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Discerning the synodality path for Filipinos, Part 2

Pope Francis’ call for synod to synodality continues to reverberate around the world in an effort to finish the important work by the Second Vatican Council or more popularly called Vatican II. The Council was convened in 1962 to reinvent the church for the modern age. Vatican II reforms allowed the Catholic Church to embrace the concepts of human rights, democracy, the freedom of religion, and a recognition of the laity being part of Pilgrim people of God.

Nearly 60 years later, we are still at it. The synodal path that began in 1962 was derailed by internal dissension within the Catholic Church and continues to this day, that the reforms were “too liberal.” Interestingly, the voices coming out of Asia during the current synodal consultations echo the very same difficulty they faced post Vatican II – lack of deeper understanding of the Christian faith and perhaps, even failed to form a keener consciousness of the Christian identity and mission.

Although Asian bishops, for the first time, became part of an ecumenical council, their collective voices were muted because Vatican II was dominated by European prelates and Western thoughts and ideas, yet reforms were applied globally. Consequently, Vatican II has not really achieved its impact on the Asian churches as fully envisioned.

In the Philippines where the population share of Catholics grew to where it is now at 80% plus, perhaps reflect the fact that liturgical reforms in the predominantly English-speaking population was easier in translating the conciliar documents to the vernacular. This same development could not be said regarding other Asian countries who struggled in translating the Latin documents to their native tongue. Still, as a whole, Asian churches were able to transition and had achieved a “full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgical participations.

In the Philippine setting, however, the institution went beyond the intended purpose of Roman authorities by including local cultures into sacramental and liturgical celebrations (i.e., music, garment, sacred objects, gestures, etc.). Some sacramental celebrations (veneration of the dead, weddings) even included ancestral cult. Devotional cults converted seamlessly from anitos to the European saints that the colonizers brought with them.

The Philippine scenario differed from other geography’s emphasis although they were based on the same conciliar documents. Latin America, for example, focused more on liberation of the poor and those in the margins from socio-economic exploitation of the West. The Philippines, on the other hand, focused more on inculturation, fostering the dynamism and expansion of a new post-Vatican II culture while maintaining fidelity to its heritage and traditions.

Clearly, such focus or approach moved away from the dominant model of mission of the pre-conciliar era. In the context of ecumenism that Vatican II promoted, Filipino Catholics were at war with Muslim Mindanao that continued into modern times. When the Americans came at the end of the Spanish colonization, they introduced a different religion, Protestantism, to “purify” the pagans (Catholics). Thua, the Philippines became an extension of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation proxy war.

In this context, the dialogue with non-Christian religions happened at a superficial level. The Catholic clergy leadership involvement in the 2022 Philippine presidential election made it plain that there no such faithful adherence much less, to the concept of ecumenism of Vatican II and the Pope’s synodality call.

Although inherent in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium Et Spes), Chapter IV (Role of the Church in the Modern World), Part II (Some Problems of Special Urgency), subchapter II (The Proper Development of Culture), the Philippine situation could have adopted the provisions of Section 2 (Some Principles for the Proper Development of Culture), and focused also on the liberation aspect of it instead of spending more on the inculturation.

In today’s context, it is important to look back to the Asian synod that Pope John Paul II convened in Rome in 1998 as a springboard for what Pope Francis is calling as the “Asian Millennium” as Asian bishops are gathered in Bangkok to determine “What is the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches in Asia?” a question posed by the pope.

The 1998 Asian Synod did not produce anything earth shaking but it proved that Asian bishops did find their voice and courage to address the pope in Rome. With boldness, they told the pope that churches in Asia must be Asian in spirit, for it to survive. Ironically, the synod’s theme was “Jesus Christ the Saviour and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia: “…that they may have life, and have it abundantly” according to John 10:10).

The call for a new ecclesiology presupposed to move focus away from the Church to the reign of God. Meaning, the new mission of the Asian church is not to expand the Church and its institutional structures reach and influence over the society but to be a better instrument of the reign of God where the reign of justice, peace and love, of which the Church is the seed.

During the Synod of Bishops in 2012 at the Vatican, then Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila reminded other bishops that for the church to be a place where people meet God, that “it needs to learn three things from the example of Jesus: humility, respect for others, and silence.”

It is also worth noting what Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, said at the same forum when he made an equally strong plea for humility. “Evangelization has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers,” Villegas said. “The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry… and that the Gospel cannot thrive in pride,” Villegas said. “When pride seeps into the heart of the church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed.”

Then the 2022 Philippine presidential election happened. After the stinging rebuke at the polls, the newly designated cardinal, Jose Advincula, Archbishop of Manila admitted, “Our local Church is far from being with the Church of the poor that we aspire to be. The Church does not know the poor and the poor do not know the Church.”

Well, he was not alone. Last month, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, as the CBCP president said during a speech delivered at the Manila Cathedral on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), “Many priests and lay leaders have tended to be more welcoming toward the wealthy and the influential.” Touché!

“We have tended to limit the church involvement of the laity to serving the Church rather than serving society as members of a servant Church,” he continued. Regarding inter-religious ecumenism, he blames the fact that the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, “[It] is precisely the reason why we have the tendency to be less concerned about (dialogue) with other religions.”

There is clearly a lack of synodality not only in the Church but also in the family, culture, society and most certainly, politics. To be continued…


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