Synod: Japanese woman among president delegates, no bishop from mainland China
The list of participants in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly in Rome next October was announced today. Momoko Nishimura, a consecrated woman from Yokohama, is one of nine delegates who will chair the work. Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong is one of Pope Francis’s picks. Unlike 2018, no official Catholic bishop will come from mainland China.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Press Office today released the list of participants in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Momoko Nishimura, a consecrated woman from Japan will be one of the president delegates. Four lay women from Hong Kong, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Malaysia are among the ten members suggested by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC).
Pope Francis personally chose Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, but despite the 2018 agreement on episcopal appointments, no bishop will be coming from mainland China.
After the release of the Instrumentum Laboris a few weeks ago, expectation was high about the composition of the Assembly that will meet in two sessions, next October and in October 2024, to wrap up the work on Synodality undertaken around the world following Pope Francis’s call in 2021 on the theme, "For a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission".
As announced, bishops will work with representatives from the whole people of God (priests, laity, and consecrated persons) who took part in the various phases of the consultation in the past two years.
The greatest novelty for Asia is the pontiff’s decision to appoint a Japanese consecrated laywoman as one of the nine president delegates, Momoko Nishimura, a member of the Servants of the Gospel of God's Mercy (SEMD), a missionary community.
A resident of Yokohama where she serves on the local Youth Ministry Committee, the soon-to-be 48-year-old studied at Sophia University in Tokyo and spent a few years in Argentina engaged in her ministry before returning to Japan in 2017.
She is also the translator of Pope Francis's encyclical "Fratelli tutti” into Japanese.
"It is an honour for me to be appointed president delegate for this Synodal Assembly," she said in a statement released by the Secretariat of the Synod.
“Although I feel very inadequate, I trust that, with the help of my fellow members, the Spirit will guide us in such a way that the Assembly will be a place of listening and discernment so that the Church can walk together.”
Momoko Nishimura is one of ten Asians – priests, religious and lay people – Pope Francis picked as non-bishop members of the Synod, from a list provided by the FABC.
The others are theologian Vanessa Cheng Siu Wai from Hong Kong, Rosalia Minus Cho Cho Tin from Myanmar, Timorese Catholic University (Universidade Católica Timorense) Rector Fr Joel Casimiro da Costa Pinto (OFM), Fr Clarence Devadass from Malaysia, FABC secretariat member and Maryknoll missionary Fr William La Rousse from Thailand, theologian Estela Padilla from the Philippines, Anna Teresa Peter Amandus from Malaysia, Sister Lalitha Thomas from India, and theologian Fr Vimal Tirimanna from Sri Lanka.
With respect to bishops, the long list includes ex officio members, those picked by Bishops’ Conferences and those personally chosen by Pope Francis.
In addition to all Eastern Rite patriarchs and FABC president Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, Asian participants include 28 cardinals and bishops designated by the collegial bodies of each region of Asia. To their names, Pope Francis added only one, Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong.
Unlike the last Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, no prelate from mainland China is on the list this time. In October 2018, two Chinese bishops participated in the Synod on young people – held a few weeks after the signing of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China on episcopal appointments, namely Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Chengde (one of seven illegally ordained bishops whose excommunication Pope Francis lifted) and Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of Yan'An.
Today, Pope Francis can rely only on Bishop Stephen Chow and the Church of Hong Kong, for decades a bridge with China’s Catholic communities (as evinced by the prelate’s recent trip to Beijing).
This clearly captures the current state of the provisional agreement, renewed last year but never fully upheld by Beijing as no new bishop has jointly selected.
Unlike 2018 when Chinese bishops’ presence in Rome for the Synod could be seen as the outcome of the agreement, this year this is no longer possible.
Bishops from mainland China were also unable to take part in the initiatives undertaken by Asian Churches for the synodal path nor attend the Bangkok Conference for the 50th anniversary of the FABC.
Whatever one wants to surmise, this reflects the policy of sinicisation of religions pursued by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past few years.
Pictured: Momoko Nishimura with Philippine theologian Estela Padilla, two of the six Asian women appointed to the Synod.