Meditative Recitation of Rosary and Indulgence: The Month of October is dedicated to Holy Rosary, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Rosary is celebrated on the 7th instant. The devout recitation of the Marian Rosary is highly recommended in this month. A plenary indulgence is granted to those who recite the five decades without interruption in a church or oratory, or in a family, or as a religious community, or as a pious fraternity, or in general whenever several persons have gathered together for an honest purpose. In other circumstances, a partial indulgence is granted.

Missionary Month: This month is also dedicated to missionary outreach. The papal intention for this month is that every baptized person may be engaged in evangelization and become a true Missionary Disciple, a witness of Christ with the flavour of the Gospel. On 17th instant, we celebrate Mission Sunday, which coincides with the inauguration of Synod at the diocesan phase. I wholeheartedly appreciate the generosity of our people and Priests in gathering the resources for the promotion of the proclamation of the Gospel. I earnestly request the Parish Priests to encourage the faithful to read assiduously the Word of God and be inspired by it so that they bear testimony to Christ’s love and mercy to humanity. Making Christ known and loved is the most beautiful thing in the world. May the whole of humanity open itself to receive the message, love, and healing touch of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. In order to grow to maturity in the stature of Christ, we must ardently love the Word of God. One concrete way is by encouraging children to learn the passages of the New Testament by heart. Another way is urging the children and adults to write the New Testament with beautiful handwriting.

Golden Jubilee of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC): This year DPC completes 50 years, and it is apt that we celebrate the presence of this synodal structure in our Diocese. On 21 October, we celebrate it with a solemn Mass at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church, Urwa. The Preparatory Team felt that it is a God-given opportunity for us to learn about the dynamics of the forthcoming Synod. A separate invitation is given in this Internos.

Inauguration of the Synod and its Conclusion at the Diocesan Level: The XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” will be celebrated in Rome in October 2023, and the inaugural session of the synodal journey will be held in Rome on 09-10 October 2021. All over the world, the opening of the diocesan process is scheduled by the Holy Father to be held on 17 October 2021. In our Diocese, we open it on that day at 08.00 a.m. Mass, in the Holy Rosary Cathedral and offer special prayers. I request all the Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful to offer earnest prayers to God so that the three phases of the Synod, diocesan, continental and universal, go on successfully and that the whole Church may reap abundant fruit. Rev. Fr Joseph Martis and Mr John D’Silva are the contact persons for the Synod at the diocesan phase. Assisted by a Team, they will organize activities of the diocesan phase of the Synod and the pre-synodal celebration before 20 January 2022.

A Few Glimpses on the Synodal Process: Synodality comes from the term “Synod” (syn=with; odos=path). It means “journeying together” of God’s flock, the faithful, pastors and Bishop of Rome to encounter Christ the Lord. The synodality is a constitutive element of the Church itself and the Second Vatican Council gave a fresh impetus to it. At the 50th anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, on 17 October 2015, Pope Francis said in a programmatic discourse: “From the time of the Second Vatican Council until the present Assembly, we have experienced ever more intensely the necessity and beauty of ‘journeying together’”. He further said: “The world in which we live, and which we are called love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church in the third millennium”. Both Pope Paul VI, who instituted the Synod of Bishops on 15 September 1965 through the Apostolic Letter Apostolica Sollicitudo (Apostolic care) and Pope John Paul II, who put into practice in a greater measure, foresaw that the organization of Synod could be improved upon with the passage of time. Pope Benedict XVI, through his document Ordo Synodi Episcoporum (2006), introduced some modifications.

Pope Francis desired to turn the pyramidal structure of conducting Synods upside down and gave a new orientation to the synodal process in the Church. This time, for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he has indicated new dynamics, that is, to begin from the local Church and then go to the continental assemblies and finally to the universal level. Already, in the Apostolic Constitution, Episcopal Communion (Episcopalis Communio [EC], 15 September 2018), he gave a new emphasis with mission as the focus. He wrote: “Today, too, at a point in history when the Church is embarking upon a ‘new chapter of evangelization’ requiring her to be ‘throughout the world… permanently in a state of mission’ the Synod of Bishops is called, like every other ecclesiastical institution, to become ever more ‘suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation’” (n. 1). The Pope wants that the voices of all God’s People be heard, prayed over, and taken back to Synods at the diocesan, continental and universal level so that all participate in the discernment and in the evangelizing task the Lord has entrusted to the Church.

The Pope emphasizes on attentive listening in this venture. For him, “the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: ‘For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us’” (EC n. 6). Everyone must give heed to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches. The Spirit of God speaks even through the last and the least as he is present in everyone as the inner teacher (1 Jn 2: 20, 27). Everyone has something to contribute and something to learn. Today, therefore, it is imperative that we listen to what God the Holy Spirit is saying regarding the evangelizing mission of the Church.

The early Church used the synodal method already in the “Council” of Jerusalem (Acts 15) when they had to decide about the people coming from the gentile world, whether they should first take upon themselves the Jewish practices like circumcision before embracing Christian faith. There were the elders from the Church of Antioch, together with Paul and Barnabas and they met the apostles and the assembly of people. The apostles and elders, together with the representatives of the Church of Jerusalem, moved by the Holy Spirit, gave concrete decisions and directions after due discernment. Even today, three principal actors are essential, Jesus, the crowd and the apostles. But, then, there is a fourth one, who opposes God and thwarts his designs. We must be cautious so as not to fall prey to the enemy of God, who comes disguised as an angel of light by insisting on what seems to be good.

