By Robin Gomes
The Indian Archdiocese of Bombay on Sunday joined dioceses across the world in kicking off its synodal process at the local level, with its archbishop, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, urging various representatives of ministries and sections of the people to walk together, meeting and listening to one another and discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for a synodal Church.
Pope Francis on Oct. 10 celebrated a Mass in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica to inaugurate the universal Church’s 2-year-long synodal process that will ultimately culminate in the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in October 2023, on the theme is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”.
A week later, on 17 October, dioceses around the world launched their own listening phase which will run until April 2022. This will be followed by a continental phase from September 2022 to March 2023, and the final universal phase to the Synod proper.
Cardinal Gracias, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), inaugurated the Bombay Archdiocesan listening phase with a morning Mass on Sunday at the Holy Name Cathedral of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Due to the pandemic, only a limited number could participate in the liturgy that was streamed live. Laymen and women from various backgrounds and languages participated in the Mass with singing, readings and prayer of the faithful in several languages.
A synodal Church
Citing the 17 October 2015 celebration of 50 years of the establishment of the Synod by Saint Pope Paul II in 1965, Cardinal Gracias, in his homily, recalled Pope Francis declaring that “God wants the Church of the 3rd millennium to walk the path of synodality”.
He also echoed the 3 essential elements of the Synod - meeting, listening and discerning - as outlined by the Pope at the October 10 inaugural Mass. The cardinal explained that in a synod people walk together, meeting and listening to one another in order to discern “what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us or wants to tell us”.
Leaving no one out[ Audio Embed Listen to excerpts from the homily of Cardinal Oswald Gracias.]
“Christ intended the Church to be inclusive,” the Archbishop of Bombay pointed out. “We need to walk together, leaving no one behind. We need to listen to each other, especially those in the peripheries, especially those in difficulties, especially those who are sick, especially those who are suffering, and especially and even those who have left the Church.” According to Pope Francis, he pointed out, listening is much more than hearing.
What ails the Church?
The cardinal, who is a member of the Council of Cardinals that advises Pope Francis on the reform of the Church, stressed that “the synodal process is meant to reform the Church by discerning what is it that ails the Church”. “This we will discover by listening. Hence the need to listen even to those who have left the Church or those who are thinking of leaving the Church. They will have a story to tell, which might make us reflect.”
The 74-year-old cardinal then went on to enumerate some of the ills that are preventing the Church from being inclusive. Clericalism has affected the Church, he said, adding, “we are a clergy-dominated Church”. Discrimination against women has affected the Church, with women denied their rightful place in society and in the Church. There is a lack of protection of minors, with the absence of safeguarding processes in parishes and Church schools and institutions.
Dalits have been oppressed and migrants have been rejected with a xenophobic attitude against ‘our own people”. Among the ills besetting the Church are also “inadequate concern for climate change” and lack of importance given to young people.
Called to build God’s Kingdom
“Our vocation, yours and mine,” Cardinal Gracias said, “we are called to build the Kingdom of God.” All the drawbacks that he mentioned, he said, “are counter-Kingdom values”.
He reminded the faithful that Pope Francis invites them to start becoming “a listening Church, a serving Church, a humble Church, a Church where all belong to in communion”. The Holy Father wants a Church in which all participate according to their capacities and go out in mission, different according to one’s formation, environment and calling.
Synod handbook released
At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Gracias presented the Handbook for the Synod entitled, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”. Prepared and published by the Vatican’s General Secretariat for Synod of Bishops, the handbook is a useful tool for all those involved in the 2-year-long synodal process leading up to the October 2023 Synod, in Rome. Each of those present at the inaugural Mass in the cathedral received a copy of the booklet, printed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), the association of India’s Latin-rite bishops.