Cardinal Tagle on laying the ground for synod on family, Part I

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and one of three presidents of the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, explained the first 2 synodal assembly being held in a row, which Pope Francis is convening this year and next year. - NJ Viehland photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and one of three presidents of the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, explained the first 2 synodal assembly being held in a row, which Pope Francis is convening this year and next year. – NJ Viehland photos

[unofficial transcript of Cardinal Tagle’s Lecture at the Theological Hour of Loyola School of Theology at Ateneo de Manila University, Sept. 3, 2014]

Good morning to everyone.

Thank you for heeding the invitation of Loyola School of Theology for us to reflect on the Instrumentum Laboris of the upcoming Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

To give you a bit of background, this is a first in the history of the Church and the Synod of Bishops. Why?

This is the first time that two synod assemblies will happen in a row.

I was elected a member of the Council of the Synod of Bishops in 2012 and in our meeting we were planning already the Synod of Bishops on 2015 for the general assemblies usually take place every three years, and next year will be special. It would mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Synod of Bishops.

But the surprise already came – Pope Francis – and he said, “I want a synodal process, not just a synodal assembly, a process.” So – two assemblies to be held successively. The first would be an extraordinary assembly and followed here by the ordinary assembly.

That caused a lot of confusion in our Council. How do you relate an extraordinary assembly to an ordinary assembly? Will the participants of the extraordinary assembly – who by the way, will be restricted to the presidents of the episcopal conferences – will they agree to be simply the introduction to the ordinary assembly that will happen in 2015?

The Holy Father gave us the direction. The extraordinary assembly to be held this October will analyze information, testimonies, and recommendations in order to respond more accurately to the new challenges to the family.

In the year 2015 the ordinary assembly will reflect on the analyses and the points emerging from the extraordinary assembly in order to formulate appropriate pastoral guidelines.

So the assembly this October will focus on the status quaestionis (state of investigation, survey results) . It’s really a bit more descriptive and next year in 2015 there we find a more directive approach in terms of pastoral guidelines to be given.

So the Holy Father says we cannot in three weeks do everything – listen in one week and the next week give directives. So we will spend time listening, analyzing and entering the complexity of the concerns of the families and let it simmer, let it percolate and then after a year let us gather again and with more representation of the bishops, lay people and the religious, after a long period of listening, maybe we can indicate pastoral directives.

So this is the first time a synodal process will be held this way. So please pray for it. The Holy Father was not fazed when we presented him questions about the identity and the foresight of both assemblies. He said, how will you issue directives and guidelines if you do not first study, listen, enter the world of the families?

Now, for some dates:

This process of listening started in Oct. 2013. A set of questions was sent to episcopal conferences – nine questions.

What do they cover?

The 1st set of questions concerns the diffusion of the teachings on family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s magisterium:

– How is the teaching of the Church disseminated?

– How is it proclaimed and how is it received?

The 2nd set of questions is on marriage according to the natural law. For so long in time, it is through the Natural Law Theory that the Church hopes to dialogue with people of other faiths – other religions.

The 3rd is the pastoral care of the family in evangelization. Let us not forget that. It’s not only pastoral care of the family, but pastoral care of the family in the whole mission of the Church on evangelization.

The 4th is the pastoral care of families in certain difficult marital situations.

The 5th, on unions of persons of the same sex.

The 6th, the education of children in irregular marriages

The 7th, the openness of married couples to life and the transmission of life.

Eighth, the relationship between the family and the person – so the anthropological dimension of the whole concern

and the ninth is other challenges and proposals

So the episcopal conferences who had concerns not covered by the eight questions were free to indicate – and, I tell you – the list of that ninth item was longer than the responses to the first eight.

We were told to work fast so that by Jan. of 2014 the responses would have reached the secretary of the Synod of Bishops for analysis.

I don’t know what your dioceses did, but we were encouraged to bring the questionnaire to the grassroots, like to make the questions the matter for discussion in the Basic Ecclesial Communities or family gatherings so that we cull responses not only from bishops, priests and religious, but also from lay people – most especially from lay people.

And we were happy to note that while we were gathering and synthesizing the reports from the different dioceses from the Philippines we realized that a good number of lay people on their own responded to the questions and said they submitted their responses. So even if they did not belong to any Church organization, BEC or were not part of the parish consultation, they submitted their responses. So they were incorporated in the report on responses coming from the Philippines. But of course in the process, we have to summarize and summarize so the details got “blended in the juice.”

So on Jan. 2014, the Vatican offices got the responses and on June 24, 2014, the summary came out in the form of an Instrumentum Laboris, which is the instrument for the work of the synod.

