11/02/2015, 00.00
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For Sri Lankan Catholics, the Synod seeks to create a new way of being Church through mercy

by Melani Manel Perera
Ainslie Joseph, convener of the Christian Alliance for Social Action, and Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, theologian and social activist, express their opinion on the matter. The two Catholics do not enter into the merit of the topics addressed by the Synod but agree on the "uniqueness" of the method used, and on the pope’s call to "treat everyone with God’s mercy."

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis called on the faithful “to think outside of the box” in order to create “a new way of being Church,” said activist Ainslie Joseph. At the same time, the 14th Assembly of Bishops on the family has "made a difference compared to the past,” said Fr Reid Shelton Fernando. Indeed, “Not only Synod Fathers were involved but so were families. Suggestions and opinions from lay people were taken into consideration".

Whilst not looking into the merit of the issues addressed, both Sri Lankan Catholics agree that the Synod of Bishops on the family, which ended last week, was "extraordinary" in terms of the method it used, namely bringing in social groups whose voice was never heard before in such a setting. Indeed, the two Catholic leaders told AsiaNews that the method of discussion was original, closer to the grassroots, and the challenges of an ever-changing world.

In his final address to the synod, the pope urged his brothers to “realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness”. For the Pontiff, “the true God [. . .] does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy.”

For Ainslie Joseph, convener with the Christian Alliance for Social Action, if "the prophets of the past called upon us to think outside the box,” then “Pope Francis is a modern prophet”.

“Had the Synod come up with nothing new, it would have been a waste of time and money.” Instead, “Pope Francis has shown courage by stepping towards new and unchartered ways of thinking. I am sure he is guided by the Holy Spirit.”

For the Catholic activist, “It is easy to hold on to what we have always believed in. It is not easy to change our way of thinking to meet new challenges, especially in matters relating to the family. Yet the Church is a living force and has become an inclusive institution that welcomes everyone."

Although "there are people who do not willingly accept change, Pope Francis spoke to the 'closed hearts' and invited them to face doubts and difficulties without fear or stick one’s heads in the sand. As a layman, I find this very encouraging".

Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, theologian and social activist, spoke to AsiaNews with satisfaction about the discussions undertaken by Synod Fathers.

In his view, the pope’s “teachings are not purely doctrinal. They go beyond that, to the pastoral, to attempts to resolve the crisis of the family. The new situations families face must be considered from a pastoral point of view. "

"There were three controversial points out of 94 in the final report,” he noted. “The pope and the synod did not call for changes to the doctrine,’ they only want to address the problem of divorced and remarried people.” In view of this, the pope "called for mercy and to treat everyone with God’s mercy”.

On the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, "the Synod decided that individual bishops will decide." Speaking about the Church in Sri Lanka, the priest said he thinks that "the local Church will not show signs of openness and is not likely to change the status quo.”

“I fear local leaders will not let pastors decide on an individual basis,” he bemoaned. Yet, “I believe our representatives should support the Synod’s vision, and not give up on new possibilities."

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