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?

will all voices be heard at the synod on the family?


Despite questionnaires and invited auditors, the upcoming synod on the family is still a synod of bishops. Is there any hope that the voices of families will be heard? Is there any hope that the voices of women will be heard when only a handful of handpicked women will be present?  READ MORE…

After a (too) long absence, here’s an article that I wrote for this week’s issue of the Prairie Messenger.

kim davis and the pope

The news that Pope Francis had a secret meeting with Kim Davis on September 24th sent some hearts sinking, while others soared with joy. The possible political ramifications are undeniable. Kim Davis, whom David Gibson described as an “icon of the culture wars”, is the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for gay couples. A conservative Christian, she believes that the new law of the land conflicts with God’s law. Her supporters are already using the event as a papal affirmation of their cause.

My heart was one of the sinking ones when I read this news. I keep telling myself that Pope Francis is only human. It is impossible to address all the issues, and please all people all the time. I need to focus on the good news that he is spreading. But, the elephants in the room seem to be growing each day, threatening to squash the good news with that nasty stuff that make elephants a poor house pet.

There were two other groaner moments for many Catholics during the papal visit. The first was the clumsy and insensitive addresses by Francis to priests and bishops regarding the sexual abuse crisis. (Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, a psychologist who has been working with sexual abuse survivors for 30 years, wrote an insightful article for NCR on this issue.)

The second moment was on the plane trip back to Rome, when Pope Francis reiterated that women’s ordination would never take place because John Paul II said so. Many theologians have discounted the reasoning used by both John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger for declaring all discussion on the topic closed for all time.

And, now we hear of a private meeting with a woman whose very public actions have deepened the ideological divisions surrounding the legalizing of same sex marriage.

Many of us would have loved a private meeting with Pope Francis, so there is perhaps more than a little envy and anger. Why her? Why now? How about all the women and men in the USA who have tirelessly promoted social justice for decades? Wouldn’t they be more deserving of a papal audience? OK, so Jesus hung around folks that infuriated his followers too.

In his address to the American bishops, Francis stressed the need for dialogue.

Dialogue is our method…dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society.

Perhaps this meeting was simply about dialogue? Perhaps the pope was curious to find out more about this person who was making headlines in the USA as a conscientious objector?

I try to promote dialogue through this blog. And, yet, I admit that there are many people in this world that I would avoid talking to at all cost. Talking dialogue is much easier than doing dialogue.

Kim Davis and I do not share the same views on same sex marriage. I admit to having preconceived notions of her as a right-wing Christian who views the world through the black and white prism of religious fundamentalism. Would I willingly sit in a room with her to discuss the issue? Would I willingly send her an invitation, or accept an invitation if it was given to me? This is the challenge for me.

Pope Francis does not shy away from challenging dialogue. He knows that there will be many a battle in the upcoming Synod on the Family. The concept of dialogue is foreign to those bishops used to an autocratic style of leadership in their dioceses. Steering them to seek common ground and consensus will not be an easy task. And, yet, dialogue they must.

The details surrounding the meeting between the pope and Kim Davis are still vague. The Vatican has declined to comment. James Martin, SJ wrote a rational and reasonable article titled The Pope and Kim Davis: Seven Points to Keep in Mind. He reminds us that the pope visits with many people each day. Francis gives rosaries to many. He gives encouraging words and blessings to many. But, a papal blessing does not connote affirmation or validation of the work of that person. In classic Fr. Martin style, he concludes,

Meeting with the pope is a great honor, but it does not betoken a blanket blessing on “everything” one does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked “Ted.”