INDIAN CATHOLIC FORUM
(A collective of concerned Indian Catholics for Church Reform & National Integration)
JOURNEYING TOGETHER – THE PATH AHEAD
AN INTRODUCTION: The Indian Catholic Forum was reconstituted in February 2019 as a consequence of the national consultation “We Too Are Church” (V2RC), held in Kolkata. It has the two fold objective of reforming and renewing the Catholic Church from within, and addressing issues of national importance that affect the Christian community in India. The members of the Core Committee are mentioned at the bottom of this invitatory letter. As a follow up we had organized V2RC II in Kerala in February 2020. Unfortunately, we had to cancel it at the eleventh hour as Corona had already entered Kerala by then.
SYNOD ON SYNODALITY 2021-23: In response to Pope Francis’ worldwide call for a Synod on Synodality (Journeying Together) we are organising a National Consultation as per details below. We shall be following the Synodal Guidelines of Coming Together – Praying – Sharing – Listening – Dialoguing – Recording – Synthesising. As per the Guidelines we shall prepare a ten-page synthesis (not necessarily consensus) of the findings/ recommendations of this Consultation to be sent to the Synod Secretariat in the Vatican and will share it with the ecclesial community in India, as well as internationally. While the Guidelines provide for a parish – diocesan – national – continental – universal approach to the Synod, they also provide for Lateral Interventions by concerned organizations. This Consultation shall be one such Lateral Intervention.
In the spirit of the Synod there will be no chief guests, ceremonials or keynote speakers, as is the norm. All participants will be treated equally. The programme details are as below:
Dates: From 10.00 a.m. on Saturday 5th February to 10.00 a.m. Monday 7th February 2022 (two full days).
Venue: Nava Spoorthi Kendra (run by the Redemptorists), 9/1 Cookson Road, Bangalore – 560084. Phone numbers (emergency only) 8025498010/20). This is situated 35 kms from the airport, 4 km from Cantt Railway Station, 500 mts form Bangalore East Station, 9 kms from the city bus stand. Important landmark is Holy Ghost Church.
Registration Charges: Rs 2500/- per person for 2 full days, including meals, all overheads and single non AC room with attached bath (Bangalore does not require AC at that time of the year). For those with a limited budget they may opt for Dormitory accommodation for which the charges would be Rs 2100/- all inclusive.
Participants: We welcome all Catholics (laity, clergy, religious, bishops) to attend. We also welcome ecumenically minded Christians from sister churches. Special efforts should be made to ensure maximum participation of women and youth (above 18 years of age).
We look forward to having you with us.
chhotebhai (Kanpur) Anil Piers (Bangalore)
Convenor Organizing Secretary
Swami Sachidananda Bharathi (Kochi) Rev Dr Subhash Anand (Udaipur)
Core Committee Members
Angelina Jasnani (Kolkata) Blaise Costabir (Margao) David Lobo (Bangalore)
9830038257 9823013108 9742332791
F.A. Nathan (Chennai) Isaac Gomes (Kolkata) James Sylvester (Hyderabad)
9840231914 9830440603 8332812017
Mathew Mathai (Kaasargod) Romesh Niven, Adv (Ahmedabad) S.John Bosco, Dr (Coimbatore)
9446988866 9427304356 9445266196
Salam Irene, Dr (Imphal) Jude D’Souza (Vadodra) Atul Almeida, Adv (Vasai)
9366018323 9426531618 9673881982
Synod on Synodality - Part 4
What a silly question. It is just eleven kilometres from Jerusalem. There’s more to it than meets the eye though. There are just two references to Emmaus in the Bible, one each in both the Testaments. In the light of the Synod on Synodality 2021-23 both incidents are significant.
Take the first incident recorded in the historical book 1Macabees Chapter 4. It recounts a fierce battle in 134 BC between the forces led by Judas the Israelite and Gorgias a Gentile. Judas’ forces are outnumbered and ill-equipped. Yet they win the battle because of their faith. This is significant in view of the doubts and cynicism in the minds of many, not just the laity, regarding the Synod.
They too feel that we are ill-equipped (not quite ready for such a mammoth exercise) and outnumbered (in the sense that the views of the hierarchy and clergy will prevail over that of the ignorant laity). This is human logic. But the power of God far exceeds human logic or estimates. If we have faith, then indeed we can move mountains (cf Mat 17:20) of doubt.
