Synod releases working document for its continental stage

Titled "Enlarge the space of your tent”, the report reflects the ideas formulated by 112 bishops’ conferences sent to the Vatican, including from the Churches of Asia. Starting with this paper, discussions will get underway again at the local level to pick the priorities for the first phase of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Synod of Bishops today at the Vatican released the Working Document for its Continental Stage, which marks the start in the journey Pope Francis opened a year ago.

Destined for dioceses around the world, the framework “for a synodal Church” focuses on “communion, participation and mission” and the goal, quoting Isaiah 54:2, is to “Enlarge the space of your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly, lengthen your ropes and make firm your pegs”.

In recent weeks, a commission of experts has worked on the reports sent to Rome by the 112 bishops’ conferences (out of 114) that responded to Pope Francis’s call, together with those from the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as many other groups and individuals who posted their ideas directly online to the Secretariat of the Synod.

Thousands of suggestions were turned into in a 46-page document whose purpose is to nurture the intermediate stage ahead of further reflections in each continent with, as reference, the tent and the tabernacle that accompanied the people of Israel in the desert.

As the Working Document reads, “The tent’s hold is ensured by the sturdiness of its pegs, that is, the fundamentals of faith that do not change but can be moved and planted in ever new ground, so that the tent can accompany the people as they walk through history.”

Thus, the goal is to heed the voices of every local Church in the world. Although a few dozen pages cannot do justice to broad and complex ideas, the contributions of each Church are the basis of every point. Many of them came from Asia.

In one case, for example, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan underlines the experience of novelty and freshness that the Synod is offering to the communities, who “spoke of how, after decades of church going, they had been asked to speak for first time”.

The journey was not always easy for everyone. In the report from the Philippines, we can read that “many of the underprivileged and those who were marginalised in society felt that they are also left out in the Church”.

The document’s overall perspective is that of a "missionary synodal Church", with five main guidelines: listening to everyone as a sign of openness to others, the urge to go forward in the mission, an ecclesial style based on everyone’s participation, improved training and education, and the centrality of the liturgy as a tangible place of communion nourished by the Word of God and the Sacraments.

Various concrete challenges fall within this framework; for example, the Korean bishops' conference is one of those that highlighted the role of women in the Church. “Despite the great participation of women in various Church activities, they are often excluded from key decision-making processes. Therefore, the Church needs to improve its awareness and institutional aspects of their activities”.

The issues of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue reflect various experiences and different contexts. The bishops of Laos and Cambodia looked at how “The encounter between the Catholic Church in Cambodia and the Buddhist Monks and lay Cambodian Buddhists ‘creates a new culture.’ All our activities affect each other and affect the whole world.”

Conversely, for the Catholic Church in India, despite similar efforts, “there is a feeling that the mission in this realm is minimal. The dialogue efforts drew only a handful of elites and remained mostly as cerebral exercises limited to the realm of ideas and concepts rather than becoming a movement of the masses and becoming also a dialogue of life”.

In some contexts, bearing witness to the faith approaches a point of martyrdom. In some countries Christians, especially young people, must cope with systematic attempts at forced conversion to other religions.

According to the document, “There are many reports that emphasize the insecurity and violence with which persecuted Christian minorities must contend. In such cases, walking together with people of other faiths, instead of retreating behind the wall of separation, requires the courage of prophecy.”

Another much-discussed topic is how to ensure that the style of synodality becomes the ordinary practice in the Church's journey. Indeed, while the tensions between the need to welcome all charisms without emptying the ministry of leadership of bishops is clear in the document, it is also evident that synodality must be adequately supported through educational work.

Myanmar bishops note the “urgent need for the education and formation programmes for clergy and lay people for developing a shared understanding of synodality that is so vital for journeying together in the local Churches”.

Now these and many other ideas will go back to each Church whose task it will be to recognise  points of convergence and divergence with respect to the report, indicating the priorities the Synod must discuss in upcoming stages. In each continent, an assembly will be held by next March, with, as Pope Francis insisted from the start, priests, religious and laity as key players along with bishops.

The final documents of all these meetings will form the basis for an Instrumentum laboris to be drafted during the first phase of the Synodal Assembly set for Rome in October 2023. And as Pope Francis announced a few days ago, the journey will continue after that for another year with a second session of the Synod scheduled for October 2024.