Brevi Contributi Teologici per l’Assemblea sinodale 2023

Renewing and including the humble

Accepting where another person is, different to me, is not the start of relativism, but in listening to other stories leads to a dialogue and valuing of diversity. Listening to the desires and pleas of the youth is not just about what they want to do or change, but also who they want to be, meaning where they want to belong. Synodality can contribute to how we can do this together starting today.

As a mountain community we can be dead from ideology while suffering gravely from poverty. It is a long time ago but I remember 18 bodies lined up along the road from an encounter between the APF and the NPA. These Filipinos died for lack of dialogue, no one deserved to die. The lowland worries little about a war now fought on indigenous lands, but not a war of the Indigenous Peoples. This happens when there is dishonesty and political subterfuge, when we force questions and opposites as to “which side do you belong to?” These are the wrong questions and are not options; loss of self-worth, fear and anger are the result of exclusion. The youth need space for reflection to experience hope and ways from within by which to share in society. Real listening not answers are needed for the people in the vast margins of living below the poverty line; state and church need to place these concerns at the center.

Synodality is about participating from below. Synodality is not the place for theological debate but to create space for reflection and perhaps occasion to lead by serving. Reconciliation and compassion are not easy actions, we also need to dream as to the face of the church and we have such wonderful examples. In working with ecclesial networks the experience is beautiful, the religious sisters are closed to the face of Christ knowing the family life, food and the malnutrition of the coming generation and we consider the land and the oceans in this relation of care.

Historically this dialogue is the story of how Jesus acted after the Ascension and how the Spirit acted through the apostles and communities. The hope is for reflection and a dialogue of gratitude and of trust can lead to care and greater confidence for the present youth who have to take up all that is lacking in previous generations and in so doing find the love of God.

Purpose of synodality is not dogmatic dispute but a need to humbly recognize the good with gratitude. These words of the eucharist stand out “…graciously grant her (the Church) peace and unity according to you will” as the peace of Christ is not always ours as God wants us to be disturbed and seek deeper peace for and with all.

The Philippines has little knowledge of what is happening in the global synodal process, but for some Church officials tracking the discussions. The process in some countries raises many theological issues and seems to be an argument about who is right. Synodality on the other hand, as we begin to learn anew is about listening and responding, acknowledging something of the other person’s experience of life and journeying together.

We are still very traditional in the Philippines in how we are working with the synodal process and there are few expectations, but the practice of listening to each other in spiritual conversations over time could change things significantly as to how we live in relation to others and also for the Church. Spiritual conversations are about what matters in life to you and to me, they are not discussions about celestial bodies or doctrinal arguments, but the depth of my own self-understanding in the present context where I live, my sense of relation with others, with the land, and also where a relationship with Jesus, with God, might be experienced. As a scattered community we have started off listening to the stories of people, their life not their agendas or solutions, but the integrity of life in the face of immeasurable vulnerabilities.

Here in the mountains listening to some of the women in community some are very pained by the rigidity of the church, and how the parish manages the sacraments, especially attitudes on pregnancy and marriage, as this does not reckon with local culture. They feel the Church is more that rules and sacraments and could enter more into the life of the people. The church could nurture more the sense of faith amongst the youth where it enters their dreams and enable them to experience hope in their journey.

Though there are many issues in the hierarchical church that need reconciliation, sometimes we have to look in the opposite direction to find a way to participate. Synodality is a bottom up approach, and most of all it must start with the margins, the healing and the feeding of the human spirit. Hopefully we can listen to the young and the old, the migrant and marginal and the humble desire to belong, to trust and find relation and purpose in living.

Listening is like the gentle rain that “falls on the just and the unjust” that we may all eventually share in the kingdom of God (Matt 5).

Fr. Pedro Walpole, SJ