As I said the primary participants are the presidents of episcopal conferences, but the Holy Father appointed as auditors and even experts a lot of lay people, even couples…. They would even give some conferences to the bishops so that the practitioners of marriage could witness to the happy celibates about the reality of marriage. So it’s a good strategy of our Holy Father – of listening …

With that as background, I would like to present to you, to highlight to you, some of the responses we got, and are incorporated in our Instrumentum Laboris.

End of Part I

Read Part II

Pope Francis pulls “whispering” Indian bishop out of retirement

FABC X Menamparampil Capalla NJ Viehland

Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil [front row, extreme left], Xth FABC Plenary Assembly, Vietnam, Dec. 2012 / NJ Viehland Photos

I was reviewing documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) tonight when I received word that Pope Francis, in a surprise move pulled Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil out of retirement and appointed him to look after a diocese in northeastern India.

I’ve not been around long enough, so I can remember this happening only once when retired Bishop Francisco Claver was appointed to head Bontoc-Lagawe.



Watch out, retired prelates! We’ll never know what Pope Francis has in store for us.

In congratulating Archbishop Thomas, the prelate who for a long time led the FABC Office of Evangelization , and who coined the phrase “whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia…”  , I share here excerpts from my interview with him last year shortly after Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down as pope.

The US bishops’ Catholic News Service (CNS) published the report that quoted some of his remarks. Here is the brief of the full report sent to their clients. Here is Catholic Universe  reprint of the story that appeared in a host of other publications.

Read excerpts from the raw version of the interview below and tell me. Prophetic?

NJ Viehland:  What are qualities, attitudes or particular traits or skills that the next pope must have to shepherd the Church though the rest of this post-modern era?

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil: This is a question for which I can have no answer. The pope is a pope for me, whatever his nationality, character or competence. He is the Vicar of Christ.

But I can say what the world needs today. A violence-ridden world cries for a reconciling agency, force or inspiration in our times: an energy that will bring together nations, civilizations, cultures, traditions, societies, and communities that are in tense relationships; perceptions, philosophies, ideologies, and theological perspectives that are in opposition; one-sided conclusions of sciences and irresponsible ventures of technologies that are on a collision course.

Every insight is valuable for humanity, every school of thought has something to offer, everything that emerges in a context does so by the compulsions of history. They correct and complete each other in the processes of interaction and by the force of history. A holistic and integrative view is soothing.

Asians understand very well that things that seem contradictory can be brought into harmony, an undertaking in which Asians themselves have failed. That is where the power of the Gospel comes in, for Christ brings all things together. It is the mission of the Church to make this possible.

Even though I may not have phrased my idea in the ideal way, I long for a vision of this type emerging in Christian thought. It will be under the leadership of the new Pope that such things can take shape ensuring a hope-filled future for humanity.

Interview : Fr. Andrew Recepcion on “Revolution” for Mission

By N.J. Viehland

“… mission is beyond geography. Every person that God places beside me in this present moment of my life is my mission space, and I have to be there for that person. That’s the revolution that should be understood at this time.” –  Father Andrew Recepcion, Filipino Missiologist


MARIKINA CITY, Philippines – Father Andrew Recepcion president of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Catholic Missiologists and director of Caceres Mission Office in the Archdiocese of Caceres in Camarines Sur province notes much has to be done for Filipinos to effectively serve the mission of evangelization in Asia. He spoke about this with Catholic in Asia in the sidelines of the Grand Mission Festival  at Marikina Sports Complex last April 18-20, while assessing the impact of the activity co-organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) commission on Mission , the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) and other groups. Recepcion, author of the book God’s Global Household: A Theology of Mission in the Context of Globalization holds a doctorate in Missiology from Gregorian University in Rome. While teaching in various schools of theology in the Philippines, he researches on globalization and mission, local rituals and mission history. Following are excerpts of our chat at the festival:

N.J. Viehland: What is the basic definition of mission?

Fr. Andrew Recepcion: Mission is both a journey of faith and a sharing of faith. Journey of faith because it involves a personal encounter with the Lord and you cannot give what you do not have. Sharing of faith because we cannot keep that Spirit of God to ourselves. We have to share it with others.

What are particular challenges to the Church in the Philippines?

The constant challenge to the Philippines Church is that it is always an island of faith. For many many years, we have been “the only Catholic country in Asia,” though now there is East Timor, but there’s still much for us to do.

It’s very important that Catholic Christians in the Philippines will go beyond the comfort zones of family tradition and commit deeply to proclaiming Jesus Christ in different situations.

We also have to balance mission “ad gentes” (to the nations) or mission “going to places that need explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ,” with mission as a way of life. And only when mission becomes a way of life among Filipinos can they make a difference in evangelization in Asia today.

Talks and sessions of the Grand Mission Festival sought to inculcate that awareness that mission is a way of life, and that every Christian wherever we are, can do evangelization and the Church’s missionary work. We don’t have to go right away to places outside the Philippines to do mission, but we start with our families, with our work environment, schools and so on, and then we begin to create a mission culture, so to speak, and that could facilitate mission ad gentes.

