Dear brother priests, brothers and sisters in the Lord:
On behalf of my brother bishops, priests, and families in the Philippines and even in other parts of the world, I greet the leaders and all the members of the Couples for Christ Global a happy 42nd anniversary! It is fitting that we celebrate this Eucharist to offer God our thanksgiving and praise for all the good things he has done to CFC and through CFC. We also thank the leadership of CFC for organizing this beautiful gathering of our Clergy and Lay Congress. Here, we are truly Church. We are truly the Body of Christ.
I was asked to share with you on the theme, “Clergy and Lay Synodality in a Regenerating Society.” I thought of sharing some significant experiences and insights from the synodal consultations we had in the Archdiocese of Manila. Hopefully, these will help us realize that synodality is not just a process or a program but a relationship that demands collaboration between clergy and laity.
In the Archdiocese of Manila, we appropriated the synodal process by tagging it as “Audiamsa RCAM.” We simplified the questions into two words, salamat at sana. We invited the participants to share what they are grateful for and their wishes for the Church.
The participants in the synodal journey are united in saying that the synodal consultations have genuinely been a Pentecost experience. Although some of the participants expressed hesitation, fear of reprisal, and even cynicism, most of them expressed gratitude and hope in being able to participate in the synodal process. This sort of consultation is relatively uncommon in our Church, and for many participants, this experience of a “listening Church” is novel and refreshing. They were immensely grateful for the opportunity to speak and be heard. The work of the Spirit is real and palpable as they boldly disclosed even their frustrations and hurts about our wounded Church. Ultimately, they are happy to be recognized and valued as full members of the Church.
Three responses were most striking: participation by co-responsibility, mission by preferential option for the poor, and communion by inter-ministeriality.
- Participation by Co-Responsibility
The first striking response was about our people’s desire for greater participation through co-responsibility in the Church.
The laity still considers their priests “representatives of God” and “representatives of the Church.” They consider us to be their sources of strength and inspiration, and mediators of divine intervention in their lives. They value our well-being with paramount regard. However, this high esteem and privilege comes with great responsibility or even burden. Our people expect their priests to demonstrate vigor, enthusiasm, and dedication in fulfilling our ministry, sometimes beyond our capacity.
The root of this is the scourge of clericalism, which we humbly recognize as very present in many of our communities. On the one hand, we priests are regarded to be of loftier status, but we are also overburdened with too many functions and obligations. On the other hand, most of our lay people are not sufficiently empowered for ministry and leadership in the Church. This culture of clericalism has often led some Church ministers and leaders – whether ordained or lay – to abuse of power, neglect of duty, poor Christian witnessing, a sense of entitlement, coldness and aloofness in the mission, ministry shortcomings, competitions and divisions, and rigid institutionalism that values structures and temporalities over persons and mission.
Amid all this, our people clamor for the empowerment of all baptized towards co-responsibility in the Church. This means forming and empowering our lay faithful for stewardship and servant-leadership in the Church, setting up more venues and opportunities for them to dialogue and collaborate with their pastors, and establishing measures of accountability and transparency from the clergy who play vital roles in the Church.
- Mission by Preferential Option for the Poor
The second most striking response is our people’s dream for a greater sense of mission in the Church through preferential option for the poor.
The consultation responses revealed how profoundly grateful our people are for the charitable activities. They are happy to realize how much we strive to serve the poor among us; and for many of them, it is our works of charity that indicate our credibility.
However, we humbly admit that we are far from being the “Church of the poor” we aspire to be. Events in society – like the recent elections, among others – have opened our eyes to the existence of a wide gap between the Church and the poor. The Church does not know the poor, and the poor do not know the Church. Our poor and marginalized brethren feel their views and values are disregarded in our ecclesial communities and organizations. Indeed, our discernment and decision-making processes often favor the opinions and preferences of the affluent and powerful. One synod participant, who was a poor young man, gave a very striking response to the question, “Who is not being listened to in the Church?” He said, “God! The Church is not listening to God.” While that participant represents the voice of the poor and marginalized, perhaps he also represents the voice of God. I interpret his response as a poignant question to us pastors and ministers in the Church: if we do not listen to the poor, are we even listening to God? If we do not reach out to those in the peripheries, are we really in touch with God?
Now, more than ever, we sense the greater clamor for becoming a Church imbued with preferential option for the poor, a Church in solidarity with the poor, a Church that has immersed deep enough in the lives of the poor that we have “smelled” like the poor.
- Communion by Inter-Ministeriality
The third most striking response was our people’s desire for greater communion through inter-ministeriality in the Church.
Our laity are grateful to the Lord for blessing our local Churches with efficient institutions and robust structures that support our task of evangelization within our locality and even beyond.However, at the same time, they have noticed that our communities and ministry departments have sometimes become turfs and fiefdoms that compete with one another, instead of mission centers that complement each other. There was even a striking response that came from one of our young priests. He said that “the archdiocese, as an organization, needs organization.” My dear brother priests, our people are all the more hurt and frustrated whenever they notice their priests competing for assignments, positions, or benefits instead of supporting one another in the ministry.
All of these open our eyes to the need for inter-ministeriality, which is the organic synergy among our Church’s commissions, ministries, organizations, institutions, and communities. This implies transcending ‘parochiality’, our excessive focus on our “territories” and “jurisdictions,” so we fail to have a vision of the whole Church. This means committing ourselves to “thinking and acting in terms of community” (Fra Tu 116) and realizing that “the whole is greater than the parts” (EvGau 234-237). Jesus said that our discipleship of him shall be recognized by all if known by his disciples by our love for one another (Jn 13:35).
My dear brothers and sisters, synodality isparticipation, mission, and communion. These are the dreams and hopes of Pope Francis for our universal Church. Participation by co-responsibility, mission by preferential option for the poor, and communion by inter-ministeriality—these are our dreams and hopes for our Church, especially here in the Philippines. And this will only be possible if we allow the Lord to put down the veils that St. Paul talks about in our first reading today, the veils of biases, partialities, rivalries, jealousies, and quarrels that hinder us, theclergy and laity, from working together, supporting each other, listening to one another, and journeyinghand-in-hand toward the renewal of the Church and society.
May Mary, the Mother and model of the synodal Church, pray for us, accompany us, and lead us to Jesus, her Son. Amen. (Photo from FB Page of Couples for Christ)