By Dr. Paul Hwang // Director of ALL Forum
The year 2022 has come. There are many big anniversaries this year. It is the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican II and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) with official approval from the Vatican. It is also the year when all the diocesan Synod is expected to be held around the world under the theme of “Synodality” with the aim of the participation of the whole People of God. Let’s take this opportunity to think about how to view the Council and how Synodality should be realized at the Asian church level.
First of all, the attitude of considering the Council as an absolute, decisive, and irreversible truth and applying it to all situations as an idea that has indeed spread quite widely and strongly to Asian churches should be reconsidered. As an open ended process, the Council should not be “re-accepted” but “re-created” locally. The documents of the council is surely recognized by its theological meaning and importance. But since it is the product of debates and compromises among the then participated bishops a relevant view or a proper hermeneutics is important.
In other words, given ‘ Gaudium et Spes ’ is the key to reading the rest of its documents, it should not be forgotten that the idea of “People of God” is the keyword that consistently interprets the various theories on Church or ecclesiology and the identity of laypeople defined by the Council.
Second, the context in which we ask for the identity and role of laypersons is very different from the past. It is the fact that humanity is entering a very strange and new world that has never been experienced before, with millions dying from the outbreak of COVID-19, and advances in artificial intelligence, robots, and life sciences on the verge of human immortality.
In this situation, asking ‘who the laypeople are?’ should be an expression of interest and solidarity for the whole human beings and the world beyond the walls of Church. How it should be expressed in Asia becomes the third question we have to consider. Lay people in Asia should devote themselves to practicing liberation, inculturation, and interreligious dialogue raised in under the context like extreme poverty, diverse cultures, various great religious traditions, which are the background of the FABC’s formulation of “Triple Dialogue” for the past 50 years. The laypeople should transform the clergy-centered Asian church into a “public church” so that they can meet this task.
Finally, it is of great significance to hold a synod aimed at ‘decentralization’ and participation of the whole People of God for the first time in the Church history. It would be a possible occasion for evaluation of large and small changes that Pope Francis has made under the name of “Church reform.” The synod, which is based on the theme of Synodality, mainly deals with the process of joint cooperation or joint agreement of the people of God, so it would be a touchstone that allows the Council to adapt once again to the changed reality.
Pointing out the gap between daily life and faith as a significant error in modern times, Gaudium et Spes emphasizes that laypeople show the spirit worldliness and citizenship of the Council by suggesting that they should act as citizens of the world (par. 43). In addition, it is considered that the document clearly shows that it is “defending religious and cultural pluralism” (par 92). And it has actually and practically helped a new inspiration and passion rooted into FABC. This is particularly important for Asian laypeople who live/practice pluralism as a daily life, and it is also a valuable theological asset to save lay theology for them, which presents ‘baptism’ as a bastion of the universal priesthood amid majority of people believing in different religions in Asia.
In addition, I believe that synodality or collaboration among the whole People of God is important as a concrete and regional practice and implementation of the Council, going beyond the idea “collegiality” of bishops alone emphasized by the Council. Since this is also important in the issue of church leadership, it is suggested that collegiality should be expanded to all levels of the Church to move toward a ‘cooperative Church leadership’. This suggests that the lay council as a partner organization of the bishop should be established in all the levels of Church including parish, diocese as well as national and universal level. By doing so, I believe that abstract and hard-to-grasp word Synodality can be realized within Asian context.