Pope Francis blesses a reproduction of the Barque of St Peter, found in the Sea of Galilee in 1986 (Mar 15, 2023)  (Vatican Media)

By Devin Watkins

Mar 26 2024

As the Church journeys toward the second Synod session in October, Catholics across the Pacific islands are trying to keep up the momentum of synodality by inviting everyone to “get into the boat,” according to Bishop Ryan Jimenez.

The Synod on synodality continues to offer Catholics around the world a chance to “get into the boat,” and help the Church learn how to listen better.

Catholics across the Pacific recently enjoyed an opportunity to prepare for the second session of the Synod General Assembly, set for October this year.

“It’s not too late to get into the boat” formed the theme of an online conversation hosted by the Northern Region dioceses of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC).

Bishop Ryan Jimenez, CEPAC president, told Vatican News that the event was open to anyone interested, not only those who took part in the local consulation of the Synod that began in late 2021.

The Philippine-born Bishop has served since 2016 as the Bishop of Chalan Kanoa, a diocese on the island of Saipan, in the US commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Getting into the boat

Documents and discussions for the Synod have frequently employed the Biblical image of the tent, taken from the prophet Isaiah (54:2): “Enlarge the space of your tent.”

However, noted Bishop Jimenez, the image of the tent has a different connotation in the Pacific, where typhoons can cause widespread damage.

Though Pacific Islander Catholics have tried to engage with the image, Synodal discussions in the region have found more resonance with the image of a canoe.

“We thought that the boat is just a day-to-day experience or image that people can relate with,” said Bishop Jimenez. “It’s close to one’s experience.”

Fishermen spend much of their time in boats, and people often use boats for transportation from one island to another.

At the same time, the boat also symbolizes the Church, as the image of the Barque of St Peter implies.

‘Interculturality’ embracing synodal spirit

Bishop Jimenez said the Synod has also highlighted the importance of “interculturality,” instead of “multiculturality,” especially in the Pacific which is home to many different cultures.

“Interculturality would really encourage interaction, because we are all members of the one Body of Christ, as opposed to a ‘multicultural’ Church,” where we just recognize that other cultures exist,” he said. “But when there is interculturality, there is a dynamic where; no matter your ethnicity, background, or race; we are able to be together in the spirit of synodality, because we are one Church.”

Allowing the Spirit to guide the process

Challenges remain as the Synod advances toward the second session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly in October, noted Bishop Jimenez.

Some priests are “not onboard” in their participation, he admitted, adding that internet connection also presents a challenge when trying to engage Catholics in areas that lack reliable connections.

Despite the challenges, Bishop Jimenez said his diocese of Chalan Kanoa is trying to create an experimental “synodal parish” that will eventually act as a guide for the diocese.

“It’s a process,” he said. “We are called to be patient with the process and allow the Spirit to work with our cooperation, as Pope Francis said: ‘The Holy Spirit is the protagonist’.” – Vatican News