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New pathways for synodality

New pathways for synodality

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, at the Manila Cathedral on Sept. 26, 2022. RCAM-AOC

September 27, 2022

Manila, Philippines

MANILA— Here’s the full text of CBCP president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David’s talk at the Manila Cathedral on Sept. 26 during the “Celebrate Asia in Manila” conference in preparation for the 50th general conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) in Bangkok, Thailand next month.

I. Our Philippine synodal experience in the light of FABC’s 50th anniversary

The context in which we are reflecting on New Pathways for Synodality for the Church in the Philippines is our Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of FABC.

FABC has been promoting greater synodality in the Church since it began. It has been known mainly for its insistence on DIALOGUE. For us in Asia, FABC emphasizes that synodality has to take the form of a threefold dialogue: one, with the religions of Asia, two, with the cultures of Asia, and three, with the poor of Asia. Perhaps we can begin by replacing Asia with Philippines and ask ourselves how we have fared in each level of dialogue while reviewing our own synodal experience in the Philippines.

A. On dialogue with religions

Ironically, as regards IRD, our disadvantage has been the fact that we are a predominantly Christian country. (Ironically, I say, because being predominantly Christian is precisely the reason why we have the tendency to be less concerned about dialoguing with other religions.) It is different talking about dialogue in a context in which you are the majority, than in a context in which you are a minority, which is the more common experience in Asia. It is in a minority setting that the advocacy for religious freedom, tolerance and dialogue usually becomes more palpable. It is a common tendency for us Catholics, when we are the majority, to be presumptuous, to throw our weight around, to be intolerant and less open to dialogue. No wonder, our efforts at IRD have remained very insignificant. The other communities of faith are usually surprised when we even bother to reach out to them.

We have Catholics who simply take it for granted that we can just celebrate Masses in public spaces as if these belonged to us. We sometimes just presumptuously occupy the streets and mess up the traffic for our processions often without bothering to coordinate with the LGUs or Barangays about traffic rerouting. Sometimes, this happens precisely because the LGU leaders and Bgy captains are mostly Catholics anyway. They quickly say ok and presume that we will marshall the traffic ourselves, which, of course doesn’t happen when not consciously attended to. It is when government officials happen to belong to other religions or Christian denominations that we often become conscious of the need for dialogue. I call that a self-serving kind of dialogue, dialogue when we are in a position of disadvantage.

Take note, please, I am not necessarily advocating a secularistic kind of society that is intolerant of religious expressions in public spaces. There are countries where all communities of faith are equally given the privilege of using the public space for their festivals, often even with support from the other religions.

Synodality with other religions is actually more than peaceful coexistence, or even more than dialogue. It is also about proactively discovering spaces of partnerships and collaboration, about opening our basic Christian Communities to basic human communities. In our Philippine synodal journey, the aspiration for ecumenical dialogue has been more significant than Interreligious dialogue, for obvious reasons. It is mostly in Mindanao where Interreligious dialogue figures more prominently in the diocesan synodal reports, such as in the MSPC, which paved the way for the Bishops-Ulama Encounters. And yet, even in Luzon and Visayas where we are majority, we cannot deny the presence in our midst of Muslim traders, of Taoist and Buddhist Chinoys, of INCs, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and of IP communities that have held on to their animist faiths.

It is in the realm of social advocacies that ecumenism and Interreligious dialogues have tended to be more productive. Examples of these would be the common concerns for the climate crisis and the protection of our common home, advocacies for good governance and responsible citizenship, for CHAMP elections, for a peaceful resolution of conflicts, for the protection of human rights, for the defense of human life, for land reform, anti-corruption, etc.

New avenues have been opened in our relationship with IFI, because of the 500th YoC celebration and the CBCP’s joint statement with IFI that has endeavored to heal the historical wounds that have alienated them from the RCC. We also feel the defensive position of our traditional Church-going Catholics towards Pentecostal and Evangelical groups that have been actively engaged in what they often regard as “sheep stealing.”

The common suspicion is that these groups are out to proselytize, and that they are consciously aiming at converting hordes of unchurched Catholics to their fold. In dialogue, they ask us, “Would you rather keep them distant from the Christian faith than allow them to hear God’s Word through our evangelical efforts? We do not force them; we invite them. We know that they are baptized Catholics but they claim that they do not feel at all like they belong to the Catholic Church. They are baptized but they know very little about the Christian faith.”

