The following article was written before the Opening of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The news of being selected to participate in the Synod on Synodality came as a total surprise to me, though a pleasant one at that. “Who am I?” “Why am I being considered?” or “I’m not a theologian”, flashed through my mind. Feeling humbled, the scene with Jesus calling the first apostles — mere fishermen — calmed my jitters. Fear soon turned into thanking God for giving me this opportunity to be drawn into the sacred mystery of His love and Hope. I take it as an invitation to join in the incredible journey of walking together in communion, participation and mission with all His people.
In the past when we heard about a Synod, we hardly paid much attention. It always appeared to take place somewhere far away with the top echelons of the Church. We would read the document in the community with half-hearted responses and that was about all.
However, when Pope Francis announced a Synodal journey of walking together it was the sound of a new beginning and a breath of fresh air. Here history was being created, as it would involve persons at all levels of the Church. No one would be left behind.
From my experience in India, the preparation for the Synod has been a spiritual process, paving the way for a new beginning. The dedication of the organising teams was commendable, some making long journeys into remote villages, trying to meet the deadline. The efforts by the teams of lay faithful, religious and priests touched the hearts of those they met and vice versa. The consultations were an eye-opener for many who were not accustomed to being invited to speak out openly and freely.
In the Synodal process of ‘journeying together’, the Church in India sought and sensed the presence of God’s Spirit. While on the one hand, the experiences of many ‘lights’ provided consolation and hope to the community, on the other hand, the awareness of the ‘shadows’ challenges the Church to overcome those spots and to ‘journey ahead’ with faith.
The conclusion of the first process reads as follows: “In keeping with Pope Francis’ Synodal exhortation to listen and learn from each other, the Church in India having collectively discerned the promptings of the Spirit and the voices of the faithful, religious and priests, puts forward her dreams and plans for greater communion, participation, and mission. This process brought about bonding, and a renewed yearning to work together, to share responsibility and to participate more actively in the life of the Church’’ (Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, Synthesis of the Synodal Consultation 2023).
For me as the President of the Conference of Religious Women (and of Men’s sections too), I saw this journey as a platform for expression without much fear. It was interesting to listen to the sisters of various Congregations as they came together to reflect and share their giftedness as well as to speak freely about their vulnerabilities. One positive hope for the future is an improved relationship between the Church’s hierarchy, the clergy and religious.
As a woman religious and a Synod participant, representing the International Union of Superiors General ( uisg ), I look forward to this journey with much eagerness and hope, without worrying much about the outcome as some sceptics do. I look ahead with faith that it is an invitation by God to go through the process of discernment with contemplative dialogue and with deep listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows where it will”, says Jesus, “we do not know where it comes from and where it goes”.
Being fully open to the Spirit, these are the issues I look forward to being addressed:
- Inclusion of women in all leadership/decision making processes in the Church.
- Attention to voices of lay people, both men and women. Silencing them deprives the Church of their significant contribution towards greater Participation, Communion and Mission.
- Substantial toning down of clericalism in the Church.
- Liturgical reform, particularly of the Mass with less emphasis on uniformity and more on creativity to draw us to God.
- Co-responsibility in the care for creation.
Certainly, the Holy Father, in yet another of firsts, has shown that all are included in this journey. By including us women, he provides us with an opportunity to share from our sacred spaces. What touched me deeply during my interactions with religious from other Congregations after being selected as Synod Participants, was their genuine prayerful support, adding, “our voice will be present at the Synod”.
In conclusion I would like to paraphrase St. Catherine of Siena’s thoughts. She calls men to recognize the God-given mission of women affirmed by Jesus, enshrined in the Gospels, and confirmed by the history of women in the Church. She calls women to refuse rejection; to demand equality; to speak from their spirituality; to give their God-given gifts, whether these gifts are called for or not, called holy or not, legitimated or not, because no one, not even the Church, has the right to deny the gifts of God or the God who works through the gifts of women…
May we all possess the Holy Spirit in a special way during the Synod!
By Sister Maria Nirmalini a.c.