Q & A with Estela Padilla, Filipina lay delegate to the ‘Synod on Synodality’
Estela Padilla was one of 70 non-bishop members appointed by Pope Francis himself to join the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican last Oct. 4 to 29, 2023. ROY LAGARDE
By CBCP News
November 10, 2023
ROME— Filipina theologian Estela Padilla made history by being one of 54 women given voting rights for the first time in the Synod of Bishops.
The pastoral worker and advocate of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) told CBCP News the recently concluded 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican was able to build consensus around “synodality” or making the Church more welcoming and discerning, and a greater role for laypeople, especially women.
In this exclusive interview, Padilla talks about the synod’s synthesis report, her experiences during the Vatican assembly, controversial issues such as opening the diaconate to women and greater outreach to the LGBTQ community, and why the work of the synod is not yet over.
CBCP News: What do you think about the synthesis report? Did it reflect what happened in the synod?
Dr. Estela Padilla: In terms of practical things, it provided a lot of pathways so we can start doing something. Its style is convergences, what we actually agreed upon. Then, matters for consideration and proposals, which will be sent to the local churches, so they are again part of the consultations. So, we hope to come back here next year, reflecting the lived experiences, the opinions, the discernment of the local churches back in the Philippines. For me, the synthesis is not, definitely not final, definitely up for consultation and even deeper listening from the local churches, so hindi pa siya tapos … marami pang mangyayari.
Ako naman as a pastoral worker, excited ako sa buhay ng Simbahan, hindi sa dokumento. So, this one reflects on what we talked about. It has provided pathways to continue the consultation but also pathways for actions. Sa ‘kin ang simbahan ay ‘yung kung ano ang nangyayari sa buhay ng mga tao, lalung-lalo na sa level ng grassroots, kasI BEC ang background ko, Basic Ecclesial Communities. Actually, a lot of these things makikita mo buhay na sa BEC, pero syempre marami pa ring kulang.
In the synthesis… the Church of the Poor is very clear, the importance of women, role of women in decision-making, nandu’n din ang social issues lalung-lalo na this synod happened in the middle of war.
As a pastoral worker, as a witness to the whole synodal process sa baba, hanggang Asian, hanggang continental, hanggang dito (Vatican), ang tinignan ko talaga ay ‘yung decision-making processes, kasi ‘yun ang interest ko. Para sa akin from the start, the synod is a decision-making process, so iyon ang tinignan ko talaga, ‘yung iba’t-ibang ways that decision-making can become even more participatory, even more consultative, even more listening to the voices that are silent.
CBCP News: The Synod on Synodality wants the Church to become more welcoming to people. How important is this issue at the grassroots and how do you think this will be addressed at the local church level?
Padilla: This was recognized in the national report and reflected in the diocesan reports, the sectors that we have not listened to. I am happy that the dioceses consulted many sectors as stated in our national report: farmers, fisherfolk, out-of-school youth, construction workers, politicians, barangay officials, LGBTQ, single parents. For me the BEC is the structure to reach out to them.
Kailangan, kada BEC hinahanap ‘yung kung sino ang boses ang hindi napapakinggan. ‘Yung synodal planning natin every year or every few years, sa parishes and dioceses, dapat balikan ang mga sektor. Hindi lang ininterview isang beses. How do we actually engage them dito sa pagiging Simbahan natin and pagiging synodal na Simbahan? So ‘yun ang malaking challenge.
CBCP News: In the synod press conferences, the questions always revolved around women’s ordination, more outreach to the LGBTQ community. Are these issues also a concern of the churches in Asia and the local churches?
Padilla: I recognize these as legitimate concerns, the issue of women and LGBTQ. At the local level, at the national level, at the Asian level, up to here at the Vatican, naging bukas doon sa usapin ng opening ng ministry to the diaconate for women. Priesthood for women, hindi napag-usapan. LGBTQ, very emotional ang usapan. Legitimate concerns had to be looked into, pero gusto kong tignan na wider ang issue. The wider issue of inclusion should be opened up. We are excluding a lot of sectors based on the national report, parang pang mayaman lang ‘yung Simbahan, parang du’n lang sa mababait.
