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The Journey towards a synodal Church is at a crossroads, Part 3

As Catholics, whenever we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we reaffirm our belief about communing with saints. Growing up in rural Tinambac, I never really understood this. Saints for me as I have been made aware, are dead Catholics who were canonized by the Church. Even now, whenever I recite the “I believe,” it goes on autopilot without much discernment of what that aspect of it means in our daily lives. Whenever we are in a pickle, we get on our knees, look up to Peter, Paul, or Mary - the saint of our veneration, and start an audible or silent dialogue about our particular situation. This was my idea of communing with saints.

Communion with saints is an important Church doctrine worth revisiting as it relates to synodality because of its relevance to what Pope Francis is trying to achieve. It is also important to remember that the saints alluded to in this doctrine are not all dead. Many of the “holy ones,” are with the living who walk or go to the market with us. In other words, who journey with us in whom the Holy Spirit is a work. It is inclusive of those still journeying to God, Christian or non-Christian. This is what we are trying to achieve to be in spiritual solidarity in Christ while we are still here on earth.

Remember that Pope Francis early on said that he wanted a “Great Reset” to the Acts of the Apostles wherein an episode, the Ascension, marked the final separation of Jesus from the disciples and our earthly world. In the season finale, we were made aware of Jesus’ mandate to his disciples: go out, set out and proclaim to all nations his message of salvation. In that episode, we realize that Jesus’ ascension is the final journey home to his Father as we all would when we play our own season finale.

Today, many Catholics are torn by the division in the Church because of the pope’s push to reengineer our faith and to reform the Church. Church conservatives like Cardinal Raymond Burke echoes a “totalitarian” warning that Pope Francis’ global vision is flawed and a dangerous agenda. Why? Synodality engenders a democratic process that includes the people of God in the church governance. For centuries, priests ruled in the name of God. Theocratic leaders are oppressive in function (my way), with strict rules (“I” not “we”), and instill fear (excommunication, hell, damnation).

Journey towards a synodal Church allows the laity to participate by having a spot on the table. It is also an invitation to commune with others (ecumenism) to affirm the universality of the Christian faith and unity with other churches. Remember that eons ago, the Great Schism (split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches) occurred, and the Great Reformation further divided Western Christianity into Protestant and Catholic denominations. Pope Francis is saying that despite such separation, we can all co-exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.

It is understandable why men resist such initiative because of the perception of ceding power to the pope as in a universal church, vis-à-vis, like in the olden days when the Roman Catholic Church ruled supreme. Well, critics and the resistance are over thinking this and are overreacting. Vatican II officially abandoned its “one true church” position and the current pope is not about to resurrect it. Pope Francis’ global vision is clearly not grounded on power plays but to encourage the citizens of the world to unite and focus on other things other than religion.

The pope realizes that credibility is an important factor if he is going to realize such an ambitious mission. Thus, he needs to put his own house in order and his feet down. First, he reformed the Roman Curia and allowed the laity (vice archbishops or cardinals) to lead Vatican departments. He did this by changing the Vatican constitution that places evangelization at the core before doctrine.

The downgrading of the once powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (formerly Roman Inquisition) to the third slot of precedence is an important aspect of the Vatican reorganization because it sends a message that the pope is in charge being the Prefect of the Dicastery of Evangelization. In the news recently was retired Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Joseph Strickland – both ultra-conservative American critics of the pope.

Cardinal Burke’s apartment and salary perks at the Vatican were ordered removed by Pope Francis. He clearly overstayed his welcome with his disrespectful criticism of the pope being a “dictator” in not so many words. Bishop Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, Texas was asked to resign, a euphemism for being fired from the job, for insubordination and pointed criticism of the pope regarding his social reform agenda involving lay people, women, and LGBT. Strickland spends a lot of time on social media and uses it as a platform to go after Pope Francis.

Second, he promoted more bishops to cardinals during his consistories. He now has a clear majority among the College of Cardinals who might have to join a conclave for the next pope. More importantly, he picked liked-minded bishops for the red hat who are now his most ardent defenders and evangelists.

And third, he wrote three encyclicals: Lumen fidei (The Light of Faith), Laudato sí (On Care for Our Common Home), and Fratelli tutti (Fraternity and Social Friendship). These encyclicals are closely related and are intended for the bishops and pastors of the world who defend the Catholic faith at the trenches. Thus, Pope Francis’ innovations rely heavily on them. For example, Laudato sí is about listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, emphasizing that climate change connects us all.

Laudato sí is of particular interest not only for its climate change and ecology thrusts, but because it emphasizes ecumenism and interreligious dialogue regarding urgent matters that affects everyone and the attendant moral issue that impacts the poor disproportionately. Such a unified effort can be a powerful force in the promotion of peace and solidarity in today’s world that is full of conflict.

Fratelli tutti is focused on promoting fraternity and social friendship. The pope emphasizes that the COVID-19 pandemic showed us that “no one can face life in isolation.” Indeed, the world worked together with urgency to find the vaccine and needed emergency supplies for countries who can’t afford them. This encyclical explores the many “dark clouds” that cover the world. In particular, the pope denounced the unequal distribution of wealth, corporate greed, slavery, human trafficking, among others.

Clearly, Pope Francis is on a mission to preach the gospel hoping for the people of God to reimagine a social order with more justice, equity, where social injustices are overcome. In the new Apostolic Constitution, he envisions that the renewed Vatican structure will help hasten global “missionary conversion” that involves listening to each other between lay people, priests and religious, bishops, and the pope. (To be continued)


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