The Syro-Malabar Church´s (SMC) special synod ended here Jan. 15 with no official statement on its outcome, indicating that solutions still evade the Church on several issues leading to the synod.
The weeklong synod of the 21 SMC bishops with Pope John Paul II was held as factional fights continued even after this Oriental Church was declared "sui juris" (self governing) in 1992.
"I do not think there is any substantial change in the attitude (of the bishops) even after the synod, though certain agreements are reached for the sake of unity and peace," Bishop James Pazhayattil of Iringilakuda, assistant to the SMC major archbishop, told UCA News after the synod.
The SMC bishops, based in Kerala are divided mainly on a liturgical issue. While one group wants to restore SMC´s ancient liturgy in its "pristine purity" others insist adapting it to current situations.
As friction continued, Pope John Paul called the special synod to help him be involved in the Syro-Malabar Church´s "growth toward communion."
The synod was to focus on "many fundamental questions" and resolve disputes over liturgy and other Church-related matters.
Bishop Pazhayattil said "most of our time was spent in the study of various issues. The result of this study is not easily summarized. Perhaps later on a declaration could be prepared."
L´Osservatore Romano, the official publication of the Vatican did not publish anything after the synod, which Church circles say is "rather unusual" as they search for reasons for this official silence.
The SMC, which traces its origin to Saint Thomas the Apostle, is rooted in Kerala, southern India, where it has 12 dioceses with 3 million Catholics. Outside Kerala, the Church has nine dioceses and some 200,000 members.
Because of the special character of this regional synod, which is different from the synod of bishops, the procedure was different. It had no daily bulletins nor press releases.
Opening the synod, the pope referred to some problems, which, he expected the bishops to discuss, but did not specify their dimension and complexity.
Nevertheless, the synod made some practical conclusions, Bishop Pazhayattil said. One was to have a plan for the uniform celebration of the Eucharist in all SMC dioceses.
"Indeed, (the conclusions) may not be acceptable to all in the same measure, but I am confident that they too will implement them," he added.
He said the Congregation for the Eastern Churches supports "the small number of bishops and clergy" who ask for pure restoration of the Syrian liturgy.
For the congregation, the liturgy of the SMC "is exactly that of the East Syrian Church and it should be restored to its purity, no matter whether it was in use in India or not," he added.
According to SMC Major Archbishop Cardinal Antony Padiyara, the "whole question" is to regain SMC´s lost identity by restoring its liturgy and customs and shedding all Latin elements.
Many SMC Catholics live in Latin dioceses in India and abroad and Cardinal Padiyara says their pastoral care is "a growing concern" for his Church.
He said they are in "a helpless situation" without Latin dioceses´ "due cooperation" and appealed to the pope for immediate steps to implement the Second Vatican Council directives in this regard.
The pope received all the SMC and Syro-Malankara bishops Jan. 18 after the synod for their "ad limina" visits. The customary reception with a short speech stressed seminary formation and bishops´ unity.
Hinting at various reasons that have divided the bishops, the pope reiterated the need for unity in the episcopate and asked SMC bishops to "continue the (mission) work in constant dialogue with Latin-rite bishops.
The pope lauded the "abundance of vocations" in SMC, but said he wanted "careful attention to their training" in the Oriental tradition and under the guidelines of the Holy See.