Syro-Malabar Church’s synodality and the path set by Pope Francis
by Nirmala Carvalho

What does the two-year journey set by the pontiff represent for the Eastern rite Church whose path already includes synods? For Fr Paul Thelakkat, the Church must free itself from clericalism and listen to the eparchies.


New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Syro-Malabar Church is one of India and Asia’s oldest Christian communities, with more than four million members, 34 dioceses and more than 9,000 priests.

While following the Eastern tradition, “synodality has been one of the cornerstones of this community in communion with Rome for centuries”.

“This has been a sign of vitality, but it has required some efforts as evinced a few months ago on the occasion of heated discussions over a uniform liturgy for the Syriac-rite Church.

“How, do these communities in India look at the synodal path that Pope Francis has set for the whole Church over the next two years?” AsiaNews asked Fr Paul Thelakkat, former spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Synod.

“Eastern rite Churches have a Synod-like structure in their ecclesial life,” Fr Thelakkat explained. “The Syro-Malabar Church has a long tradition of Yogam, which simply means a council, which probably took shape in contact with Buddhism and its notion of Sangam (assembly of poets).”

The Syro-Malabar Church has always strongly felt the concept of community and communion, although in the beginning Yogam was reserved only for men of upper class and caste background.

“The present Church system is synodal,” Fr Paul noted. “The synod meets periodically and decides, but the it has no system of consultation with the clergy, religious, or laity”. Hence, the dialogue with the levels below the bishops is not always fruitful.

“The concept of authority and power structure in this Eastern Church remains the same as in the Latin Church. This is exactly what Pope Francis tells us when he uses the world clericalism.”

“The deconstruction of the power structure is very cumbersome and painful but must be done in the modern world for the sake of the existence as a Church of Christ.”              

This makes the synodal process important, one that is open to the participation of the lower levels of the Church.

For Fr Paul. “No decision in the Church should be taken without proper consultations. Only dialogue can be the way forward. Face-to-face sincerity and honesty alone can pave the way to the divine.” Still, “Pope Francis said that the Synod must be more than a parliament”.

In one sense, “A church assembly is like a novel. It has its characters but what is important is the author who is not in the novel.” The “characters highlight the presence of the author and his intentions.” In the Church’s case, it is Christ.

This is why as the incarnation of Christ’s Word, the “synod language has to be one of love, sincerity, openness.”

On the basis of such reflections, Fr Paul dreams of a Church that listens to and implements proposals that come from the grassroots, from parishes and territorial eparchies. 

“There must be clear indications about how important decisions concerning everyone are taken,” he explained. “The best method is consensus, neither majority nor minority. We shall neither bow to majoritarian dictatorship nor minority rule.”