Take the example of Vatican II. Before that we had a priest centred liturgy, with the priest having his back to the congregation. He occasionally whipped around to ominously say “Dominus vobiscum” in Latin, an alien language. While the Mass was in progress some in the congregation would be fingering their rosary beads, while others were making the rounds of various statues in niches in the church. Has not that changed radically to a far more participative and meaningful liturgy? (Even if we still have miles to go).
Earlier we arrogantly stated that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church, thereby consigning all Protestants, heretics, schismatics, non-Christians and atheists to hell. This Latin statement “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” is attributed to the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage in the third century. In contrast see this statement from the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by his grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to His grace” (LG16). I see this as one of the crucial turning points of Vatican II.
Take another controversial Latin saying, “Roma locuta, causa finita est” (Rome has spoken, the case is closed). This too is attributed to another North African, St. Augustine, in the early 5th century. It was a response to the Pelagian heresy. In contrast today the Church acknowledges that it has much to learn from the secular world. “This sacred synod affirms the legitimate autonomy of human culture and especially of the sciences” (GS 59). Turning full circle, the present Synod emphasises listening to those on the margins, the voiceless.
My next example is of marriage. St Paul had a warped idea of it, because of his belief that the end of the world was near. Nevertheless, he was humble enough to admit that it was his own personal opinion when he said, “I have no directions from the Lord, but I give my own opinion ... from now on those who have wives should live as though they had none” (1 Cor 7:25,29). This statement was for centuries blown out of proportion and context by a male celibate clergy to denigrate marriage as second class. Again, in sharp contrast, this is what Vatican II has to say about marriage, “Finally, Christian spouses in virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church ... The family, is so to speak, the domestic Church” (LG 11). Far from being second class, Vatican II asserts that marriage and family life are a beautiful way of being Church, making Christ present in the modern world.
I will take one more example (there are many more to establish the sea change wrought by Vatican II in the church’s orthodoxy, if not entirely in its orthopraxis). There are several instances in the New Testament where slaves are told to docilely obey their masters (cf Eph 6:5, Col 3:23, Titus 2:9). Again in sharp contrast this is what the Council had to say, “Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labour unions ... Another such right is that of taking part freely in the activity of these unions without risk of reprisal ... The strike can still be a necessary, though ultimate, means for the defence of the workers own rights and the fulfilment of their just demands” (GS 68).
I have quoted just a few instances from Vatican II ecclesiology to indicate that it was indeed a watershed moment in the life of the church; its changed self-understanding, and consequent interaction with the world “outside its walls”. Sure we still have many miles to go in its implementation, but that should not lead us to despair or cynicism. Remember that despair is the main weapon of the Evil One, whereas hope is a cardinal Christian virtue. If someone were to still insist that Vatican II was a failure, I would throw the book at them, the good book, the Bible. How far have we followed the teachings of Jesus in the sacred scriptures? Instead of blaming Vatican II or the Bible, let us look inwardly at ourselves. Like the rich young man we may have kept all the laws, and not yet become disciples of Jesus (cf Mat 19:16-22).
I now move to the second instance of Emmaus, one of my favourites. The incident is reported in Luke 24:13-35. We have read this passage many times. Let us now reflect on it in the light of the Synod “journeying together”. Emmaus is the perfect example of that. It happened on the very day of the Resurrection (v13). They were discussing the event (v15). Jesus joined them but they didn’t recognize him (v16). When Jesus challenged them they became downcast (v17). The disciples then spoke about the death and resurrection of Jesus (v19-24). Jesus then explained the scriptures to them (v 25-27). At the end of the journey he broke bread with them (v30). He then vanished from their sight (v31). They found their hearts burning (v32). They then rushed to bear witness to their experience (v33).
This Pilgrim’s Progress may not be quite like the one written by John Bunyan in 1678, but it is full of relevance in the light of the Synod. Look at the sequence of events – journeying together (participation), reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus himself encountering them, being confronted by him, feeling downcast (humbled), but not down and out. They reflected on the scriptures, shared the breaking of the bread (communion). Their hearts burned (they were enthused), and they immediately set out to bear witness (mission).
This is exactly what the Synod is all about - journeying together, listening, sharing, participating, meditating on the passion and resurrection, contemplating the Word of God, breaking bread and finally going out.