B. On dialogue with the poor

The synodal consultation has been a very humbling experience for our parishes, especially in regard to reaching out to the “unchurched” who constitute the majority of our Catholics. It has been very humbling to admit that, despite PCP II’s vision of promoting a Church of the Poor, the poor have remained not only in the margins of society but also in the margins of the Church.

The sectoral dialogues have also opened our eyes to the great tendency in our parishes to be so focused only on our Churchy concerns, to be inward-looking, to be self-referential (to use the vocabulary of Pope Francis), to be parochial in the negative sense. We have tended to limit the Church involvement of the laity to serving the Church, rather than serving society as part of a servant Church.

Most parishes have felt a certain awkwardness about dialoguing with the sector that calls itself the LGBTQ+, or with single parents, or separated couples or families living in not-so-ideal situations. There are PWDs who bewail the absence of PWD-friendly facilities in Churches, or even the availability of sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired. We’ve heard the painful experiences of families about the apparent lack of compassion of the Church when they lost a family member because of depression—that their loved one could not be blessed in Church because their family member had committed suicide. The most common remark had to do with poor people unable to avail themselves of the sacraments because they couldn’t afford the “fees”. There are stories of abused women and children wishing they could seek refuge in church in times when they had to run away from their abusers, and senior citizens who wish that the Church could establish more facilities that could attend to abandoned elderly people.

The most common and rather painful remark that we heard very often in our synodal consultations was the general impression that the poor felt discriminated against in their parishes, that many priests and lay leaders tend to be more welcoming towards the wealthy and influential, visit them more often, favor them for parish leadership roles as in PPCs and PFCs. Even more painful was the common remark that most Church leaders, clerics or lay, do not bother to listen to their voices, or express concern about their struggles to earn a living, to have decent dwellings, to send their children to schools, to protect their human dignity against those who exploit them economically. There are of course stories that point otherwise to a more caring Church.

It is in the BECs that the poor find welcoming spaces. Many of them feel that their popular religious expressions of faith are looked down upon or misjudged by the more educated Catholics, or even by their own parish priests. There are slum communities in the urban areas or far flung communities in the rural areas that hardly feel the Church’s presence. Many have said they don’t feel welcome when they come to Church because they are not properly dressed. They are drawn to Church during fiestas, Christmas and Holy Week but they choose to stay in the patio and sit on the plant boxes rather than enter. They feel awkward sitting inside and not being able to drop some money collection bag is passed before them.

Right within the Church, among active Church members, especially those involved in Church ministries, the common lament is the lack of catechesis and faith formation, as well as formation opportunities that would equip them for their ministries. Many of them have observed the fact that the laity’s involvement in PPCs and PFCs is mainly consultative. Their involvement in actually drafting , implementing and evaluating pastoral plans tends to be minimal. They are not even allowed to meet without the parish priest.

C. On dialogue with cultures

With regard to the dialogue of cultures, many feel that the Church has a strong tendency to be mono-cultural. The concern about native or ethnic cultural values and traditions seems to be more prominent among indigenous peoples who are often suspicious of Church agenda when suddenly allowed to express these in Church liturgies which they find too foreign, or too intellectual or partial for the educated. They feel that the use of vernacular languages is becoming less and less evident in our Churches. There is also the prevalent observation that our liturgical celebrations are too Romanized, too pompous, too formal, and lacking of elements that one might call ecclesial in the sense of communitarian.

II. On the synodal process, highlights and areas of conversion from CBCP

Let me now take a little time to describe the process that led to our national synodal assembly and highlight some areas of conversion.

Orientations were given to all bishops, and each diocese was also instructed to organize a Diocesan synodal team that would coordinate the whole process from the parish level, all the way to the diocesan level. It sounded like a tall order, especially in a time of pandemic, when most Catholics around the world were still limited to virtual encounters through teleconferencing. But to our surprise, people took it seriously anyway and did their utmost best to be able to carry out a serious consultation process in whatever way possible.

The BECs seemed most comfortable about it, as it involved a lectio divina format that they were very familiar with. The guide questions too were precise, and the involvement of marginal sectors came as a surprise for those who had been invited to join in. The common question was—does it really matter to the Church whatever it is that we have to say in answer to the guide questions?

