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Asian Catholic Church leaders told to listen closely to ‘voices within the Church’

Church leaders are warned against using the phrase “a synodal Church is a Church of listening” as a rhetorical phrase

Asian Catholic Church leaders were reminded “to be more attentive to the voices within the Church” at the “continental assembly on synodality” in Thailand last week.

Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Synod, reminded Asian Church leaders that they are “all learners in synodality.”

The prelate told the gathering on February 24 to listen to people in the Church, “especially to those voices which agitate and also to the ones that ‘do not speak.’”

About a hundred Church leaders from across Asian gathered for the continental phase of the synodal process in Thailand from February 24 to 26.

The continental assembly is tasked to “reread the journey made” in the synodal process that started in 2021 and “to continue the listening and discernment” according to the “socio-cultural specificities” of the respective regions.

In 2021, Pope Francis launched the “Synod on Synodality” as a worldwide undertaking during which Catholics were encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.

In his address to the Asian assembly, Cardinal Grech stressed that “a synodal Church is a Church of listening,” adding that the success of the process depends on the active participation of the people.

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He said the “proper exercise” of synodality should not put the people and their pastors in competition with each other, but in constant consultation, allowing each other to exercise their respective roles.

“Consultation in Churches has enabled the people of God to implement the right way of participating in the Prophetic function of Christ,” said the cardinal.

He warned against using the phrase “a synodal Church is a Church of listening” as a rhetorical phrase, instead it should “portray the truth that it is.”

Discussions at the continental assemblies of the “synod on synodality” are guided by a 44-page working document officially called the DCS (Document for the Continental Stage). (Photo courtesy of the FABC)

Earlier, Cardinal Grech said that the Synod of Bishops is not meant “to address all the issues being debated in the Church.”

“There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the synodal assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the synod, with the intention of steering the discussion and determining its outcome,” he said in a letter released to Church leaders in January.

“However, the theme that the pope has assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: ‘For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.’ This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process.”

“Those who claim to impose any one theme on the synod forget the logic that governs the synod process: we are called to chart a ‘common course’ beginning with the contribution of all,” added the letter.

Discussions at the continental assemblies are guided by a 44-page working document officially called the DCS (Document for the Continental Stage).

The text calls for “a Church capable of radical inclusion” and says that many local synod reports raised questions about the inclusion and role of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as LGBTQ, and the divorced and remarried.

Members of the clergy celebrate Mass during the Asian continental phase of the “synod on synodality” of the Catholic Church in Thailand from February 24-27. (Photo courtesy of the FABC)

Church leaders were also reminded that the themes proposed in the document guiding the synod’s continental phase discussions “do not constitute the agenda” for the Synod of Bishops assembly in October.

The continental assemblies are reminded to identify “the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action” that will be discussed during the first session of the Synod of Bishops from October 4 to 29 this year.

Each Continental Assembly is required to submit a final document of no more than 20 pages providing the region’s response to three reflection questions based on the DCS by March 31:

  • Which intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the Church in your continent? Which experiences are new or illuminating to you?
  • What substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently, what are the questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the process?
  • Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions, what are the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action that can be shared with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023?

The final, universal phase of the Synod on Synodality will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023 and continue in October 2024.

The feedback from the seven Continental Assemblies on the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) will be used as the basis for another instrumentum laboris, or working document, that will be completed in June 2023 to guide the Synod of Bishops’ discussion.

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