Some readers may have a niggling doubt – where did Jesus vanish after the breaking of the bread? Had he abandoned them? To the contrary; their hearts burned. They had internalised Jesus. He was incarnated in them. The Word became flesh, as it does, time and again, in those who believe.
As we begin our Synod preparations let us draw inspiration from both the events of Emmaus. Only then will the Synod attain its purpose. A final word of caution. Pope Francis has repeatedly warned that the Synod is not an end in itself. The Synod may end but synodality is the new way forward; of being church through participation, communion and mission.
Come Holy Spirit to lead and inspire us. Enkindle in us the fires of your love as you did to the disciples on their journey to Emmaus.
(A sequel to my Open Letter to the Bishops of India on Synodality)
In my previous piece I wrote about some of the salient features of Synodality, for which Pope Francis began the process in Rome this 10th October. It will culminate, again in Rome, in October 2023. This Roman Synodal process will take two years because it is the biggest ever ecclesial exercise undertaken by the Catholic Church. It begins from the parish and then moves up to the diocesan, national, continental and finally the universal (catholic) level.
Why am I attempting to compare this Roman Synod with a Greek Tragedy? Both need elucidation. Let us begin with the Synod, basing ourselves very specifically on the Vademecum (handbook) that has been prepared for the various steps of the Synod. It is not possible to elaborate on that 60 page document in a short article. Hence I will just identify some of its important features.
The motto of the Synod is “Communion, Participation, Mission”. The three words are described as being inter-related. The Vademecum repeatedly stresses the importance of listening, especially to the voiceless or marginalized, the fringe elements. (By definition that includes the vast concourse of the laity). To avoid the dangers of seminars that late Bp Patrick Nair of Meerut described as “All gas, no go”, the Vademecum cautions that a Synod is not about debate or discussion. Nor is it meant to produce a morally correct “document”. Rather it is an exercise in Discernment, a typically Jesuit term that Pope Francis stamped on the Synod. This is a process of listening to each other, contemplating the Word of God and reading the signs of the times (contextualizing). This can result in the “surprises of the Holy Spirit”, a phrase that Pope Francis seems to have borrowed from Pope John XXIII, when he was convening Vatican II. To me it would seem that Pope Francis is laying the ground for Vatican III, the next universal and ecumenical Council of the Church.
Another crucial word repeatedly used in the Vademecum is “synthesis”. In research work it is referred to as the combination of thesis and anti-thesis; for and against a proposition. Note that the Synod is not looking at consensus, where all agree on a common minimum programme, but synthesis that would include possibly divergent points of view.
As per the Vademecum timeline, based on the feedback from the parishes, the diocesan team must prepare a ten-page synthesis to be submitted at the national level by April 2022. In due course it will reach the universal level at Rome. By any standards this is a Herculean task.
The vital question now is “Who will bell the cat?” Is the Catholic Church in India ready for this? This process of synodality seeks to break the shackles of clericalism and hierarchical control. Put bluntly, this is a power sharing or empowering exercise. History, sociology and psychology all teach us that those in power will never voluntarily surrender or share it. So where do we go from here? Is this Roman Synod doomed to failure just as the earlier Family Synod (2014) and Amazonian Synod (2019) came to naught? This is why, though I am intrepid optimist, I have a strong foreboding of the synodal process being sabotaged by the powers that be, as is already happening in the USA.
It would then end up as a Greek Tragedy. Before drawing any conclusions I revert to the three key words of this Synod – Communion, Participation and Mission. Though inter-related I feel that they are incorrectly prioritized. Having served the church in various capacities for 52 years I feel that what is sorely lacking is a participatory system, even though it has been provided for in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church and Canon Law. The record of the Catholic Church in India, when it comes to participation, transparency and accountability is downright abysmal. Pastoral Councils or Finance Committees, be they at parish or diocesan level, insofar as they do exist, are packed with cronies or those ignorant of church teaching and documents.
Without Participation we can never dream of Communion and are doomed to fail in our Mission. This is why I assert that the first and initial step in the synodal process should be honest, humble and transparent Participation. Equally important is the recording process. Any attempts at stifling dissent and seeking consensus would have to be stoutly resisted. There is a joke among the Communists. They say, we don’t mind what happens in the meetings as long as we get to record the Minutes! That is why they have all powerful General Secretaries. Hence the need for eternal vigilance.