The diaconate for women definitely, theologically, wala akong nakikitang problema. Pastorally it is also something we need to look into kasi ang daming ginagawang ministry ng kababaihan at the grassroot level. Ang mas issue ko, dapat i-recognize ‘yung ministries. Kasi kapag diaconate, whether men or women, parang nafo-focus na naman ang ministry sa isang tao. As someone with a background in the BECs, I feel that the ministries in the communities are also theologically grounded. The ministries in a grassroots community respond to what is happening sociologically, politically, economically in their neighborhood context, at tingin ko ‘yung community ministries dapat i-lift up at i-recognize.
I want to make a thematic analysis of the votes on the synthesis document pero nakikita mo rin ‘yung pinaka-issue e syempre ‘yung kababaihan.
‘Yung LGBTQ nawala mismo ‘yung term na LGBTQ. By its absence that’s even more loud as an issue. Kung titingnan mo the issue itself has been explored, expounded, and voted upon — ‘yung issues ng human sexuality, etc. The name LGBTQ was dropped even if it’s in the national reports, the continental reports, and the Instrumentum Laboris (working document). So, leaving out a name is leaving out a face. Pero the deeper issue is there, it is reflected there. If you look at the document as a final one baka malungkot ka e, pero if you look at this document as windows opening to deeper lived experiences of communion and participation, then you work at it.
Tapos dahil alam ko na buhay ang Simbahan sa Pilipinas at lalo siyang binubuhay ng energy ng synod, alam kong maraming mangyayari that will renew our Church at the local level. Confident ako diyan.
CBCP News: Speaking of new structures, what can the Philippines offer in terms of practices or personal experiences and what can we learn from other churches, based on your encounters in the small-group discussions?
Padilla: Alam natin ‘yung Basic Ecclesial Community only in the South level pero hindi in the northern hemisphere. Kaya nga ‘pag nagusap-usap sa synod hindi nila alam ‘yung BECs e. Pero for the southern hemisphere, Africa, Latin America, Asia, ‘yan ‘yung paraan ng pagiging Simbahan. In terms of being participatory structures, consultative decision-making, we can offer that, for one.
Dahil sa BECs palagay ko sanay tayo sa bible sharing. ‘Yun kasing consultation and discernment or communal discernment, Word-based siya tapos sharing ang methodology. So pwede ko sabihin na sanay na tayo roon, we are used to that, pero kulang pa ano?
I wonder if the parish councils actually do communal discernment with their parish priest. Sa Pilipinas, relational kasi tayo e, so very relational ang leadership approaches natin. It is not just a structure. No matter what rules you impose, what leadership position you carry, it’s very important to think ministry as relational or leadership as relational. That is where change happens.
‘Yung ibang culture mas importante bilang individual and I’m not saying that in the negative way. Very important ‘yung opinion mo, that you have a voice. Pero ‘yung second level of discernment is how “I” becomes “We.” Sa Pilipinas ganoon na tayo. So more than structures, ang tingin ko ‘yung culture natin na relationality, openness, that’s one thing to harmonize or integrate.
Ang daming bagong ministries especially during the pandemic. The listening ministry becomes more important now … After the pandemic naging conscious tayo pagdating sa mental health ministry… Reconciliation is part of listening, tingin ko napakahalaga niyan lalo na sa atin, ‘di tayo mahilig sa conflict negotiation, so kailangan natin matutuhan ‘yan.
Importante ang grassroots structures… hindi pa canonical ang parish councils, alam ko buong Pilipinas may parish council na. So now it will be codified. Lahat dapat magkaroon na ng parish councils, so karanasan na natin ‘to. Tripartite nga ang council natin e.
CBCP News: But the parish councils are not yet synodal.
Padilla: Yes, there are many issues in the parish council, but first is membership. Dapat hindi lang lagi from the center, kailangan representative. Maski maraming nangyayari sa BEC, umaakyat ba ‘yung buhay ng BEC pagdating sa taas? Parang sa gilid lang din siya, hindi siya center.
Paano ‘yung mga walang boses, how do they get in? Paano ‘yung listening process magiging system doon sa buhay natin sa Simbahan, sa decision-making natin sa Simbahan?
CBCP News: As a layperson and as a woman who was invited to participate and was even given voting rights, did you feel part of this synod? Was there a welcoming atmosphere although the majority of the participants were bishops?
