Maronite rite Catholics living in Oceania bring their experience of a synodal Church to the synodal process, but also their diversity and differences in the following of One Lord.
By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp – Suva, Fiji
There is a Maronite presence in Australia, New Zealand and other countries located in the Pacific. Most Rev. Antoine-Charbel Tarabay is the Bishop of the Maronite Diocese of St Maroun, and is one of three Eastern Catholic Bishops participating in the Oceania Continental Assembly for the Synod in Suva. In an interview with Vatican News, Bishop Tarabay shared his experience of the synodal process and a challenging theme that emerged during the local stage of the synod.
Synod as communion among shepherds and flock
The Maronite-Antiochian Church, the largest of the Eastern Churches in Oceania with numbering more than 250,000 in Australia alone, is a synodal Church, the Bishops explained. “We have a synod every year,” he said. “Synod is the communion between the patriarch and the bishop as the shepherds of the Church, looking after their flock in the spirituality and the theology as successor of the Apostles.” Therefore, the synod helps the bishops fulfil their “mission to serve the people of God and to look after them.”
Coming from their own synodal history experienced through the centuries, “we are trying to understand and are moving forward with the Synod on Synodality,” based on “what the Holy Father is talking about. And we’re praying to see how we can become a synodal Church, and especially in our understanding of a synodal Church – a Church on a journey of conversion.”
Listening characterizes a synodal Church, the Bishop continued.
A synodal Church is also a missionary Church.” Mission understood “first and foremost, as the Lord commissioned his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go forth and preach the good news of the Gospel. Make disciples. Baptise them.’ This should be the first task.”
Caring for Jesus’s brothers and sisters naturally follows after this first task, the Bishop continued. “We cannot believe in Jesus Christ and ignore his brothers and sisters, especially those who are suffering or under privileged.
Bishop of all of Oceania
What is unique about the Bishops representing the five Eastern Eparchies is that their territory includes all of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Islands – all the territories of Oceania. “This is where we’re trying to build up our relationship with our flock that are in many countries of Oceania.” Speaking about attending the Continental Assembly in Suva, Bishop Tarabay said, “I feel the responsibility to represent the voice of Oceania, to make the voice of Oceania heard.” The report the Assembly is reviewing in response to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod, represents “the voice of not only one group.”
A challenging theme that emerged
A challenging theme Bishop Tarabay said emerged during the local consultative phase of the synod is the idea of “inclusion”, of an “inclusive church, because the understanding of that inclusive Church is going to vary between one group and another. One Church and another. One experience of a Church and another. And this is where sometimes this kind of expression should be defined. We should come to some kind of understanding with the terminology and the theology behind it, because this will help us in reflecting on some of the themes.”
One concrete example Bishop Tarabay provided is the role of women in the Church. Coming from “different Churches and different cultures,” he said, “we have different understandings… and we don’t have one opinion.”