said a new people of God is being born; Christ is the one who gave bread to the poor and sat down at the table with sinners. In doing so, he showed compassion and offered new life; and he teaches his disciples today to live in "eucharistic consistency", so that in Christ they do not separate the head from the members, that is, sacramental communion with Christ from communion with the weak and needy.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences invited the whole Church to reflect on the theme of the International Eucharistic Congress: "All my springs are in You" during the homily at the opening Mass for the occasion. He noted that the Eucharist "goes beyond all loneliness, all distance and all indifference." The Cardinal also extended his greetings to the representatives of Eastern Christians with whom he works and prayed "to build Christian unity" so that "the voice of our witness may be credible."
"It is the very voice of Christ with us in the Eucharist. He does not leave the Church, people and humanity alone". It is a voice that is transmitted through "the voice of the Shepherds, the voice of this assembly that is going forth, seeks to knock - humbly and joyfully - on the hearts of the peoples to go beyond the remotest points of the earth." It is his voice that "echoes through the centuries and is marked by the blood of martyrs", from which it draws strength to proclaim Jesus and to recall that "despite the limitations and shadows of her children, the light of Christ shines in the Church through the Eucharist."
"You are not alone in a hostile universe, you are not alone before the marvellous mystery of life, you are not alone with your thirst for freedom and eternity. Wherever you are, God is your Father; you are worth the blood of Jesus, Redeemer of the world, and Bread of eternal life. Do not be afraid: God is not dead, the Eucharist overcomes every loneliness, every distance, every indifference." In this way, that same voice calls the Church not to remain silent, but to proclaim the splendour of the risen Christ to the whole world.
In the week of events at the main congress venue, at the Hung expo Budapest Congress and Exhibition Centre, more than 25 cardinals and bishops took part. The cardinals from five continents conducted morning prayers, catechesis, testimonies, and workshops. Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg celebrated Mass at the Church of the Holy Angels in Gazdagrét on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10. Among its daily liturgies, the congress also featured a Mass setting in Lovari, a language spoken by the Romani people in Hungary.
At the end of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, participants from different nations returned home strengthened by the gift of Christ as "eucharistic men and women", to give love to those in need, to bring salvation to the context of their daily life and work, and to stand firm in their assurance: God's love is stronger than evil, violence and death. Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Mass in Heroes' Square on Sept. 12, concluding the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.
Symbol of Shame to Symbol of Grace!
“The language of the Cross remains meaningless for those who are being lost. Yet for us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). The Exaltation of the Cross is the symbol of victory over evil and a sign of hope—transforming a symbol of shame to a symbol of grace. The Cross, the principal symbol of the Christian religion, recalls the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of His Passion and death through which He enters the glory of the Resurrection. The Cross of Christ is thus a sign both of the meaning of suffering and death for Christians, and their faith that it is the instrument of participating in the glory of the Risen Lord.
Christ humbled Himself in His death, having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by His disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, and tormented by His persecutors, condemned by Pilate, awaiting judgment at the Judgment seat, falling thrice due to the weight of the heavy Cross, his feet and hands getting nailed, his side pierced with a lance, having also encountered the terrors of death and the powers of darkness, He laid down His life as an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful and cursed death of the Cross.
Does your gazing at the Cross rejuvenate your drooping spirit? Can we gaze upon this God and His Cross in our desperate moments? The Cross on which our Saviour hung is overflowing with blessings. Let us embrace it with love, uniting our daily Crosses, and receive the abundant blessing which keeps flowing from it!
On embracing the Cross, Jesus allowed Himself to feel what we feel. The Cross is, forever, for every follower of Jesus, an emblem of love. Our God carried the Cross lovingly for the redemption of sinful humanity which had lost the sense of sin. How much do we understand the power of this love and the power of the Cross on which our God of love willingly breathed His last?
From our womb to tomb, we go through desperate moments, times of brokenness, rejection, humiliations and so on. Why? There is an answer that God wants to give us. The more the Cross, the more the grace! The more the brokenness, the more the love of God experienced! Many a times we encounter our God of surprises through our desperate moments. God always wants to bless us; He wants to guide us, when He wants to be with us forever. He uses the moments of crisis, desperation, isolation, difficult situations to enlighten us to become aware that we need His grace to carry our daily Crosses with love and passion. We shall not give up. We shall not quit. One needs to be patient and trust the journey.
The man who came down from heaven to behold you in His bosom was nailed to a heavy Cross for our sins, but He remained silent in the trial court and embraced the Cross most willingly. I was lifeless, but became alive at the very instant He touched me. I was a sign of shame, but have now become a symbol of grace. Sin entered the Garden of Eden through a tree, but salvation and grace have come to humanity through the Cross on Calvary. Now, I, the voiceless Cross, ask you who have a voice - you can avail of many wooden crosses to nail criminals, but would you find me another Jesus who turned the symbol of shame to the symbol of grace?
COVID-19 has inflicted much excruciating pain upon each of our lives, as millions have succumbed to death, owing to this tiny virus. We lost our loved ones, and we could not even say goodbye to them. Many children have been abandoned and placed in orphanages. Can we together place these pains, burdens, aches, tears, and desperate moments at the Cross of our Saviour?
Jesus who felt abandoned on the Cross, uttered finally, "Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit," and breathed His last. Can these words be ours too, whenever we experience humiliation, rejection, brokenness and sickness? Let us surrender our lives, our families, the entire suffering humanity, and our future as well, to our Redeemer on the Cross of life. "And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done." Let our every sorrow turn into joy while gazing upon the Cross of our Saviour, on which He was crucified, uniting heaven and earth.
Sr Lini Sheeja MSC, Former National Secretary, Prison Ministry India.