So many times, we have the impression that those who volunteer or do full-time mission work are extraordinary. In reality, it should be ordinary for us Christians to do mission because as John Paull II reiterated in Redemptoris Missio,  mission is an instrument of faith and we will lose that faith if we don’t share it. But, it should not be understood as sharing it only to those outside our territory. There’s a tendency even among priests to reduce mission to going to other nations.

The need for that should not be denied, but mission is beyond geography. Every person that God places beside me in this present moment of my life is my mission space and you have to be there for that person. That’s the revolution that should be understood at this time.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, Catholic Bishops Conference president at the time, put on mission cross necklaces on volunteers during the mission sending ceremony at the end of the April 2012 Grand Mission Festival held at Marikina City Sports Complex. - NJ Viehland photos

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, Catholic Bishops Conference president at the time, put on mission cross necklaces on volunteers during the mission sending ceremony at the end of the April 2012 Grand Mission Festival held at Marikina City Sports Complex. – NJ Viehland photos

What are the implications for orientation and training for mission?

Preparation for mission is “here” in the manner that we live out our faith, in the manner we share it with our family, with people who are close to us. Only when we are able to mature in this kind of missioning that we can eventually be committed to mission ad gentes.

From experience I see it has to be understood by priests that mission is not added work. For many priests, their concept of mission is that it is an activity that has to be done, when in fact mission should be the soul of pastoral work. Without the orientation to mission, pastoral work is reduced to empty administration work and other activities. If we do not do mission, we are not missionaries of Christ carrying out our pastoral work, but end up instead as social workers, organizers, event managers, CEO.

Mission Directors in the Philippimes Grand Mission Festival for CBCP Year of the Missions Marikina Sports Center, April 20-23, 2012 N.J. Viehland Photos

Mission Directors in the Philippimes
Grand Mission Festival for CBCP Year of the Missions
Marikina Sports Center, April 20-23, 2012
N.J. Viehland Photos

How important is it to include formation for mission in the seminary program?

Mission formation must be allowed to mature in one’s life. It’s important for seminarians to understand that they are becoming priests not just to do pastoral work, but to participate in the mission of the Church. Your pastoral and other work is part of the whole mission enterprise of the Church. For this mission, seminarians must nurture an attitude of availability for mission and joy of service. Their formation is programmed so that mission is intuitive. They are given exposure to mission situations in the diocese to understand that being in the parish is not merely celebrating the rituals and performing sacraments, but that all these and other activities are a constant life-giving witness to the faith.

What about overseas missions?

Aside from seminarians’ mission formation program, we also have had the Caceres Mission Aid Program since 1997. We have 16 priests right now who serve 3-year contracts with mission dioceses. Almost 50 of our 280 priests have gone to serve overseas.

What did the Grand Mission Festival achieve?

Mission is not result-oriented because the proclamation of the Gospel  is  always open-ended. The fruits are given not by any human effort but by the Holy Spirit. I think the fruit of the Grand Mission Festival, from the human point of view, was its succes with the organization, participation, also with the good general program.

From the point of view of God’s work, the fruits will have to be reaped in the future through the success of lay missionaries that were sent off to their missions. We hope that they will be able to inspire others and witness to Jesus, and that more missionaries will be sent from the Philippines.

Was there enough discussion of the role of dialogue in the mission of the Church?

Grand Mission Festival focused on PMS and that covers mission more as the work of the Church. Maybe at another time it would be opportune to talk about dialogue. But in the Philippines dialogue is always part of our understanding of mission because of growing religious and cultural pluralism in the country.

How do you respond to claims that some bishops, priests and Religious are not open to dialogue?

Even today, there are priests and bishops who do not want to talk about dialogue because of our training to fight for our faith as much as possible and as far as we can prevent it,  our faith should not be contaminated by other religions.  We cannot proselytize and aggressively convert Muslims. In a pluralistic situation, the challenge to Filipino Christians is to know more our faith and identity because if not we could be converted.

How do you see the conversion of Catholics to Born Again and other groups?

As far as I know, Born Again groups are very active, even in remote areas. For many people who have been in the margins of Church life – who we call the “un-churched” – they feel liberated by the manner in which Born Again Christians create a Pentecostal atmosphere in presenting the faith. For many it’s like liberation from a very traditional way of living faith and of liturgy. For example, they could spontaneously praise God. It’s very important that Catholic Christians are also able to live their faith without having to join Born Again Christians. If they only knew that there’s so much of the movement of the Spirit in our lives. If we only put the Gospel into practice, our faith can be as alive. Catechesis and basic education are important and it’s very important the very basics of our faith are clearly and deeply understood, including the basic question: Why do we believe in God?