Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, addressed participants of the three-day Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) on 19 January 2024 at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. As the keynote speaker, he shared the outcomes of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome last year, as well as his hoped for the next session in October.
Cardinal Grech also expressed interest in learning more about local preparations and experiences in the overall synodal process in the Philippines and spoke about three aspects of October’s global assembly and how the Church in Asia is regarded.
First, he highlighted the synodal process as Synod participants met in the Paul VI Audience Hall and where priests and lay people were mixed and seated around large round tables of ten to twelve persons “as though at a wedding reception or other large family gathering.” Secondly, this novelty in the synodal process helped set the stage for the “Conversations in the Spirit” that took place. And thirdly, he recalled the full and equal participation of non-bishops, including the lay faithful, those in consecrated life, deacons and priests, as voting members.
Cardinal Grech noted the prominent themes in the Synthesis Report of the First Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 4 to 29 October 2023. The report underscores how local Churches need better engagement with young people in their communities, sacramental life, and missionary endeavors, he noted. He suggested that the Philippines, and the Catholic Church in Asia in general is ” well placed to provide leadership to the universal Church in responding to what the First Session of the General Assembly referred to as making a preferential option for young people.” The majority of the world’s youth population now lives in Asia.
A second outcome from the Synod’s October session calls for “listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, which is one and the same cry,” Cardinal Grech explained. Quoting from the Synthesis Report, Cardinal Grech underscored this urgency saying that “standing with those who are poor requires engaging with them in caring for our common home…the lack of responses to this cry makes the ecological crisis, and climate change in particular, a threat to the survival of humanity.” He invited the Philippine Church to take a lead role in this process, “conscientizing us all in these regards, sharpening all our consciences in responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Finally, Cardinal Grech highlighted how a key theme underscored in the Synthesis Report reminds us to keep “uppermost in our minds and hearts” being the Joy of the Gospel, which is “the joy that flows both from hearing and from proclaiming the Good News.”
Regarding the forthcoming Second General Assembly in October 2024, Cardinal Grech expressed hopes that the next months “will be a time of deepening both our understanding and experience of what it is like to live in a Church where co-responsibility for mission is an everyday experience and can come to be taken for granted.”
In this area, he suggested working on practical steps towards a more co-responsible approach to the Church’s mission and ministry involving all the faithful, as well as embedding a synodal dynamism into the daily life of the Church, deepening how we understand and live out synodality in our local Churches.