By Robin Gomes
The Catholic Church of the Philippines has welcomed the call of Pope Francis for a synodal Church, urging all Catholics to walk together and grow by listening, saying synodality is God’s plan.
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), made the exhortation in a message on the occasion of Pope Francis' launching of a 2-year-long synodal process for the universal Church on Sunday, October 10, with a Holy Mass in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica.
Unlike any other Synod
Next Sunday, October 17, dioceses across the world will kick off their journey, whose theme is, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. Pope Francis wants it to be a truly bottom-up process starting from the local up to the national, regional and finally the universal level. It starts with, and involves, all the faithful at the diocesan levels across the world, promising to listen to all, especially to laypeople.
The diocesan and national listening phases will run until April 2022 and will be followed by a continental phase from September 2022 to March 2023. The final “universal Church phase” will culminate in the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.
Looking within and at the human family
In his message, Archbishop Valles explained that this Synod is a journey, “a convocation guided by the Spirit for the challenge of mission”. As dioceses gather together in small circles in parishes, schools and basic ecclesial communities in the coming months, he said, the Church will look within and also at how it is together with the entire human family. Hence, it will pray together and ask the Spirit to lend us His eyes and mind and heart. “We will look at two landscapes not with our eyes but with the eyes of the Lord.”
Local communities will find out how this journeying together is happening today and what the Spirit is asking of them; how the life of worship gives way to the life of charity; and how faith is lived and shared. In its relationship with the human family, the CBCP president said that local communities will examine whether they are still the salt and light for the world; whether there is a dialogue of life, ready to listen to others with respect and humility despite differences.
The signs of our time
In this process, Archbishop Valles said, the Church is presented with many signs of our time which it cannot ignore. There are the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, sexual and financial scandals in the Church and in government, the attraction of secularism and materialism, the power of the digital world, relativism and erosion of ethical values, disdain for the Church, the ecological abuse, terrorism and violence.
Sources of inspiration
In dealing with these phenomena, the Philippine bishops’ president urged that the Church seek inspiration from the Bible, first and foremost from Jesus, and then the crowd and the apostles. While Jesus was sent to bring the Good News to the poor, the crowd was longing for salvation, and the apostles made it easier for people to meet Him.
However, he warned that a fourth actor wants to force himself into the fray – the “evil one who wants to separate the three or who wants us to avoid the cross”. But God wants all to be saved, the archbishop said, adding, “barriers need to be torn down and bridges of encounter must be built”, maintaining unity in matters of faith, liberty in matters of opinion and charity in all things.
Sensitivity, patience, conversion
In this synodal journey, Archbishop Valles said, the Church needs to be sensitive, adopting a “selfless listening lifestyle”, in order to discern what the Lord wants. This will help us see into persons and events “with our soul”, he said.
The Church needs to give time to this journey without being obsessed with immediate results, but to proceed with patience, tenacity and clarity of convictions, trusting in the Lord who walks with us. He also warned that we cannot journey as a synodal Church without conversion of heart.
Archbishop Valles also provided a brief time frame of CBCP’s plan for the synod journey at the local and national levels.