more sharing of parish experiences at synod, please!

Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, said his Indian, Eastern-rite Church’s contribution to the Synod will be its example of how families are woven into parishes and parishes are centred on families.

Source: Synod fathers can learn from familial bond by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

The Synod of the Family has begun, and the media is already buzzing with stories of ongoing controversy and division among the bishop members. The church nerd in me is hooked on following the back-room politicking. But, then again, I did love The Borgias! In the sonorous voice of Jeremy Irons, “What would Rome be without a good plot?”

Plots aside, some bishops are attending the synod with the hope that there can be more personal sharing of practical strategies to support families in the church. Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, in an interview with Michael Swan, described his local experience,

Syro-Malabar parishes are divided into family groupings or units of no more than 40 people. Each group of families meets at least once a month for an evening spent studying essential questions of faith and speaking with each other about family challenges. Twice a year all the family groups come together for a larger catechetical event.

“So there is a sharing,” explained Alenchery. “And then there is a sharing of all these family units together at least two times a year. That kind of uniting together of families is a great help in our Church.”

Cardinal Alenchery stresses that this is only one example of how churches can minister to families. He believes that local churches must be given the freedom to seek solutions that will address local situations and cultures.

The Cardinal gives us at least two concepts to ponder.

The first is the need to uphold subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires acknowledging and respecting wisdom gleaned from local experiences to address local challenges. Society is finally understanding the negative impact of western colonialism. It is time for the church to do the same. The church is not European or North American. It is universal. Diversity (in issues and experiences) must be respected, while upholding unity. Alenchery said,

It will be a diversity that can be very much reconciled on the basis of our faith and our witness of charity — faith working through charity and mercy,

The second concept is the deep value in a sharing of experiences. I’ve attended several international meetings in my leadership years for the Marianist Lay Communities. The meetings that caused the most frustration for delegates, were those that focused too much on document writing. The most fruitful meetings allowed generous time for sharing  personal challenges and successes.

I hope that there are more bishops like Cardinal Alenchery, who are coming to the Synod to share positive and practical pastoral experiences as well as challenges. His model of parish ministry, though far from unique, is an effective form of evangelization through small faith communities. What other models are being used around the world?