Even the regular Church volunteers found the questions curious and interesting. They knew somehow that the questions did not come from their parish priests because they were allowed to express their honest feelings even about the way things were going in their parishes. It helped a lot that Pope Francis was being invoked all the time, that it was Pope Francis who was interested to hear their thoughts. Besides, the synodal working teams had an authorization from their bishops to carry out what they had been mandated to do.

And so, assemblies for consultation were convened from BEC to the parish, to the vicariate, all the way to the diocesan levels. These encounters were actually more important that the reports themselves, whether they were held virtually or physically or in a combination of both. People found time to listen and discern together, taking note of voices that had never before been heard in Church circles and making sure that they were properly heard again in the diocesan assemblies and documented in the synthesis reports that were submitted to the Conference.

To avoid having to listen to synthesis reports from 86 ecclesiastical jurisdictions from all over the country, the National Synodal Team asked for a convening of Synodal Assemblies on the metropolitan level, with a recommended template to follow for it. And so the metropolitan provinces came up with their own synodal teams at the last minute, and convened their delegates from each member diocese who presented their diocesan reports creatively, until they were able to come up with a metropolitan synthesis report. (Apparently, this turned out to be the most unique feature of the Philippines Synodal Experience.)

And then, finally on July 4-7, a National Synodal Assembly was convened, with the whole CBCP in attendance, one lay delegate each from every diocese, and metropolitan teams that included priests and consecrated persons among them. The delegates, along with the facilitators and technical staff numbered to around 250 individuals.

Here is how the bishops described their experience in a brief message that the CBCP had released as their only statement following the conclusion of our 124th Plenary Assembly. Following the pattern that we had adopted for our group sharings, the statement was organized into three parts: LOOK, LISTEN, LOVE (a unique Scripture-based adaptation of the SEE-JUDGE-ACT pattern).

“We LOOKED. It brought us joy to see the persevering faith of our people; the dedication of our ministers, the increasing dialogue of action within and with others. We saw lights.

Yet it caused us sadness seeing we are yet far from our dream of a Church of the poor, and hearing the yearnings and groans of those distant from the Church. We saw gaps and closed doors in our work of evangelization. We saw shadows.”

“Our shared sentiment resulting from the interweaving of joy and sadness in our hearts was an experience of fellowship, but we yearn for deeper communion.”

“We LISTENED. We heard strong voices calling us, our clergy, consecrated persons and lay collaborators to heed the call to conversion, to go out of our comfort zones, to be welcoming, to be transparent and accountable, to be more compassionate. These voices echo Pope Francis’ call to be a ‘Church that sets forth’ and is in a ‘perpetual state of mission.'”

“After the sharing and listening to the stories from the ground, we opened our hearts and minds to God’s Word and listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our communal discernment engendered in us a longing for wider participation, a more profound communion and renewed mission, urging us to dream once again for God’s people. We sensed the call of the Father’s love made visible in Jesus on the Cross.”

“We are called to LOVE. In responding to God’s love, we set ourselves anew for mission. We are moved to ‘open doors’, especially the door of personal, parish, and institutional conversion. This means, for us, opening wide the doors of encounter, listening and dialogue; the door of renewal of ourselves and the clergy; the door to greater witnessing of simplicity and humility; the doors of stewardship, good governance and care for creation; doors towards strengthening the faith formation and empowerment of the laity, and building up of our communities; the door of renewing our structures and ministries, – leaving behind those that do not help and embracing those that make us a community; doors that lead to building bridges, closing the gaps and promoting equality.

We open doors for us all to go out and set forth once again for mission – to seek out those who are far, different, excluded; to encounter, listen and dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different denominations and faith; to explore possibilities for positive engagement in the areas of ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, politics and social media. We open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts, for we humbly admit that we do not have all the answers to the many questions of our time, while we recognize the goodness and giftedness of our people and those who do not share our faith.”

“We are grateful to the many faces, eyes, ears and hands whose openness and hard work have made our Synodal experiences possible.”

