Synod briefing focuses on migrants and refugees

Synod briefing focuses on migrants and refugees

With Synod participants preparing to attend an evening Moment of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees, the Church’s response to the situation of those forced to flee their homes was at the forefront of Thursday’s press briefing on the Synod.

By L’Osservatore Romano

All the participants in the Synod, with Pope Francis, will gather this evening – at the end of the thirteenth General Congregation – in St. Peter’s Square, near the “Angels Unawares” monument, to pray for those who have lost their lives along the various migratory routes, for their families, for those who have survived, and for the refugees and migrants who are still on their way.

And it was precisely to the issue of migrants and refugees that today’s briefing with journalists was dedicated.

The reading of the Word of God, silent reflection, intercessions, and the Lord’s Prayer will mark Thursday evening’s Moment of Prayer, with which the Synod community embraces migrants and refugees, who have been at the centre of discussions and concerns since the beginning of the Assembly.

The event will have “a universal character” to highlight the tragedies of the various wars, including the most “unknown” ones, in the style of the synodal “walking together” from the Paul VI Hall towards the symbolic monument in St. Peter’s Square.

During the press briefing on Thursday, Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and President of the Commission for Information, took stock of the work in the Aula. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, he said, the tenth and eleventh sessions of the Minor Circles took place, with time dedicated to “conversation in the Spirit”. The discussions are currently focused on section B3 of the Instrumentum laboris: the 35 small groups are discussing different aspects of the general theme: “Participation, responsibility, and authority. What processes, structures, and institutions in a missionary synodal Church?”

In addition, the Prefect recalled the fact, made known yesterday by the Relator General Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, that “three working groups of expert theologians and canonists have been set up that will share with the General Congregations, in three reports, their reflections on the points” of Instrumentum laboris B3/3 (“What structures can be developed to consolidate a missionary synodal Church?”); B3/4 (“How can instances of synodality and collegiality involving groupings of local Churches be configured?”); and B3/5 (“How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?”).

Cardinal Czerny: Walking with the most vulnerable people on Earth

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, referred in his intervention to Moment of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees. In front of the sculpture ‘Angels Unawares’, he explained, the synodal assembly “which is learning how to walk together as a church will effectively symbolize walking together with some of the most vulnerable people on our planet, namely those who are fleeing, those who are forced to be on the move, those whom we call migrants and refugees”.

Therefore, he added, “there’s a spiritual and even an aesthetic, a cultural harmony between how we’re spending this day” in the synod assembly discussing somewhat abstract topics, “and walking with or accompanying” the phenomenon of migration represented by the ship sculpted in bronze by Timothy Schmalz, “which represents all the people of all ages and all places who in one way or another have been forced to flee” their homes.

Cardina Czerny noted, however, the “dramatic contrast” between “the harmony and goodwill and the … really deep exchange which we experience within the synod hall” and the “the anxiety, the insecurity, the vulnerability, the marginalization” of migrants and refugees and “the terrible silence… of our societies, our rejecting societies”.

Bishop Flores: From a border diocese

Bishop Daniel Ernest Flores, President Delegate of the Assembly and a member of the Preparatory Commission, is the bishop of Brownsville, Texas, on the border with Mexico. He began his intervention by recalling that “each diocese in the world comes [to the Synod] bringing the gifts and sort of the experience of its own local Church”.

Recounting the experience of his own border diocese, Bishop Flores said that in recent years the number of people from Latin America coming to the United States of America through Brownsville has increased. But the response of the faithful has never been lacking: “There’s a great, great outpouring of energy that comes in my diocese from people, restaurant owners, doctors, nurses, who volunteer to their time just to tend to the mothers and the children and the families,” he said, while noting that members of other communities, including other Christian denominations, Muslims, and Jews are also making important contributions.

Bishop Flores explained that his diocese does not have “a great amount” of material resources, “but the hearts of the people are very generous and they know something of what poverty is and so they respond very generously”.

He added, “The principle is we adapt in a way that tries to respect and treat with great respect the human dignity of the families who come. Each one has a story”.

Maronite Alwan: the drama of Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Father Khalil Alwan, a former superior general of the Lebanese Maronite missionaries, is the secretary general of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Orient and a professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut. He is taking part in the General Assembly as a synodal witness for the Eastern Churches and general coordinator for the Middle East.

One of the non-episcopal participants who have come from the continental assemblies Fr Alwan said he had participated in four synods and considers the current one different in its methods and content: “It is a real journey with the Lord, with the Church, with all the realities represented here. Participating in it is a great grace that gives us reasons for hope for a happy future of the Church”.

The Maronite priest then went on to the main theme of his speech, speaking about the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon: “Since 2011, when they arrived here, they have been living in inhuman conditions, crammed in large numbers in camps at the limit of their capacity because the international community is forcing Lebanon to keep them on its territory, preventing them from going to Europe”.

Father Alwan explained that “more than two million people live” in such areas, “with many births registered in recent years”, adding that, “with its population of five million, Lebanon is the country with the highest percentage of refugees in the world”. While acknowledging that some humanitarian aid has been provided in order to alleviate the dramatic situation, he argued that refugees should be allowed to go to a place that is more in keeping with their human dignity.

The Lebanese are being penalized “for their humanity”, Father Alwan asserted. All these refugees, in fact, burden the economy of the state, which bears enormous costs that international governmental organizations are not able to cope with, with the result that “Lebanese citizens are getting poorer and poorer. This causes great anger in them: they see the humanitarian issue as a pretext to keep refugees in Lebanon, which is forced to be a country of political asylum.

