Cardinal Grech: ‘tracing the Catholic path to synodality’

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Cardinal Grech: ‘tracing the Catholic path to synodality’Cardinal Grech brings the Pope’s ‘fatherly blessing’ to the delegates to the Asian Continental Assembly on Synodality, expresses his gratitude, and provides orientation.

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod, addressed the Asia Continental Assembly. In his remarks, he related that he recently told Pope Francis he would be coming for the Assembly. The Pope, the Cardinal said, “sent his father blessing and he is following our activity very closely. The Holy Father would like to tell you, 'You are not forgotten.'”

The Cardinal then characterized the Continental Stage of the Synod as “a further moment of listening to which the Church is called: ‘mutual listening, in which each one has something to learn,’ “ citing Pope Francis’s speech for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

“It should be evident to all,” the Cardinal continued, “that the success of the process depended on the active participation of the People of God and their Pastors. And, therefore, a great deep thank you for all your work carried out.” He further explained that the “consultation in the particular Churches has enabled the People of God to implement that proper way of participating in the prophetic function of Christ.”

Cardinal Grech reminded the delegates that the request to listen to everyone meant just that – everyone, with no exceptions, was to be invited into synodal conversation with the Church. But, he also acknowledged, many did not participate for various reasons. “In the consultation, we were able to listen to all voices, except the voice of those who did not speak, either because they could not or did not want to speak. We also listened to the silence! We have also listened to the empty chair!” he said.

He also explained the task of the Continental Assembles: “to discern whether and to what extent the contents of the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) correspond to the understanding of synodality as lived out by the Churches on the continent…. It is in fact, a ‘stage,’ an important moment in our journey towards the goal of this Synod, namely a full understanding of the synodal form of the Church.”

Concluding his remarks, Cardinal Grech reiterated that the goal of the process is that of tracing the “Catholic path to synodality.” “Our desire,” he explained, “is to preserve the legacy of a Tradition that always keeps synodality, collegiality, and primacy in relation as necessary and inalienable elements of the synodal process, built on the respective functions of the People of God, the College of Bishops, and the Bishop of Rome.”

Moment of communal discernment

Following Cardinal Grech’s introductory remarks, Dr Christina Kheng, a member of the synod’s Methodology Commission, introduced the task of those participating in the Assembly. She mentioned that circularity is the new approach in the Church’s synodal process, allowing the local Churches to reflect on the DCS.

The draft response, she stated, contains the thought gathered from the twenty submissions from the Episcopal Conferences and Synods that belong to the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC). She emphasized its draft status, open for modification. Until now, she reflected, the content has been concentrated at the Episcopal Conference level. Today, she said, it will be discerned at the level of the entire Asian continent through “communal discernment.”

“We come to the meeting with a blank page, an open space, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, not knowing what the conclusion will be on Sunday… It’s sensing as a group what insights the Holy Spirit is moving us to see while we listen, share, pray, reflect,” Christina explained.

Basis of discernment

Dr Kheng’s presentation was followed up by Fr Anthony James Corcoran, SJ, Apostolic Administrator of Kyrgyzstan on Discernment. “Discernment and the gift of the Holy Spirit”, he said, “is attractive…. Discernment develops with practice” and needs “fine tuning.” He reminded the Assembly that God gives his faithful people the gift of the “instinct of faith – sensus fidei.” This means that discernment must be rooted in the Word of God, in the wider Christian community, and the Church’s magisterium, guided by the bishops, apostolic Tradition, etc.

He then reminded participants of the signs of the Spirit’s presence: “Consolation, Hope, Faith and truly Love.” Fr Corcoran also repeated Pope Francis’s theme that discernment means “remaining open to surprises.” He then introduced the elements of Spiritual Conversation – listening, intentional and concise speaking, and mutual respect.

Presentation of draft response

Fr Clarence Devadass, a member of the Discernment and Drafting Group, then presented the draft on which the Assembly will reflect, discern, and amend. Out of 22 possible responses, he said that 21 responses were received, despite the fact that these responses were formulated during the Christmas holiday season. Nine people gathered in Bangkok from 30 January to 4 February 2023 to create the draft from the responses received. “The Draft Framework is to help promote deeper conversations these days we are together…it is not the final document,” Fr Devadass emphasized.

While following the structure suggested by the DCS, Father said Asian elements were added, taking into consideration the diversity present on the Asian continent. This is not a “challenge,” he added, but something that enriches the Church.

One tension the Asian draft response raises is poverty, which the DCS does not specify. The World Bank, Father noted, estimates that more than 320 million people in Asia live in extreme poverty. The writing team also hopes that the Synod will recognize that the Catholic Church in Asia is a minority, and the enlarged vision of the family still present.

Fr Devadass also noted that comparing the DCS to the Asian responses, showed nine “gaps” or elements not included in the twenty responses received. He then explained that after the draft response is amended in the current Assembly, the same nine-member writing team will remain in Bangkok to produce a second draft which will then be approved.

During the afternoon, the delegates spent time reflecting on and discussing the first two sections of the Draft Report, which reflect the resonances and tensions/divergences that emerged during the discussions on the DCS.

Sr Bernadette M. Reis