(Editor’s Note: The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in 2021, is a multiyear, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics were asked to submit feedback to their local dioceses on the question “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”
The Catholic Church’s massive synodal process will culminate in two global assemblies at the Vatican. The first took place Oct. 4–28 of this year and the second will occur in October 2024 to advise the pope on the topic “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”
Now that the synthesis report on the Synod on Synodality had been released, we invited some Oblates to share their opinions and thoughts on how this relates to their particular ministries. Our first submission comes from Oblate Father Pablo Hughes.)
Synod: A Walk on the Periphery Side
By Fr. Pablo Hughes, OMI
Although the PERIPHERY is not so apparent in the summary or in the longer 42-page report on the past Synodal Meeting in Rome, its spirit nonetheless glistens with a definite Pope Francis touch of hand and hallmark signature. Ever since his arrival on the Papal stage in 2013, mission to the periphery has clearly been the key word and focus of his papacy. Personally, I would give him the moniker EL PAPA PERIFERIA, or the PERIPHERY POPE. Just his recent visits to such outlier areas of the world like South Sudan, outer Mongolia, or his naming of new bishops and cardinals from the remote Pacific and Asian areas of the world underscore this papal preference to the periphery. No doubt for this reason many an ecclesial figure in the more traditional centers of power feel a little overlooked, angry and cynical about the recent Synodal convocation. (ref. Synodal Report/Experience and Understanding. #F) Failure to see and understand this emphasis on the periphery will only continue with these individuals unless it is properly addressed.
It is said that a preferred Biblical text of Pope Francis is Luke 10:13-15 where Jesus’ journeying outside the center of temple power heals a woman who, for 18 years, had been doubled-over with a crippling impediment. His restoring her correct posture gave her a new liberating stance and new vision of reality. Is that not what Synod means, to walk together, upright with a new freedom and vision and a renewed spiritual missionary GAIT?
To be a Church of the periphery is not only a geographical move to such areas as the homeless, migrant camps, prisons, etc. but also a new way of including those who have been excluded from the traditional centers of concern and pastoral interest. The conscious involvement of women, laity, LGBT participants, non-Christians, second marriage Catholics, and their pastoral concerns with no easy answers…all these varied groups underscore a shift to the periphery. Could the next Synodal reunion being conducted outside the Roman confines literally underscore this change in missionary focus?
A few decades ago, a tune called, “Walk on the Wild Side” became a controversial hit. It seems like Pope Francis is unconsciously humming that tune as he is gently but firmly pushing us out of our comfort zones into new and different peripheral lands. Its wildness may be frightening and scary for some, but is not this wildness His Gospel message?
Time to buckle up for the next wild Synodal ride on the wild side!
PERIPHERIAL MISSION EXPERIENCE
While arriving for the first time to the new Oblate mission in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, we were welcomed with rather unsettling remarks by a neighboring Redemptorist priest who said so pointedly,” WHAT DID YOU GUYS DO WRONG TO BE ASSIGNED TO CEIBA”? We quickly learned the reason for those remarks: for some 9 years the parish had been left abandoned, sporadically attended by any reluctant priest who was willing to celebrate a Mass, baptism or occasional wedding.
Over the years many a Pentecostal and evangelical church established their roots and also sowed a fierce anti Catholic bias and prejudice against anything Catholic including priests as being from the ‘diablo’ or anti-Christs! Yet by slowly establishing a pastoral plan and just being present to the people, things changed to a more positive attitude toward the Catholic Church and its ministers in particular that I or my fellow Oblates were not, ‘hijos de Diablo”! Maybe a sign that you are laboring on the PERIPHERY is when the ‘wrong” place is the ‘right’ place…. FELIX CULPA