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Synod 2023: Filipina theologian explains why Asians gave an honest take on the Church

Asians tend to shun conflict and prefer harmonious relations, to the extent of papering over differences in an effort to save faces. But the continent’s report to the ongoing “Synod on Synodality” gave an honest take on what’s happening in the Church from the Asian perspective.

For Filipina theologian Estela Padilla, one of 54 women allowed to vote for the first time in the assembly convened by Pope Francis to spark changes in the Church, being honest was a “liberating” experience.

“One priest asked me why is our report so full of negative things happening in the church. Where is the good news there? I told him, the good news was the honesty in facing all the woundedness of our world and our failure of witnessing to the Good News in the midst of poverty, violence brought by terrorism and political oppression, etc., and these, adding to the pain of clericalism and hierarchical leadership,” she said during the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 18.

The “Final Document of the Asian Continental Assembly on Synodality” published in March dedicated 10 paragraphs to the “experience of wounds” of the churches in Asia and an entire section on “Asian tensions” containing another 32 paragraphs.

The 36-page report, which drew from the results of previous country-level synodal consultations, cited “abuses related to finance, jurisdiction, conscience, authority, and sex,” and the “lack of transparency and accountability” that it said “has led to a crisis of credibility in the Church.”

Padilla recalled one religious sister remarking that the Asians were able to discuss the tensions “without tension” in their continental gathering.

“I actually found these negative comments in the church liberating because as Asians, we don’t like conflicts; we always seek harmony … Harmony is of course positive except when it hinders us from naming what is wrong,” she said.

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Padilla, who serves as executive secretary of the Office of Theological Concerns at the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, echoed the continental report’s imagery of taking off one’s shoes and walking barefoot as Asia’s idea of the “synodal journey” that Pope Francis wants the Church to undertake.

Taking off one’s shoes is a sign of deep respect when entering temples or even homes, and walking barefoot means being grounded in reality, she said.

“I realized that decision making, an important governance function, can only give glory to God when we go through and grow into a communal spiritual discernment process,” Padilla said.

“To walk barefoot in front of the Spirit is to be radically open in sensing the will of God for our times.”

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