Padilla: First question ko when I arrived, “May seating arrangements ba dito?” We were allowed to sit anywhere, and that has been the spirit of the synod. It’s a very open spirit. I can never say I felt I was hindered from speaking or I was not listened to. Everyone can speak at the same time, cardinal ka or layperson ka. You all have the same amount of time to speak. If you saw the arrangements before and the arrangement now, you know it’s not just a structural change.
Tapos sinabi rin nila na-inspire sila sa Asia, kasi nag-attend ‘yung [synod] team ng lahat ng continental assemblies. So d’un sa Asian assembly naka-ikot ‘yung mga silya, iba’t-ibang mga obispo, pari, layko, babae, lalake, tapos we lighted the candle.
The candle was given at the opening Mass of the Asian synod. And then that candle was lighted every time we spoke. Then the candle was brought back together with the paper of the Asian synod.
So, the team said they were inspired by that sitting arrangement. Pero galing sa Pilipinas din ‘yun. Sa Pilipinas pa lang ganoon na ‘yung arrangement, so that’s the conversion experience that we will bring back. If experience can flow into structures, then malaking change ‘yan sa Simbahan.
CBCP News: What was the biggest stumbling block during the synod in terms of achieving its objectives?
Padilla: Culture. Culture is a pattern, so nasanay ka na sa parokya mo, parish priest ka halimbawa, or bishop ka, nasanay ka na in a different way of deciding. Tapos you experience it here, pero alam naman natin ‘di ba? Experience has to be repeated for it to become a habit.
Ang worry ko, pagbalik sa parokya, unang meeting ng parish council or diocesan council, balik ka du’n sa nakasanayan mo e ‘di ba? Default mode ka e, so mahaba ang process ng change. Kailan siya magiging pattern? Kung titignan mo siya sa system, dapat all parts of the system supportive ‘no?
So kapag seminaryo ang laki-laking usapan dito, so mahabang pattern, ang habang kultura na kaya nga naging clericalism … Habits or patterns like clericalism, hierarchical structures, ‘yun ang binabangga ng synod. Hindi simple magbago ng kultura.
So pano ‘yan mababago? All the systems, all the parts that supported that specific culture, for example clericalism or the hierarchical, dominating leadership, lahat ng parts ng system mababago e, maski baguhin mo ‘yung structure ng decision-making.
‘Yung layko mayroon din. Susunod lang kami sa pari ‘di ba? So pati rin ‘yun kailangan magbago. Paano ba ‘yun babaguhin? It will take a lot of time so you can only hope for the spirit to really work.
CBCP News: In some sectors of the church, the concern was that the timeless teachings of the Church will be changed. This was reflected in the synthesis report. As a theologian how do you address this concern?
Padilla: ‘Yan ang pinaka malaking issue dito.
Tradition – how do you look at tradition? You know some can look at tradition as unchanging. Others look at tradition as living. Syempre ako as a theologian I look at tradition as living tradition, because God is a living God and our church documents have supported the Magisterium, for example.
Tatlong aspekto ‘yan. Magisterium syempre ‘yung primacy ng Pope, ‘yung episcopal collegiality, the Pope decides for the bishops, nandoon din ‘yung theologians, pero nandoon din ‘yung lived experience ng faith community.
Kasi lahat tayo, together we have a sense of faith na infallible, ‘yan ang tinuturo ng Simbahan natin.
We need to see talaga how tradition develops. ‘Yung unchanging truths of the faith, the deposit of faith, we need to engage that. Kasi baka hindi pare-pareho ibig sabihin natin diyan e. Baka hindi malinaw sa atin ano ba ‘yung sinasabi nating deposit of faith that is not changed. Alam ko tradition/living tradition changes because God continues to be alive and speaks to us through the signs of the times.
We need to be sensing God, what is God saying to us to this time. Syempre walang bagong revelation, ‘yung fullness ng revelation na kay Jesus e. Pero alam din natin na nagsasalita ang espiritu ng Diyos sa bawat panahon at ang kailangan natin pakinggan ano kaya ang sinasabi ng Diyos sa panahon na ‘to. ‘Yun ang tingin ko nag bi-build up ng tradition.
Whether you think of it as teaching or practices or structures, all meet up at the experience of faith ng isang believing community. Tapos nabubuo lang ang tradition kapag nirere-interpret natin siya based on how the faith community discerns the signs of God at this particular time, and acts on them. Para sa akin du’n nabubuo ang tradition.
