Archbishop John Ha of Kuching, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, seen here with Pope Francis during the October Extraordinary Synod. Archbishop John Ha of Kuching, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, seen here with Pope Francis during the October Extraordinary Synod.
Ideas were ‘frankly expressed’, says Archbishop John Ha of Kuching

The journeying together (which the word “Synod” means) of the Bishops as shepherds of their respective Catholic communities with Pope Francis was for me a profound experience of the universal Church as a pilgrim people. The Bishops were from all over the world. While some knew one another, a lot were meeting for the first time – new faces but not strangers. There was warmth because there was a deep sense of brotherhood that came from the Bishops’ common calling in baptism and ordination (priestly as well as episcopal).

What had we Bishops come to journey together for? To share our pastoral experiences and search together for a relevant and effective way of pasturing our respective flocks in today’s world.

In the Third Extraordinary Synod, our attention was focused on the family. For today’s family faces serious challenges. We were well aware that we would not be making decisions on this very important area of our pastoral ministry. We were in that part of the journey together which would take the Church to the next stations – namely, further consultation at the level of the particular churches and the Ordinary Synod which would take place from 4 to 25 October 2015.

Heeding the Holy Father’s call to be frank, honest and humble, we trustingly shared with one another our experiences and views, leaving practically no stone unturned. What motivated us to do this was our love for the Church, in particular our people in our respective local churches.

We wanted to be able to minister to them as pastors after the heart of Christ who went in search of the lost sheep. If strong views were expressed in the Synod, it was because we earnestly wanted to reach out to all, especially those who were facing challenges beyond their ability to handle and those who might have given up hope because their marriages and families were on the verge of breaking up or had already broken up.

Details of Synod

Quite expectedly then, in the first week – which was dedicated to sharing of experiences and views by the Synodal Fathers as well as by married couples invited to the Synod – a whole lot of ideas were frankly expressed. These ranged from very traditional to very shocking views and from very comforting to very uncomfortable ones.
 
I felt I was in a “jungle of ideas” without any clear direction of where we were going. When the first “relatio” – a report which captured all sharings and views – was presented, there emerged a little clearer direction; but there were still what many felt were very controversial issues. The report was taken up in toto for group discussions – ten groups in all.

These ten groups presented their reactions and responses to this report. A second “relatio” which took these reactions and responses into account was drafted, presented and voted on, paragraph by paragraph. Except for three paragraphs that failed to obtain a two-third majority, the “relatio” was accepted. The mind of the Synodal Fathers became much clearer at this stage. This “relatio”, it must be pointed out, was to serve as a document – called “Lineamenta” – for further study by all Bishops with their faithful before being taken up by the next Synod, the XIV Ordinary Synod.

The theme for the next Synod is: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the World Today”.

Pope Francis’ presence

The Holy Father was present in all plenary sessions, patiently and attentively listening to everyone who spoke. His presence was inspiring and reassuring, though he did not make any intervention. It was only at the end that he gave his closing address.

That address of his won him a standing ovation as he described how he felt when the Synodal Fathers honestly shared their struggle in tending their sheep, in which they faced temptations of opposite extremes (rigidly holding on to canon law or readily letting go of it), all with the good intention of good pasturing.

His address was very comforting and reassuring. He affirmed that his presence as the successor of Peter was a guarantee of the unity of the Church. He asserted: “I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod’, a path of solidarity, a “journey together”.

That sense of unity and journeying together with the Pope overwhelmed me throughout the Synod.

The steady journey out of the “jungle of ideas” towards the fundamental truths of marriage and the family revealed in the Scriptures, taught by the Church and faithfully lived out by countless couples, as well as the Bishops’ commitment to go out and reach out to the lost and wounded with love and care could only be the work of the Holy Spirit. His presence was felt.

The Holy Spirit will surely continue to be present in the Church as the Bishops take home the Synodal report to discuss and reflect on with their faithful and when the next Synod is convened from 4 to 25 October 2015 to consider and discern the results of all these reflections.

­It is important for the faithful of every diocese – laity, Religious and priests – to give their input on this report so that the next Synod will have a rich and sound document to work on.

Synod is work of Church

Indeed, the whole Synod is the work of the entire Church, although it is Bishops representing Bishops’ Conferences who will attend it. The experiences, aspirations and views of the faithful will be discerned and presented to the Synod by these delegates.

The Synod is indeed the whole people of God journeying together to proclaim to the world God’s word on marriage and the family. At the same time, they also proclaim God’s mercy to those who have strayed from His word and will as well as go out to bring them home to God.

It is important to pray for the XIV Ordinary Synod and the run-up to it. May the Holy Spirit’s presence be felt and His guidance heeded to, so that the Church will truly be the mother who inspires and nurtures good marriages and families as designed by God and nurses and heals wounded couples and families and brings them to God.


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