“Many voices have been raised,” the cleric concluded, “calling for the Syrians to leave for Europe. We are facing a human tragedy and we will pray tonight that the powers of the world will work to put an end to it and that the Syrians may one day return to their country and their culture”.

Bishop Mpako: Welcoming, listening, respect

In his intervention, Archbishop Dabula Anthony Mpako, Archbishop of Pretoria and Vice President of the South African Bishops’ Conference, outlined the situation of migrants and refugees in his country.

He began by noting his appreciation for the opportunity to participate in “conversation in the Spirit” as a method of the synod process, the archbishop said that with listening, respect, and acceptance, people can truly express and welcome each other. “At the same time, he said, “Looking back from where I’m coming from, I do realize that we already, in many African countries, do already have fertile ground for this synodality process.”

Archbishop Mpako noted that his country is “facing the challenge of having to give pastoral care to migrants and refugees”, noting that the country is hosting more than 2.9 million refugees, the most in Africa.

He said, “The most important cause of this migration is poverty”, explaining that most of the migrants who come to South Africa are “economic migrants”.

In his own city of Pretoria – one of the most popular destinations for migrants – Archbishop Mpako said the Church has “a well-established ministry for pastoral care for migrants and refugees” that attempts to help with practical needs as well, including providing food, clothing, healthcare, and assistance with necessary documentation.

Archbishop Mpako also spoke about the needs of Catholic migrants, explaining that his local church tries to help them integrate into the local community while also providing pastoral care that accommodates their situation, such as by providing liturgies in their own languages and appointing missionary priests from their own countries to assist them.

Synodality and hierarchy in the Church

Responding to the question about whether the renewal of structures on the basis of synodality could undermine the authority and prerogatives of bishops in the dioceses, Bishop Flores noted that this issue is not new. The exercise of authority or ministry by the Church, he said, must be based on conversion of heart, because this is essential for any structure to achieve positive goals.

He acknowledged that there are many opinions about how this renewal can take place, but said he is more concerned “about how it is that we will sort of inaugurate a deep thirst to become a people baptized and ordained who are focused on serving one another in the heart of Christ,” adding, “To me, this is everything”.

His words were echoed by Archbishop Mpako, who recalled that it is commonly accepted by all that the two structures must coexist: synodality and hierarchy in the Church. “However,” he said, “what we are probably wanting to see is how the two can work in such a way that synodality begins to infuse the way that the hierarchical structure of the Church operates”.

At the same time, he noted that “in the Catholic Church, the synodality has a unique character. It is a synodality at the centre of which there is the chair of Peter, the Pope. At the end of the day, hierarchy goes together with synodality.”

Cardinal Czerny added, “The hierarchical structures of the Church have nothing to fear from a process that begins with listening. It’s impossible that that should damage the hierarchical nature of the Church”.

In response to a question about the presence of LGBT people among refugees, Archbishop Mpako replied that the Church’s position on how to approach them is clear: “To first of all show compassion and acceptance, not to discriminate, not to make them feel like outsiders in the community of the Church. And I think the Holy Father has exemplified that in a very striking and beautiful way”.

He continued, “However, what we are also dealing with is traditional Christian anthropology, which we are still trying to see how that anthropology, you know, relates to this question. And my sense is that is not going to be resolved anytime soon because we are dealing with a tradition that has existed for a long time.”

So, the South African prelate said, “We are doing two things. While holding to that Christian anthropology, we are looking for ways of making LGBTQ+ people feel at home in the Church”.

For his part, Bishop Flores said that in his diocese he considers it “a mission of charity of the Church” to receive families in difficult situations. So, he said, he encourages all volunteers to “look for the face of Christ in the one who suffers”, adding, “We don’t ask them if they’re Catholic, we don’t ask them if they’re Christian, we don’t ask them you know how they believe politically, we don’t ask them about their sexual orientation, we simply want to serve the Christ who suffers”.

Bishop Flores was also asked about the Synod’s view of the needs of Latin American cultures. The Bishop replied that, although it is not easy, especially if you do it well, bringing different cultures together is an expression of synodality. He also spoke of his personal experience growing up in a bilingual family, where there is no separation between Latin American and Anglo-American cultures. It is a matter, he explained, of trying to translate one world into the other. Young people know how to do this well, he said, adding that it is an asset, especially for those like him who live in a border area. Yet, he warned, one cannot simplify at the ecclesial level; on the contrary, one must strive to make progress toward more structured conversations between the various local churches.

Cardinal Czerny, who has also “lived in two worlds”, said that for him, too, “life is translation; and ‘synoding’ maybe is also learning how to translate, even if you weren’t born in both cultures or in two cultures”.

Some methodological clarifications concerning the interventions in the small groups and the voting on the synthesis document were then offered by Prefect Ruffini in response to another question.

Cardinal Czerny then spoke about the relationship between order and office with regard to ordained ministries, saying, “I think that the identification between orders and offices is something that is being overcome. In other words, we’re understanding orders not to be necessary for every office, which until now has been headed by a cleric and in fact a hierarch and in some cases even a cardinal”.

He added the assurance, “There’s no danger to the nature of the Church because there are responsibilities which are already being, and which perhaps increasingly will be entrusted to non-Cardinals, non-bishops, non-priests.

Responding to further questions from the media, Bishop Flores and Archbishop Mpako assured reporters that the synodal reflection was not influenced by external pressures or “conspiracies”: “I do not see a conspiracy”, said Bishop Flores. “I have simply heard honest, sincere, faithful, charitable conversations under, shall I say … ‘sub tutela Petri’, under the care of Peter. That is not a threat to the Faith”.

Finally, Cardinal Czerny, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development took the floor to give some details about tonight’s celebration in St. Peter’s Square for migrants.