So hindi simpleng issue ‘yan.
Halimbawa doon sa small groups namin may nagsabi, “The Pope has closed the discussion on this.” Sabi naman nu’ng kabila “No the Pope has opened the discussion on this.” So magkakaiba talaga ‘yung mga views ano. So iba-iba ‘yung tingin natin, kaya nga siguro ang pinakamalaki sa synod, communal discernment. Let’s listen to one another. Pansin ko naman ‘yung mga nagsasabi ng ganon nakikinig din.
Ako ang malaking change sa akin ‘yung negative opinion, I mean negative according to me. ‘Yung hindi ko kaparehong opinion. This person is also coming in from an experience like me. So kailangan makinig talaga, kaya siguro ganoon ang synthesis. It is a realistic way of showing what happens when people of different opinions try to come together.
Ang maganda lang doon we are presenting again to the local churches, can you imagine? Nakailang ikot na, iikot nanaman. Matindi ang circle as an image ng Simbahan from a pyramid, ‘di ba?
CBCP News: How were you changed by your experience here in Rome, attending the Synod? You left your life in the Philippines for more than a month. How did this experience transform you?
Padilla: Isa ‘yung diversity ng simbahan. Sobrang diverse, every sharing session sasabihin nu’ng isa, “Teka, hindi ganyan sa kultura namin. Hindi ganyan sa bansa namin,” e hindi rin talaga gano’n sa bansa namin. So sinong bansa ang panalo? Kaya sa akin sobrang halaga nu’ng decision-making at the local level e. The lived experience at the local level will be the determining factor in the synodal renewal that we all aspire for.
Sa akin malaking bagay ‘yung diversity. Mas malaking bagay to listen to the one opposing you. Kasi siguro not that it purifies, but it opens up your own opinion or your own experience to a bigger reality.
Ramdam ko ‘yan sa Pilipinas and even more I’m convinced of that. pero mas malaki ‘yung idea ng diversity dito no? Ever since I have been sensing, siguro as a theologian, or even as an organizer … how does a diverse community come up with a common direction?
So sa akin ang malaking learning is really communal discernment, is really opening up yourself to listening in an authentic way to another world. Hindi kunya-kunyari listen kasi you have to make a decision e, hindi kunya-kunyari ‘yung consultation kasi you need to make a decision together.
All the women [at the synod] met. Alam ko it will raise, you know, tentacles, “What are they talking about?” And then when we wanted to come up with a message, lalong nag-worry ‘yung mga tao, to the point na we decided not to come up with [a statement], pero nakakatawa kasi ang gusto naming ilabas e ‘yung how we want to give our encouragement to the women, daughters, and sisters at war. Just to say that the issue is bigger, that the issue is wider, ang laki-laki ng problema ng mundo.
But of course we decided not to come up with our own statement kasi nga the synod is coming up with a statement and we do not want to separate ourselves. It’s not about position, it’s not about power, it’s not about whatever, it’s about the Church walking with humanity talaga. ‘Yun ang malaki sakin. ‘Yun din ang nakikita kong kailangan i-watch out. ‘Yung pagiging inward-looking, ‘yun ang balik nang balik.
Whatever position or structure that we need to change, it has to be mission-oriented, malinaw sa’kin yan.
CBCP News: What was the experience of meeting the Holy Father in person?
Padilla: He has a certain sense of welcome talaga. Hindi mo alam kung nasanay na siya meeting people but he has just this smile for you.
Hindi ba siya napapagod? Smiling at everyone and reaching out? He keeps saying “Pray for me,” ‘yung isa naming kasama pagkasabi “Pray for me,” napaiyak talaga siya e, kasi ine-expect niya to ask the Holy Father, no? Pero the Holy Father asked for prayer talaga. He’s different spiritual leader – so welcoming, so open, so smiling – pero alam mo napaka-keen niya rin. He started this whole process, can you imagine? Changing the whole synod the way we look at it into something like this.
So maski na smiling and calm, alam mo na very critical and, catalyst talaga, a change agent. How to do that with maximum impact and less authority or less power is the strategy. ‘Yung kanyang welcome and quiet, it hides a very critical mind for change and to follow that through hanggang ngayon is something that we need to look up to as a leader.
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