Synodality is ultimately about mission says internationally renowned theologian Fr Stephen Bevans SVD , who was in Australia recently to attend a major mission conference and deliver a presentation to the SVD community.
Fr Stephen, who is the Louis J. Luzbetak SVD Professor of Mission and Culture, Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, was one of five Divine Word Missionaries attending the 15th Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies at Morling College in Sydney this month, exploring the theme: ‘Powers, Inequalities, and Vulnerabilities: Mission in a Wounded World’.
Also taking part in the ecumenical gathering were Austrian missionary Fr Christian Tauchner SVD and members of the SVD Australia Province, Fathers Anthony Le Duc, Albano Da Costa and Thien Nguyen.
Fr Christian delivered a paper entitled ‘New grounding for mission and discipleship on the margins. Reading the Syrophoenician woman in Amazonian perspective’. Fr Anthony also delivered a paper, entitled ‘The Church’s mission of dialogue in the digital age’.
Fr Anthony, who is based in Bangkok, said the highlight for him in attending the conference was the opportunity to meet scholars from various backgrounds and disciplines.
“I had a chance to get acquainted with the work of a number of scholars and had the opportunity to share my work and research with some of the participants that I met at the conference,” he said.
“One of the nicest things about participating in this conference was being able to spend time with fellow Divine Word Missionaries who came to the event. Our presence and contribution was a valuable addition to the diversity and ecumenism of the program.”
Fr Albano Da Costa SVD said he also enjoyed meeting the other missionaries who attended the Assembly.
“It was a wonderful coming together of the missiologists from around the world to address this really important question: How do we bring healing to a wounded world?” he said.
“It was a great opportunity to bring some systematic, theological and missionary thinking to the questions around how we can provide pastoral care and healing to the wounded.”
Following the IAMS Assembly, Fr Stephen delivered a presentation to the SVD community entitled ‘Synodality: Pope Francis’ dream for the Church’.
“I’m really happy to give this presentation because I think this is something quite exciting,” he said.
“It’s not only Pope Francis’ dream for the Church it’s my own dream for the Church and I think it should be the SVD’s dream for the Church as well.”
Fr Stephen outlined Pope Francis’ consistent teaching that synodality is a “constituative element of the Church”.
“When I read this, that synodality is a constituative element of the Church, I was really surprised and I was really excited because the implications of this statement are really, really powerful,” he said.
“The Church cannot be the Church without being dialogical, without being listening, participative of everyone who is in it. Just like the Church is a communion, an ordered communion, just like the Church must be ‘poor and for the poor’, just like the Church is essentially missionary as Vatican II said, the Church is essentially synodal.
“And I believe that, along with the Church being poor and missionary, the synodality of the Church is a key part of Francis’ dream for the Church.”
Fr Stephen said synodality is a spirit or attitude that needs to pervade every part of the Church, not only in dioceses, parishes etc, but in other organisations, even in religious communities like the SVD.
He said the synodality of the Church rests on a strong theological foundation and it is in understanding this theological foundation that we come to understand what synodality actually is.
“First of all, synodality recognises that the Church is the People of God,” he said. “So, the Church, and the SVD, is first of all a communion, in Pope Francis words, a community of missionary disciples.
“But the Church is not simply a people. The Church is the pilgrim people of God. It’s a people on the move, people on the move through history, not yet complete, moving towards the realisation of God’s dream of the full and radical kinship among all peoples and all creation that Jesus called the reign of God.
“To be Church or to be a religious community means to journey together. This is the specific meaning of synodality. Journeying together, led by the Spirit, into the future with our eyes on the signs of the times.”
By virtue of our baptism, we are also a people of “radical equality”, Fr Stephen said.
“Synodality is ultimately about mission, as the title of the preparatory document for the Synod on Synodality shows us: Communion, Participation, Mission.”
Fr Stephen said he hopes that synodality in the Church will include lay people and deacons, priests and religious as well.
“If synodality would be operative at the parish level, the parish council would have more of an advisory role to the parish priest, mutual discernment would be obligatory, and everyone – women, lay professionals, parish staff, ordinary folk of all ages, the parish priest, would have a say in decision-making,” he said.
“Maybe synodality is just a dream. But I don’t think that makes it impossible. As Francis has said: ‘God is a dreamer’, ‘God dreams for the transformation of the world’. Surely God must also dream of the transformation of the Church at every level.” - Divine Word Missionaries - Australia Province
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