Indian Catholic nuns take part in a Good Friday procession in Amritsar on April 15. (Photo: AFP)
As in other parts of the world, Indian dioceses are engaged in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops. What happens in the Archdiocese of Bombay, the most populous Latin-rite diocese based in India’s commercial capital Mumbai, is important as it remains the leading community of Indian Catholics in thinking, organization and activism.
The synodal meeting of the archdiocese on June 3-4 brought together nearly 200 people, a cross-section of the diocese — religious sisters, youth, laymen and laywomen, priests and three bishops — to spend two days together at the archdiocesan seminary.
They listened to one another, shared their grievances and discerned the way forward for the local Church. Their shared their experiences as Catholics in their respective parishes, and their hopes for a more inclusive, more collaborative, faith-filled and relevant Church.
So positive was the general feeling that Bishop Allwyn D’Silva exclaimed in his concluding homily: “The Church in Bombay has been born again!”
This synod was a long time in the making. Over the last five months there have been various synodal consultations — online, physical and hybrid. They took place in parishes, across ministries and in various church groups. The main emphasis of each meeting was listening.
As Pope Francis himself said: “A synod is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.”
Yet another issue was engaging with other faiths more actively, but not from a position of privilege. Catholics need to appreciate the religious and cultural heritage of others much more than they do
There were four aspects of the Church which the assembly took up. A quick word about each.
An inclusive Church: Almost all the 18 groups felt that the Church needs to be more inclusive, especially towards people with different sexual orientations.
There was also a strong emphasis on accepting and caring for broken families, single-parent families and those with mental health problems. Economically weak families needed more pastoral attention and access to affordable health care, especially where families have to raise children with special needs.
Yet another issue was engaging with other faiths more actively, but not from a position of privilege. Catholics need to appreciate the religious and cultural heritage of others much more than they do.
A collaborative Church: There was a widespread feeling that the parish teams in many places, whether of clergy or laity, are overworked, inefficient and rife with petty rivalry.
One of the key suggestions made in an open session was to relieve priests of administrative duties and allow them to focus more on sacramental and spiritual care. Instead governance and administration could be taken up by the laity, and so done in a more professional way.
A faith-centered Church: The important point here was “accompaniment” — being accompanied by the Church during the various stages of life, not only sacramentally but also spiritually.
Faith was more than being present at Sunday Mass. How does one’s faith in Christ help in the many complex situations one faces in life? How does one’s faith grow? In India many faiths are practiced, but do we know more of each than just our prejudices? Is our faith just one among many?
There was a feeling of jubilation at the appointment of India's first Dalit cardinal and many comments made on how the caste system in the Church can be dismantled
A relevant Church: The general feeling here was that the Church was disconnected from the daily problems of the faithful, from the growing religious intolerance in the country and the violence against minorities. It was felt that the Church did not do enough to protect its people. This was admitted by the hierarchy but no remedial action was offered.
There was a feeling of jubilation at the appointment of India's first Dalit cardinal and many comments made on how the caste system in the Church can be dismantled.
Still, it remained a moot question. Does the Church modernize itself? Or does it evangelize the world?
This archdiocesan synod was a major step in listening to the faithful, but the synodal process will continue at several levels. Synodality is a more participatory process than collegiality, for it involves the laity even more than it does clerics.
Pope Francis has shown conclusively how the theology of Vatican II has guided the Church in transition from a European-centered Catholicism to a global one. Through the practice of mercy, he has radically changed the image of the Church.
One of the first interviews that Pope Francis gave was in 2013 to Eugenio Scalfari, editor of the communist newspaper La Repubblica and an avowed atheist. At the end of it all, Scalfari mused: “If the Church becomes like what Pope Francis wants it to be, it will have changed the world.”
Yes, synodality will do just that.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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