From the Antilles Episcopal Conference
While the Synodal Assembly progresses in Rome until October 29, 2023, there have been mixed responses. Based on the responses recorded on the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) social media platforms, we notice that some people throw the proverbial cold water on it, others ask questions, and others pray for its success. The questions addressed in this week’s Q&A are based on some of the social media responses.
Q: “New wine in old wineskins? Any changes?”
This may be interpreted as a statement of concern. If new ideas and insights (new wine) are attempted to be carried forward without a paradigm shift (new wineskins) in individuals’ attitudes and behaviours, then the Church remains static.
Personal conversion is the necessary engine to drive pastoral conversion. Pope Francis emphasised the essentiality of conversion throughout his papacy and the synodal journey.
Ending his homily at the opening of the Synod, Pope Francis said, “The Synod serves to remind us…Mother Church is always in need of purification…Let us open ourselves to…the Holy Spirit.”
Q: Does the low percentage of participants in the listening phase speak for the majority?
The United States Catholic Conference of bishops reported that only one per cent of the 66.8 million Catholics participated in the listening phase. There is no equivalent data for the AEC, but anecdotal stories indicate a low participation rate.
Despite the low participation rate, several themes consistently appear in the 19 syntheses from the 19 dioceses within the AEC. Some of these are:
- Spiritual impact of the Charismatic Movement
- Corporeal Works of Mercy to refugees, homeless, and the poor
- Experience of inhospitality within Christian communities
- Low percentage and participation of men within the Christian community
- Poor leadership of priests at the parish level
These common themes indicate that the Holy Spirit can speak without the majority.
Q: What is the difference between the current Synod and the previous synods/assemblies in many dioceses?
Since the 1970s, many dioceses have had diocesan assemblies or synods to discuss the diocese’s pastoral care and life and formulate strategic plans. However, the current synod’s focal point is spiritual and pastoral formation. Spiritual formation is learning to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and each other and discerning the will of God.
Pastoral formation is learning how to walk together in the mission of the Church and including the marginal voices.
Learning involves conversion. Conversion is a transformation of the heart and mind that drives individualism (anti-communion), exclusivity (anti-participation), and not living the Gospel message (anti-mission).
Without conversion, we become a disunited and individualistic Church, albeit with the emergence of great ideas.
Q: Does inclusivity mean we have no moral boundaries?
Some Catholics express concern about including members of the LGBTQ+ community and the influence they may have in the Church. Some posit that liberal Catholics are using the synod to push their agenda.
In Pope Francis’ response to the dubia presented by the five cardinals, he writes, “The Church obviously understands marriage as an inclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and woman, naturally open to procreation. However, in our relationships with people, we must not lose the pastoral charity…it also includes kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement.”
Inclusivity does not mean compromising Church teachings but living a gospel of mercy vivendi operandi.
Q: Do you not believe the Synod is being used to push for women’s ordination?
There are several elements governing the management of the synod that prevent the overshadowing by any one or two political ideologies.
- First is prayer. Pope Francis reminded the assembly participants on the opening day that, “Without prayer, there will be no synod.” Prayer is essential because it places the participants in a spiritual and psychological disposition that allows the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the journey.
- Second, it is a spiritual journey that involves listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and discerning the direction of the Church. This approach utilises the method of the Conversation in the Spirit as a means of listening non-judgementally to each other and listening in silence to the Holy Spirit.
- Third, the listening process goes through several phases – diocesan, continental and universal. At each stage, the syntheses capture not opinions but the threads running through the conversation. Each step confirms what is being heard. If this method is used wisely, there is no room for the advance of political ideologies but the will of God, as occurred during the First Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
In this month of the rosary, let us ask for Mary’s intercession for the Church, for she was present when the Apostles met in a synodal way to elect Matthias, a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:12 – 26).