The synodal consultation and listening has been the practice in the first millennium, and it has not been abandoned in the second millennium. This practice is crystalized in the Ecumenical Councils, Regional Synods and Local Synods. The Lay Faithful were consulted even in matters of doctrine. We have two wonderful examples in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before the solemn proclamation of the Dogma of Immaculate Conception (8 December 1854), Pope Pius IX consulted the People of God through Bishops of the whole world. Similarly, before the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven (1 November 1950), Pope Pius XII, followed the same path. The rationale behind the consultation of Bishops of the whole world is to know the faith of the whole Church of God by appealing to the authority of the sensus fidei, sense of faith, of the entire People of God, which is infallible ‘in credendo’ (Evangelii Gaudium 119). Vatican II underlined that the entire People of God does not err in matters of faith because of the lively sense of faith, thanks to the anointing of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism (LG 12).

Now, Pope Francis is asking the whole Church to discern the evangelizing task of the Church, and he desires that all should participate in the decision-making process, insisting again on the sense of faith. The Preparatory document gives a fundamental question for our reflection and discernment: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel ‘journeys together’: How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit of Christ invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?” We all must participate in answering this fundamental question, and then following the steps indicated, the answers should reach the Successor of Peter, who having the Successors of the apostles, with and under him, will guide us in the name of Jesus. Consultation does not mean a parliamentarian way of making a decision, of taking a majority’s view but ardently seeking to know what the Spirit says to us through everyone, even those who live in peripheries. The whole process of decision making is as important as the final document. The Pope invites everyone to enter into this process of deeper reflection and mutual listening, and dialogue and all listen to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

The Three Pillars: The whole consultation at the diocesan, continental and universal phases is built on three key pillars: Communion, Participation and Mission. Communion indicates our union with God, with pastors and with one another. We are a unified reality as the living Body of Christ where each part has its own specific function, and one needs the other. This Synod giving importance to the particular Churches shows the intimate link between communio ecclesiarum (communion of the Churches), hierarchical communion and participation. This springs forth from the baptismal and eucharistic communion. Our lived communion will help us to express our co-responsibility and achieve participation in the community discernment. Thus, we would be ready to open ourselves to take an active part in the evangelizing mission.

Roadmap for the Synod: The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has already given us the Preparatory document with the Logo, with themes and questions and the Handbook, the Vademecum, for discussion at the diocesan level and in other international bodies. For the pre-synodal discernment, we already have the basic structures: the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Council of Priests, the Parish Pastoral Council, and the Small Christian Communities. After the Pope opens the Synod in Vatican on 9-10 October 2021, and we open it on 17 October in the Cathedral, we proceed with the study on synodal dynamics on 21 October 2021, in which the Priests, Religious and Lay Leaders participate. These participants, in turn, will organize the sharing and discernment at the Parish level having the ten themes suggested by the General Secretariat. The copies of the themes and questions will be provided during the study session. Once the mutual listening and discernment at the Parish level is finished, we shall have a pre-synodal celebration before 20 January 2022. Therefore, a short report of the findings at the Parish level should be submitted to the diocesan contact persons by 31 December 2021. After the pre-synodal celebration, the contact persons with the Team will prepare the synthesis by 15 February 2022 in ten pages and send it to the contact person at the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India.

The National Team will consolidate the syntheses coming from all the Latin dioceses and send it to the General Secretariat before April 2022. Based on these findings, the latter will prepare the first Working Paper (Instrumentum Laboris I) and send it to the continental Episcopal Conferences by September 2022. These in turn, after the discussion at the continental level, will send the synthesis to the General Secretariat by March 2023. Based on these continental syntheses, it will prepare and send the second Working Paper (Instrumentum Laboris II) by June 2023 to the participants of the Synod at the universal level, which will be celebrated in October 2023.

Spiritual Conversations: The synodal process does not merely imply discussion. It is primarily listening to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit in the context of prayer. Therefore, prayerful sharing must be encouraged at the level of the Small Christian Communities or in smaller groups of youth, engaged couples, married people etc. in three rounds. Here, each one is called to share his/her faith journey. In the first round, we need to share on “How do I journey with God, with other Christians and with the people of other faith traditions?”. In the second round, we share on: “What touched me most in the first round, by listening to others?” In the third round, we ask: “What seems to be emerging in terms of convergence, commonalities, renewed perspectives, any insights of action and follow up?”. Each round, we conclude with a short prayer of thanksgiving and final hymn.

The synodal journey is brought to the peripheries, and every person is given an opportunity to share and to listen. Sometimes God speaks through the youngest person in the community. Nonetheless, the one who has care of the community needs to make the decision at the end, and everyone must obey him. Similarly, after listening to all, the Supreme Head of the Church, the Pope, would give us the directions to make Christ known and loved and experience his healing mercy.

+Peter Paul Saldanha
Bishop of Mangalore

 

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