The participants during the group session

By Gwen Manickam

July 1 2022

THE Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur Pre-Synodal Assembly was held at the Church of St Ignatius, June 18.

Priests, religious and lay representatives made up the 190 strong crowd representing parishes, archdiocesan commissions and ministries.

In line with the spirit of inclusivity, the differently- abled were also there, representing their communities. The session opened with a Scripture reading by Reena Josefa, who is visually impaired.

Advisor to the synodal process, Fr Mitchel Anthony, in his opening address welcomed all present and thanked everyone for participating in the survey. He said the journey, which began last October, had reached the diocesan pre-synodal assembly.

“God is asking us to journey together as the People of God. Synodality gives voice to the unheard and listens to those in the peripheries, the marginalised and the helpless. It is not to be practised only at the church level but lived in our families, communities, the workplace, and society.”

He ended with a quote by Cardinal Mario Grech, “God willing, one of the fruits of the Synod is that we might all understand that a decision-making process in the Church always begins with listening, because only in this way can we understand how and where the Spirit wants to lead the Church.”

In his keynote address, Archbishop Julian Leow said that when he first heard about the synod, as proposed by the Holy Father last year, he was sceptical. He understood synods to be usually top-down – the Pope, cardinals, and bishops determine the content and present it. And those attending would often come with pre-discussed agendas to be endorsed.

“This synod was designed to listen from the ground up, especially to those outside the Church, on the fringes, and those who have left the Church … wanting to hear not just from Catholics but from everybody, if possible. This was something new and refreshing – where the Holy Father wants to hear our thoughts and options.”

The prelate said that when the preparatory documents came in, it did raise concerns about how the team was going to collect responses, collate data from 35 parishes and present it at the diocesan assembly.

Archbishop Julian thanked the synod team, headed by Fr Mitchel, and congratulated them on attaining more than 22, 000 responses.

In the process of analysing the data, one popular topic raised in the survey was the fear that this would be a similar exercise to the various previous parish or diocesan pastoral assemblies and or the Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention (PMPC).

“If our human body is sick, if we know we have an illness … what do we do? We seek medical attention and try to find ways to diagnose and fix it. Likewise, today we are here to see where the Church and the archdiocese are, and to find out how healthy or unhealthy we are,” said Archbishop Julian.

“I am grateful for your responses. Many of you gave frank opinions and shared from the heart because you love the Church and want to see the Church healthy. If there is an illness in the diocese, we need to treat it. If we sweep it under the carpet or cover the wound and pray it will be healed, it will only get worse.

“As an archdiocese, we need to reflect on the Word of God and on what Jesus is telling us about the condition of our diocese. Besides the summarised data submitted to the bishops, what needs to be looked at in detail will be analysed at the parish level. The responses have been sent to the parish priests, and a study day will be set — to look at the responses and to see where we go from there.”

The seeing, the judging, the reflection, the prayer, the discernment, and then the action – what needs to be done to be healthy again. This isn’t just at the parish level but can trickle down to the different groups, communities, circles of friends, and family nucleus, said the prelate.

                                               Findings from the respondents

The Archdiocesan Synod contact person, Rita Krishnan then gave a summary of the process, which ran from Sept 8, 2021, to May 17, 2022.

She reminded everyone that the Synod on Synodality was launched by Archbishop Julian on Oct 17, 2021, at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. This was in response to the call of the Universal Church to walk in the light of the Holy Spirit as it journeys towards 2023.

The fundamental question was the system, and the team was guided to approach each of the 10 questions by recalling experiences, re-reading experiences in greater depth, and finally gathering fruits to share. The Experiences segment was further broken down into High Points and Low Points (Consolations and Desolations), Attitudes and Feelings Noted, and Tension and Disagreements.

For the High points and Consolations, many responded positively on the coming together as clergy, religious, ministries, parishes, people from all walks of life, from the peripheries, everyone came together with open minds and hearts to participate in the synodal process. The mindset to experience changes, with new ways of being a synodal Church, and the strengths of the Church which is willing to see changes with Christ-centredness were some of the other views.

The Low points and Desolations included being sceptical of the direction of the synodal process, questioning the reliability of responses – if they were honest and sincere, low levels of trust among one another, and the grievance of poor direction. People also mentioned the lack of consistency with findings from assemblies, and people staying away from participating in new initiatives as it was seen as a waste of time.

Some comments included spending more time with parishioners and their spiritual life, and how leaders — both the clergy and the lay leaders — needed formation and guidelines to lead the parish. Another popular comment was how the digital world was affecting the elderly who are not technology savvy — they felt that they were left out and looked down upon by the young people who showed no respect, many felt hurt and feared rejection and isolation. Several mentioned that feelings of inadequacy lead senior citizens to suffer mental health issues.

On Tension and Disagreements, poor leadership was a popular point, ‘favourite people’ syndrome also came up in most parishes and participants said leaders were not willing to listen to the views of parishioners. Some said the parishes were being run like corporations, that there was more paperwork than spirituality, and the word ‘gathering’ is not seen anymore, instead, it’s been replaced by ‘meeting’ and sometimes it’s a ‘one man’ show.

In the Feedback category, there are three areas to spot – Significant, Surprising, and Unexpected. Under Significant, some points raised included how the long-serving continuously hold the ‘reigns’ of leadership, the elderly and youth felt left behind in the growth of the church, to find ways to improve Scripture knowledge and enhance the quality of homilies, to guide them to engage positively in people relationships and most importantly, practise humility to be Christ-like.

The Surprising findings included people’s resentment towards Church politics, the relationships between laity and clergy needing attention, and the LGBT community wanting leadership positions to promote the ‘same kind’ group, as they are unable to get along with ‘normal’ gender as they feel judged and viewed with prejudice.

The Unexpected was learning that newly baptised Catholics were disowned by families for changing their religion, they faced loneliness and rejection, especially during the pandemic, and once RCIA was over, some relinquish their duties, and sometimes returned to their previous faith.

In what areas are the people saying the Church needs healing and conversion? The segment Current Reality brought up points like conflicts and misunderstandings that occur when what is seen as the best for the people may not be what the people really want, and how it’s time to discern and collaborate with everyone to meet the needs of an entire community, not Christians only, the top-down approach with centralisation is not effective anymore.

On the Growth in Synodality, the findings largely centred on the youth, in that they were not interested to attend Mass or parish activities, especially with the availability of online Masses. They felt they are unable to work with the elders, and how at the parish levels, they were not entrusted with leadership roles. Attention should also be given to the process of being rooted in discernment and prayer, being open to the Holy Spirit, and practising the art of listening and paying attention to what the Spirit is saying.

Finally, some of the Cultural Images that have articulated our experience of Synodality include government restrictions on practising our faith which have affected the ability to promote our faith openly, social hostilities involving religions, with laws and policies restricting religious freedom which impact the way our faith is practised, and the struggles over the last 10 years with numerous court cases for the usage of the word “Allah” which left an imprint on the lives of Catholics.

The assembly then shared in their groups what they had heard and learnt. After the tea break, they were led to a time of silence and prayer, focusing on the icon of the Synod. This followed an exchange of peace among the attendees and a presentation of mementos, before the Apsotolic Nuncio, Archbishop Wojciech Za?uski, said a few words.

“We need to reflect on how to reduce the dispersion of our resources and mission and concentration on the essential, to give true testimony and evangelisation through our example,” said the Nuncio.

Archbishop Julian gave his closing remarks before blessing the congregation and closing the assembly. – Herald Malaysia