Synodality, caring for the ocean, and formation for mission were three pastoral challenges that were explored by the Synod Continental Assembly of Oceania in Suva on Tuesday.
By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp – Suva, Fiji
Analyzing particular pastoral challenges formed the focus for Tuesday, Day 3 of the Synod Continental Assembly of Oceania in Suva.
Archbishop Peter Chong Loy introduced the themes for the morning of the third day of the Suva Continental Assembly, which, he said, were noted by the four FCBCO conferences as important ones to reflect on together. These first theme was synodality.
Church that develops but remains the Church
Sr Nathalie Becquart provided a presentation on Becoming a more Synodal Church. She began by saying that all the bishops present are active participants in the synodal process.
Synodality, she said, can be compared to a person who develops over time, but remains the person he or she is. She emphasized that synodality can only be learned by doing it together and that it is inherent in the Church’s identity. Therefore, she continued, the topic of the current synod is actually the Church’s identity.
Bishops on the forefront of synodality
“You are on the forefront of synodality,” Sr Nathalie explained to the Bishops. The sea, she noted, is a changing, moving space, even when it’s quiet. People take risks when crossing it, and so people need to to figure out how to keep their balance in order to survive.
She said this image can help us understand synodality, which is a dynamic, rather than a static, vision of the Church in history. The Church has similar aspects that endure through time and space; but the Church adapts with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remaining ever faithful to its origins. And just as there is a “centrality of experience” of being disciples of Christ, each baptized Christian is also called to experience their own encounter with Christ whom he or she follows.
Synodality “is the way of being the Church today,” Sr Nathalie said, referring to the Second Vatican Council. This is how the “Church answers God’s call” in every time and place. It is an experience of the Paschal Mystery, she explained, therefore, suffering and facing difficulty is an aspect of sydonality. “Are we led by our fears? Are we led by what we have discerned as the call of the Holy Spirit?”
Synodality is the art of navigating
Returning to the image of engaging the ocean, Sr Nathalie reiterated how listening to the ocean and responding to its movement is essential for any skipper.
Therefore, “Synodality manifests the pilgrim character of the Church,” Sr Nathalie stated. “The image of the People of God gathered from among the nations expresses its social, historical and missionary character, which corresponds to the condition and vocation of each human person as a mediator.”
Practicing synodality is Vatican II in a nutshell
The call to the Church today is to adopt synodality is the manner of engaging the world, Sr Nathalie emphasized.
“Synodality is the Second Vatican Council in one word,” she said, borrowing this from a theologian from Australia. “So, what we are doing,” she continued, “is nothing else than embracing the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, putting it into practise and continuing the ongoing reception of the Second Vatican Council.”
New ways to articulate the hierarchical structure
The focus of synodality as expressed by the Second Vatican Council is found in “our common call as baptized”. The Church has understood that the Holy Spirit speaks not only “to the hierarchy, but in all the baptized and all people of goodwill.”
Rather than “suppressing the hierarchy”, synodality is “about finding a new way to articulate, collegiality and synodality…to articulate the constitutive hierarchical principle of the Church that is there from the beginning with the synodal principle that is first. We are a community all together as a body, and we are relearning that, and it’s really not easy. It’s full of challenge. But we know that Jesus Christ is with us and is calling us to do this journey.”
The morning of the third day of the Continental Assembly in Suva followed with presentations on Caring for the Oceans, and a final presentation on a new paradigm formation for mission in the Church.