‘All the baptised are called and have the right to participate in the mission of the Church, all have an irreplaceable contribution to make,’ Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod, said on 13 October as the synod assembly began work on the third section, or module, of the working document: ‘Co-responsibility in mission’.
The working document asked synod members to reflect on: ways to increase a sense of responsibility for mission among all Catholics; the relationship between liturgy and mission; the relationship between ordained ministry and the dignity of all the baptised; recognising and promoting the dignity and gifts of women in the Church; and involving them in leadership and decision-making, including investigating the possibility of women deacons.
Cardinal Hollerich introduced the work by emphasising how the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel is at the heart of the life of the Church and, therefore, of the synod’s concern.
In approaching the discussions, Cardinal Hollerich asked participants to recognise that ‘each of us is the bearer of a point of view that is essential, but to address the themes effectively, we are also called to realise our own partiality.’
For example, he said, ‘most of us are men. But men and women receive the same baptism and the same Spirit. The baptism of women is not inferior to the baptism of men. How can we ensure that women feel they are an integral part of this missionary Church?’
Benedictine Mother Maria Ignazia Angelini, a theologian and spiritual assistant to the assembly participants, reflected on Jesus’ interaction with women, his inclusion of them among the disciples and his reliance on them to tell the apostles that he had risen from the dead.
‘Jesus’ style seems to comprehend that women are dynamic elements of mission, like a presence that in critical, disruptive, unsettling passages senses the movement of life, weaves new, improbable relationships, patiently brings and dissolves conflicts,’ she said. ‘It is not a question of rights but of gifts received.’
Sister Liliana Franco Echeverri, a member of the Company of Mary and president of the Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean Religious, or CLAR, told the assembly that ‘when thinking about the mission of women in the church, it is important to look to Jesus, to learn from him. The Gospel gives an account of Jesus’ readiness to see and hear women, to raise them up, to dignify them, to send them out.’
For the synod and the church, she said, ‘true reform comes from an encounter with Jesus, in the echo of his Word, in learning of attitudes and criteria and in assimilating his style.’
In most parishes and dioceses around the world, Sister Franco said, ‘the Church has a woman’s face, at least when looking at those gathered for Mass, joining parish groups, teaching religion and helping the poor.’
‘The Church, which is mother and teacher, is also sister and disciple; it is feminine, but this does not exclude men,’ she said, before listing the grammatically feminine qualities the Church must have: ‘wisdom, kindness, tenderness, strength, creativity, boldness and the ability to give life and face situations courageously.’
‘At the heart of the desire and the imperative for a greater presence and participation of women in the Church,’ Sister Franco said, ‘there is not an ambition for power or a feeling of inferiority nor egocentric quest for recognition.’
Instead, she said, ‘there is a clamour to live in fidelity to the plan of God, who desires that within the people with whom he has made a covenant, all would be recognised as brothers and sisters.’
Cardinal Joseph W Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, told Catholic News Service after the session that the focus on mission and the previous days’ focus on communion are inextricably tied.
I sense in the hall there is great hope, and I think it is because people recognise the abundance of gifts that are present, as well as the mutual respect and the freedom that is being afforded to every delegate to speak on the topics before us.’
After days spent discussing what it means to be ‘a synodal church’, Cardinal Tobin said, participants moved on ‘to the experience and the reality of communion—communion with Christ, crucified and risen, but also communion with our brothers and sisters who share the great grace of baptism,’ which gives ‘a fundamental dignity and a fundamental responsibility to everyone in the Church.’
As the focus shifts to mission, he said, the Church knows it can and must rely on ‘the gifts of everyone.’
When discussing communion, the cardinal said, members asked, ‘Who doesn’t experience communion, who doesn’t feel welcome?’
And as they move to looking at mission, he said, they need to ask, ‘Who doesn’t feel like the gifts they’ve been given can be laid at the feet of Christ in the Church because they’re not wanted? Whose gifts have not yet been recognised?’
‘We’re trying to look with humble and clear eyes at the gifts that have been given to the Church, because the mission that we have to witness to Christ today is so important,’ Cardinal Tobin said.
Banner image: Sister Loida Lim, a member of the Missionaries of St Dominic, and Sister Caroline Saheed Jarjis, a member of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, arrive for the afternoon session of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican on 13 October. (Photo courtesy CNS/Vatican Media.)
VMCH11 December 2023
Melbourne Catholic08 December 2023