Now to link the Roman Synod to a Greek tragedy we need to go back 1000 years to the Great Schism of the East; when the Greek speaking Byzantine churches broke away to form the Orthodox Churches, as against the Rome based Latin Churches. Those wounds have not yet healed. Dispassionate church historians tell us that this schism (separation) had little to do with doctrine and everything to do with power sharing. It was felt that while the East had the brains, the West had the brawn (institutionalized muscle power).
So what exactly is a Greek Tragedy? It was a form of theatre that was prevalent in 500 BC in Greece and Anatolia. Among the better known ones are Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The common thread in these tragedies was that the main protagonist, though not a villainous character, suffered from a fatal flaw called hamartia. This was a consequence of personal failure, social or psychological circumstances. I sense that the church in India suffers from hamartia. Why?
To understand this I will have resort to four Greek words – Kerygma, Metanoia, Diaconia and Koinonia. Kerygma is the proclamation of the Gospel message. Metanoia is the natural consequence, repentance and penitential conversion that follow exposure to the Kerygma. This leads to the third stage of Diaconia, of serving this group of converts. The word originally meant an establishment near a church building that was used for charitable works. The fourth stage was Koinonia, communion or community building, the avowed goal of the present Synod.
This is where we hit a wall, a concrete one! After the initial proclamation and conversion phases we focussed almost exclusively on services, especially in education and health. Over a period of time these institutions became an end in themselves, even losing sight of their original lofty goals of service, particularly to those most in need. These institutionalised services proliferated with the easy access to foreign funds. The institutional church therefore was not in any way dependent on the laity, the people. A healthy atmosphere of inter-dependence just did not happen. This led to ever higher boundary walls and iron gates, making the hierarchy and clergy an independent “gated” community, leaving the people agitated.
They were of course placated with a plethora of pious practices. The highlight of parish life would be the celebration of the parish feast with a sumptuous lunch thrown in, or a triumphalistic Corpus Christi procession. We have completely failed in community building, Communion or Koinonia.
The 4M progression will help us to understand this phenomenon better. It is - Man, Movement, Machine, Monument. Christianity began with a Man, Jesus. It evolved into a Movement, a Way. For the first three centuries Christians were referred to as the “People of the Way”. With Emperor Constantine in the fourth century came the establishment, the institutional church. In due course it became a Machine, a mechanical juggernaut, both in its liturgy and in its services. We were now going through the motions. As a result, across the western hemisphere erstwhile Christendom has now become a Monument, a lifeless structure, as exemplified by magnificent but empty cathedrals and church buildings.
It was this danger that Pope John XXIII correctly sensed when he convened Vatican II. On paper, like the Indian Constitution, it was a sea change in how the Church saw itself and sought to relate with the outside world. Unfortunately we saw only cosmetic changes, as in the liturgy or clerical dress. The deeper attitudinal changes were not implemented by a deeply entrenched and obdurate hierarchy/ clergy. The hopes of a participatory, communitarian church were dashed to the ground. All we got is what Swami Sachidananda calls a church in picnic mode, ever ready for a celebration.
Pope Francis has recognised this regression across the globe resulting in empty churches, seminaries and novitiates. Had the reforms of Vatican II been implemented in letter and spirit there would have been no need for this Synod on Synodality. That is why Pope Francis is insisting on Communion and Mission. He wants us to revert back to the Man Jesus. That will be possible only, and only, if there is a genuinely Participatory Church, as against the existing pyramidical one. Those of us who love Jesus and his Church therefore now want to see a truly Roman Synod, not another Greek Tragedy flawed by hamartia.
• The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum. These thoughts are elaborated upon in his book The Jerusalem Code.
Forgetting our differences offers hope that we can continue to live in peace and harmony
(Reproduced with permission)
The 21-day lockdown in India that began on March 25 is in its second week. We Indians are slowly getting to grips with our situation.
For practising Catholics and ardent churchgoers, the lockdown has proved a bit traumatic. They are scrambling to find ways to replace going to church.
Quite a menu of livestreamed and recorded Eucharist celebrations is available to choose from. There are online Masses and retreats, and last week even had a holy hour with Pope Francis imparting his special Urbi et Orbi blessing.
While these are soothing to some extent, I feel my faith shaken each morning when I turn on the news. Thousands continue to die and the numbers are increasing each day.