III. Some scriptural reflections
(Mga pagmumulat sa karanasan ng pakikilakbay sa Synod on Synodality sa Liwanag ng Salita ng Diyos)

Engkwentro o pakikitagpo sa Kristong Muling Nabuhay: Ito ang piniling sundin ng National Synodal Team bilang balangkas ng Pakikilakbay para sa ating mga Presynodal Consultations sa Pilipinas. Sa pamamagitan ng tipikal na paraan ng Bibliyarasal (o lectio divina), ginamit natin bilang gabay sa bahaginan ang Kuwento ni San Lukas ch. 24:13-35 tungkol dalawang alagad sa daan papuntang Emmaus na sinamahan ng Panginoong- muling-nabuhay sa paglalakbay ngunit hindi nila kaagad nakilala.

Sa sinodong ito, marami rin tayong nakasama sa daan na sa simula ay mistulang mga estranghero sa atin. Katulad ng dalawang alagad, mayroon ding mga tabing na pumipigil sa atin upang makilala ang ating kalakbay. Halimbawa na rito ang mga paunang reaksyon ng mga sektor na inimbitahan natin sa kuwentuhan. Kahit umoo sa imbitasyon, inamin ng karamihan sa kanila may duda sa loob nila, mga tanong, mga agam-agam. Ano kaya ang “tunay na agenda” ng simbahan para sa konsultasyon na ito?

Sa pakikilakbay, sabayan ang pagmumulat natin na may mga salamin pala tayong suot-suot na kumukulay sa paningin natin sa isa’t isa, at pumipigil sa atin na makinig o umunawa sa sinasabi ng isa’t isa. Kadalasan nagiging dahilan ang mga ito ng ng pagkatakot at pag-iwas sa isa’t isa. Tinuturuan tayo ni Kristo na magsuot ng kakaibang salamin: salamin ng katarungan at habag, nang magkasabay, upang luminaw ang paningin natin at hindi tayo matisod, lumihis, o maligaw.

Sa kanyang mga lakbayin, maraming beses na huminto si Hesus upang pansinin ang hindi napapansin ng iba. Mga katulad nina Bartimaeo, ang bulag na pulubi, si Zaqueo, ang pandak na tagasingil ng buwis na umakyat sa punong sikomoro, ang babaeng naaagasan ng dugo, ang babaeng balo na naglilibing ng anak niyang lalaki, at ang babaeng Samaritana.

Sa daan patungong Jerusalem, mula sa Galilea, buong tiyagang iminulat niya ang kanyang mga alagad sa tunay niyang layunin at misyon: si Pedro na pumipigil sa kanya na tumuloy sa Jerusalem, ang mga alagad na nagtatalo kung sino ang pinakadakila sa kanila, at sina Santiago at Juan na ibig maupo sa kaliwa’t kanan niya.

Binigyan natin ng natatanging panlasang kultural ang sinodal na engkwentro natin sa Pilipinas sa pamamagitan ng karanasan ng Pagkabuhay bilang SALUBONG.

Sa kulturang Pilipino, belong itim ang paglalarawan natin sa tabing na ito sa ating pagsasaritwal ng engkuwentro ng Mahal na Ina sa Anak niyang Muling Nabuhay. Belong tumatakip sa paningin ng Birhen Dolorosa, ang Inang Nagluluksa. Maikli lang ang ritwal na ito. Nakatutok sa sandali ng pagbaba ng anghel upang alisin ang belo, habang nakatingin ang taumbayan naghihintay na puno ng pananabik. Halos mabasa mo sa mukha nila ang isang panalangin. Na masilayan din nila ang liwanag ng pag-asa sa gitna ng mga kadilimang bumabalot din sa buhay nila. Salubong ang tawag natin sa ritwal na ito. At napakalakas ng dating nang gawin natin itong balangkas para sa ating mga diocesan, metropolitan at national presynodal consultations. Sa simpleng kuwentuhan, para bang binabaan ng anghel ang mga nakilakbay.

