The bishops of Oceania were challenged to take up the path of synodality and to be prepared to confront a “silent earthquake” in the Church on the third day of their quadrennial assembly in Fiji.
Synodality and formation for mission are two of the three major themes for the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania assembly, along with the effects of a changing climate on the oceans.
Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, an undersecretary of the Holy See’s Synod of Bishops General Secretariat, addressed the assembly on Tuesday morning, hot on the heels of a multi-city visit to Australia.
In helping set the scene for synodality, not solely in the context of the current process preparing for the Synod of Bishops for a Synodal Church, Sr Nathalie explained that “we don’t learn synodality in a book, or with a beautiful academic presentation”.
“It’s learning by doing,” she said. “It’s about living the Church in the world of today, in our concrete situation, with all the challenges.
“It’s about really growing in the sense of synodality in the journey of the Church.”
In light of some concerns that synodality is a novel concept, Sr Nathalie explained that it is rather a “dynamic vision of the Church in history, the realisation of the Church in history as communion in mission”.
“And we know, and if we look back to the history of the Church, you have seen that,” she said.
“And we know that the Church is the same from the beginning, but has taken shape in different ways according to the context, history, what we are living. It is a dynamic vision really rooted in the Trinitarian God.”
Sr Nathalie conceded that the path of synodality – of walking together as the People of God – is not always wide and straight.
“We are a community all together as a body, and we are relearning that, and it’s really not easy. It’s full of challenge,” she said.
“But we know that Jesus Christ is with us and is calling us to do this journey.”
Columban missionary priest Fr Frank Hoare spoke on formation for mission – a key issue that emerged from the churches of Oceania for the Synod on Synodality’s consultation phases and also one of the three central tenets of the Synod.
He saw, through the publication of the Synod’s working document for the continental stage, Enlarge the Space of Your Tent, that the focus is on mission.
“It emphasises listening, welcome, inclusion. No one is to be excluded,” Fr Hoare said.
“The tent is the space of communion, the place of participation and the foundation for a mission.”
Fr Hoare said an emerging challenge to mission in Oceania is the shortage of priests, or at least the shortage of local priests, calling it a “silent earthquake”.
He said some people look to blame globalisation, consumerism, secularisation, radical individualism, moral relativity, the media or other things for that predicament, but “the Church’s own sins and weaknesses also contribute to this silent earthquake”.
Fr Hoare proposed that “a new era of Christian mission will be grounded on a return to the Gospel message” and a simplification of some of the Church’s structures.
“The Holy Spirit is the instigator of the mission and helps us to recognise the signs of the times,” Fr Hoare said.
Tuesday’s program concluded with an inculturated Fijian Itaukei Mass at a local parish, followed by a cultural performance of song and dance.
The assembly runs until the evening of Friday, February 10. Stories and content will be shared during the week at www.fcbco.org, on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Media Blog and through CathNews.