How can we realize Synodality within Asian Context?

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.

Mission Theology in the Vatican II Era Gift and Task for the Local Churches of Asia

Mission Theology in the Vatican II Era Gift and Task for the Local Churches of Asia

By James H. Kroeger, M.M

AN INTEGRAL VIEW OF EVANGELIZATION.

Evangelization, for many Catholics, is a generally unfamiliar and relatively new term. The Second Vatican Council and recent popes have placed evangelization at the center of the Church’s identity and mission. Today the Church sees that the “principal elements” of mission and evangelization are: (a) presence and witness of life; (b) commitment to social development and human liberation; (c) interreligious dialogue; (d) explicit Gospel proclamation and catechesis; and, (e) prayer, contemplation, and liturgical life. In a word, the one evangelizing mission of the Church is comprised of several component elements and authentic forms. This integral or holistic view has served the Church well over the past decades. Viewing evangelization through five of its principal elements results in clarity, insight, and proper integration. This is the Catholic vision of evangelization.

CHURCH’S MISSIONARY NATURE.

Vatican II forcefully declared: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature. For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (AG 2). Christians believe in a Trinitarian God, who is not  just the founder of a missionary community, the Church, but a God who is inherently missionary. The missio Dei was already operative before the Church came into existence. This theology locates mission at the very center of what the Church is and what she is called to be and to do.

Pope Paul VI asserts that missionary evangelization is the “vocation proper to the Church.” He continues: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelizing lies at “her deepest identity.” She “exists in order to evangelize.” She “is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being” (EN 14-15). The emphasis is clear: the Church is mission; she does not only do some activities that foster mission. The theologian Emil Brunner captured the Church’s missionary identity well: ““The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”

MISSIONARY RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH.

At the time of Vatican II, ecclesiology had a clear universalist emphasis; the Council facilitated a renewed awakening of the importance of the local Church. This has resulted in a richer understanding of the full missionary responsibility of the local Christian community. Vatican II asserted that the Church of Christ is fully present “in all legitimate local congregations” (LG 26); thus, as the Roman document Dialogue and Mission (14) asserts: “Every local church is responsible for the totality of mission.”

Probably some of the best pastoral-mission theology on the local Church is to be found in the documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). The Asian bishops assert: “The primary focus of our task of evangelization then, at this time in our history, is the building up of a truly local Church” (FABC I: 9). “For the Asian Churches, the decisive new phenomenon — will be the emergence of genuine Christian communities in Asia—Asian in their way of thinking, praying, living, communicating their own Christ-experience to others:–. If the Asian Churches do not discover their own identity, they will have no future” (ACMC 14). Asia’s bishops have consistently promoted a “new way of being Church” and that “the acting subject of mission is the local Church living and acting in communion with the universal Church” (FABC V: 8.0; 3.3.1). In all of this, FABC and its vision of Church become “‘Asia’s continuing Vatican II.”

LAITY’S FULL PARTICIPATION IN THE CHURCH’S MISSION.

One could assert that the Church’s mission of evangelization is too important to be left to the clergy and religious alone; thus, in Vatican II one finds a renewed emphasis on the missionary nature of the entire Church. Every baptized member of the Church is equally an evangelizer, whether layperson, ordained, or religious. An integral vision of evangelization engages the entire Church (from top to bottom; especially, all the local Churches), all states of life (lay, religious, ordained, married, single), all apostolic activities and forms of witness (the five principal elements).

It must be noted that this emphasis on everyone’s call to mission is not superficially based on the desire to have “more workers for the job.” A profound and beautiful theology of Christian baptism and identity underlies this emphasis. Christifideles Laici (33) speaks of the laity’s missionary responsibility: “The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel; they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Laity are full-fledged evangelizers; mission is both their right and duty within the Church; they are not missionary due to some kind of “delegation of mission” coming from a priest or even a bishop.

“By the grace and call of Baptism and Confirmation, all lay people are missionaries” (EA 45). This wave of renewal is still not fully recognized; it offers great potential for the Church.