Ito ang salitang ginamit natin upang ipaunawa ang ibig sabihin ng Synodality: pakikilakbay. At tulad ng ulat ni San Lukas tungkol sa pagpapakita ni Hesus sa dalawang alagad, hindi ito biglaan. Unti-unti, dahan-dahan, yugto-yugto. Ang simula nito ay simpleng paglapit, masusing pakikinig, pakikiramdam, pagpapaliwanag o pagbibigay-saysay, at pakikisalo. Ang lahat ng ito ay naging sangkap ng mga konsultasyon. At dahil siguro sa mahabang karanasan ng pandemya na naglayo sa atin sa isa’t isa, sinamantala ng mga lumahok ang bawat pagtitipon para makaranas na muli ng ganyang mga engkuwentro. Nangyari pa mandin noong kasagsagan ng pagkalat ng nakamamatay na Delta variant ng Covid19. Virtual man o physical, naging napakatindi ng mga bahaginan.

Kahit importante ang mga guide questions, ang mga instructions, ang balangkas ng konsultasyon, sa karanasan para bang nabubuo ang daan sa mismong pakikilakbay. May isang makatang nagsabi nang ganito sa isa sa kanyang mga tula na pinamagatang Caminante. “Caminando no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” Kahit daw parang walang malinaw na daan sa patutunguhan, nabubuo ang daan sa mismong paglalakad.

Di ba sa ganitong paraan nagpamalas ang Diyos sa kanyang bayan nang tumakas ang mga ito sa Egipto at nasukol sila sa may dalampasigan ng Dagat na Pula (Exodo 14-15)? Noon nila nakilala ang Diyos na gumagawa ng daan kapag walang daan (God will make a way when there is no way. Ito ang kuwento ng Book of Exodus, di ba? How God made a way for them through the Red Sea, a way through the desert, a way to promised land.

Ang Diyos ang gagawa ng daan, hindi tayo. Sumasabay lang tayo sa kanya na kusang lumapit at nakilakbay sa atin sa pamamagitan ng pagkakatawang-tao niya. Sapat na ang makiisang puso sa kanya, makilahok sa kanyang katawan, makibahagi sa kanyang misyon. Tama si San Francisco de Asis sa kanyang panalangin—na ang dapat hilingin ay ang tayo mismo ay maging daan ng kapayapaan, ng pagibig, ng patawad, ng pananampalataya.

Hindi ba’t ito rin ang ipinanawagan ni San Juan Bautista (Mt 3:3) na humiram sa mga salita sa propetang Isaias (Is 40:3-4): IHANDA ANG DAAN NG PANGINOON! Apat na gawain: (ang mataas na bundok ibababa) pagpapakumbaba, (ang mga burol at tatambakan) pagpupuno, (ang liko-liko ay itutuwid) pagtutuwid, at (ang magaspang ay pipinuhin) pagpipino, upang masilayan ang kaluwalhatian ng Diyos. Itong apat na paraan ng paghahanda ng daan ang pinapangarap natin ngayon, matapos nating maganap ang Konsultasyon. Hinihintay nating maganap ang kontinetal at pandaigdigang antas ng konsultasyon at ang ibubunga nitong apostolic exhortation na ilalabas ni Papa Francisco sa taon 2024.

Sa lakbayin ng buhay, maraming nasasantabi, naiiwan sa kalsada ng buhay. May bumabagsak, may nabibiktima, may naliligaw ng landas. Si Kristo ay kumakatawan sa Diyos na pumapel bilang Mabuting Samaritanoo upang alalayan si Adan sa Landas Patungo sa Ama. Siya ang manlalakbay na hindi nag-atubiling maantala sa kanyang biyahe upang ang biktima ay makapagpatuloy sa kanyang lakbayin. (Lk 10:25-37)

Sino ang kalakbay? Hindi lang mga kaparokya, hindi lang kapwa Katoliko, hindi lang kapwa-Kristiyano, hindi lang kapwa mananampalataya, kundi bawat kapwa tao, kapwa nilalang, kapwa kasambahay sa iisang tahanan.

Maraming mga agwat na kailangang bagtasin o tawirin. Mga agwat na naglalayo sa atin sa isa’t isa. Ang papel ni Kristo ay magsilbing tulay na mag-uugnay o mamamagitan sa langit at sa lupa, sa Diyos at sangkatauhan. Tayong sambayanan ng kanyang mga alagad ay tinawag niya upang makipagkaisang-puso at diwa sa kanya, makilahok sa kanyang buhay at makibahagi sa kanyang misyon ng pakikilakbay sa sangkatauhan tungo sa kaharian ng Diyos.

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