Despite challenges, Philippine synodal path on track

Pope Francis on Oct. 10 inaugurated inaugurate the universal Church’s two-year-long synodal process, which will ultimately culminate in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in October 2023.

By Vatican News staff reporter

Despite health and natural disaster challenges, the Philippine Catholic Church has been faithful to the call of Pope Francis in making the synodal journey an inclusive process involving every sector of the local Church, said a senior Catholic Church leader of the country.

All dioceses in the Philippines have accomplished the appointments of diocesan key persons and coordinating teams at local levels, said Bishop Mylo Vergara of Pasig, the vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). 

According to him, the coronavirus pandemic posed a big challenge in the pre-synodal process, as local lockdowns and travel restrictions slowed down the face-to-face consultations and the diocesan efforts “to reach out to other sectoral groups that need to be heard and listened to.” However, this had been overcome along with the other challenge posed by Typhoon Rai, which devastated parts of Mindanao and the Visayas in December.

Worldwide synodal process

The worldwide Church is currently in a two-year process in preparation for the 16th Synod of Bishops next year, on the theme, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” The upcoming synod is unlike any previous one, in the sense that “synodality” means walking together and listening to one another, but above all to the Holy Spirit, starting at the grassroots level. 

The synodal path kicked off on October 10, 2021, at local Churches across the world, promising to listen to all, especially to laypeople. The diocesan listening phase will run until August 2022 and will be followed by a continental phase from September 2022 to March 2023. The final “universal Church phase” will culminate in the traditional assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican in October 2023.

Consultations in the Philippines

Bishop Vergara said that in his Diocese of Pasig, the diocesan phase is being carried out by the diocesan team, which “conducted a series of orientations with training modules, updating of the consultation process for priests, religious, parish lay servants and sectoral representatives on how to facilitate the diocesan consultations in the parishes, schools, and other sectors.”

This trend is also seen in other dioceses. He said the pre-synodal consultation saw the active participation by 84 archbishops and bishops, joined by some 10,000 priests and 1,000 nuns, who supervised the whole process on the ground. They covered 69 dioceses in 16 ecclesiastical provinces, five prelatures, and seven apostolic vicariates besides the military ordinariate.

Although a “majority of priests in the diocese actively participated in the process,” Bishop Vergara noted that there were a few ordained ministers at parish level who were simply non-compliant and did not participate due to “authority issues.”

Progress worldwide

The 15th Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops earlier this month expressed great satisfaction with the process at the local diocesan listening level. Close to 98% of the bishops’ conferences and Synods of Eastern Churches worldwide have appointed a person or an entire team to implement the synodal process. 

The Ordinary Council’s assessment was bolstered by the results that emerged from exchanges during some 15 online meetings with synod appointees from around the world organized by the Vatican’s Secretariat General of the Synod of Bishops from November-December in 2021.

Already in the first weeks of the diocesan phase, many quarters from around the world realized the importance of an authentic experience of listening and dialogue at the local level and urged the Secretariat General to extend the duration of this phase. The Secretariat complied, extending the deadline for the presentation of the summaries of the consultations by the bishops and other ecclesial bodies worldwide to August 2022, from April. 

Synodal conversion

The Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops noted a growing awareness around the world that the synodal conversion to which all the baptized are called is a lengthy process that will prolong itself well beyond 2023. “The desire all over the world is this synodal journey which has begun at the local level continue this journey well beyond Synod 2021-2023 so that tangible signs of synodality might increasingly be manifest as constitutive of the Church.”

In a pastoral letter on the occasion of the launch of the listening phase at the diocesan level in the Philippines in October, the country’s bishops urged Catholics to walk together and grow by listening, stressing that synodality is God’s plan.

CBCP president Archbishop Romulo Valles, who signed the letter, said the Church needs to be sensitive, adopting a “selfless listening lifestyle,” in order to discern what the Lord wants. This will help us see into persons and events “with our soul,” he said. The Church needs to give time to this journey, proceeding with patience, tenacity, and clarity of convictions, trusting in the Lord who walks with us. He also warned that we cannot journey as a synodal Church without conversion of heart.