A Discourse on Laity and Participatory Church

A Discourse on Laity and Participatory Church

by Hamid Henry

The Church Teachings on the Laity

Paul Lakeland in his The lay theologian in the Church observes that since the end of the Vatican Council there have been many changes in the church, whether in the spirit of the Council or in reaction to it. He adds: ‘since Vatican II , the laity have been understood to be as integral to the Church as the clergy. Anticipated in Pius XII’s remark that ‘the lay faithful… ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church but of being the Church, Lumen Gentium went to considerable lengths to rehabilitate the laity as full members of the Church, sharing a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. (LG 32)

The active role of the laity in the mission of the Church is the subject of the Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem. The genuine apostolate they exercise is one of bringing the gospel and holiness to men… penetrating and perfecting the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the gospel (AA2). In this apostolate the Holy Spirit distributes charismata to the laity, from which arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of mankind and for the up building of the Church’ (AA 3). To focus our overriding concern in the language of Vatican, we might ask whether theological learning is an appropriate charisma of the lay apostolate. Indeed, the question of whether theology is an ecclesial charisma or an official function in the church is itself highly germane. The identification of the lay apostolate with ‘witness in the world’ has usually gone along with a commitment to what Gustavo Gutierrez calls the ‘separation of planes ‘, that is, he relegation of the laity to teaching by example what they have learned from the clergy. Too frequently this simply mirrors and disguises clericalism.

There are, for example, one or two passages in recent documents where it seems that the Church might recognize a lay role even in theology. Discussing the lay apostolate, Lumen Gentium adds that ‘the laity can also be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy’, and even that lay people ‘have the capacity to be deputed by the hierarchy to exercise certain church functions for spiritual purpose’ (LG 33).

Apostolicam Actuositatem sees the laity in the parish ‘bringing to the Church community their own and the world’s problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which should be examined and resolved by common deliberation’ (AA 10). It is difficult to imagine this being done effectively without some theological reflection, it should be reassuring that the bishops go on in the same document to call for theological training where appropriate. Those laypeople whose apostolate ‘is one of making the gospel known and men holy’ must ‘learn doctrine more carefully’ (AA 30). And to that end there should be more ‘centers of documentation and study… for the better development of natural capacities of laymen and laywomen’.

The Participatory Church

What exactly is meant when a term such as ‘participatory church’ is used? We need to be clear that organizationally speaking, this is in fact, something new. It is much more than simply doing what we are already doing now; but doing it more effectively. New hockey sticks will not make for a better football team! Moreover, it is not just one more new project like a school or a dispensary, where one searches for the funding, completes the job and then carries on as before. Building participatory church is a process: it is the very process of creating participative structures that brings about a participatory church. Because of deeply embedded non participatory habits, fostered by both cultural and ecclesial practice, it is not something that will come about quickly or easily.

Inevitably, it is a project that will meet with resistance and rationalization. This will be especially the case among those who mistakenly fear that they have much to lose by facilitating more participative structures. There will be a tendency to borrow the terminology but not change the reality. Some may well wish to make of it a participatory church in the sense of many of the lay faithful busily involved in carrying out what the priest tells them to do. For others, what seems to be on offer is a kind of participatory church ‘by decree.’ A meeting decides it is a desirable goal and this goal is decreed and a participative church is then deemed to have come into existence, though in reality, nothing has changed. Yet again, for others it means developing the life of the church even more around festivals, prayer conventions, visits of holy shrines, as if a participatory church were to be equated with fanfare. Sometimes it seems as if it is a kind of subterfuge: we repaint the shop front, re work the advertising, invest a new logo but continue to trade in exactly the same product and with the same management structure.

By contrast, a truly participatory church is a spelling out of the theological truth-reemphasized in Lumen Gentium, that the mystical reality of church is made visibly firstly in the People of God. It seems to tease out the full implications of the vocation to communion, drawing deeply on the Pauline theology of the variety of the gifts and the unity of the body.
To this way of thinking, Christ calls each of the baptized to be a friend and not just a servant and, as a friend, brings them into his confidence and shares his project and the means of its accomplishment. It is a theology that sees the full active and conscious participation in the sacred liturgy called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium, as something pertaining not only to the laity’s participation in the priestly office of Christ, but also in his office of prophet and king and thus calling for free, active and conscious participation in the process of evangelizing cultures, and the decision-making processes at the service of this evangelization. In short, its point of departure is the re-discovery of the baptismal vocation as the foundation for active and responsible participation in the life and organization of the church.

Conclusion

The different ministries which are being practiced in the Church must be community centered. They must be used for the betterment of the people without discrimination. Through them, the Church should move along with the people especially with the poor. Through them she is called to live in communion as human family in order to help strengthen and support each other. Unless the Church inserts herself in the day to day existing realities, it cannot claim to be a “participatory church.” Therefore in order to be the true Church of the poor, she must stand with the poor, downtrodden, oppressed and homeless. She has to play a prophetic role in the Asian context.