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Thursday, 30 March 2023 11:57

Religious well-placed to be prophetic voice on synodal path - bishop

Bp Vincent LongReligious are uniquely placed to lead the way on Pope Francis’ path of synodality, because they are already living a synodal life within their religious communities, Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv told the SVD Provincial Chapter.

Bishop Vincent was the keynote speaker at the Chapter, and he said that despite religious life being “fundamentally at a critical point in our country” due to many ageing Congregations, there was still scope for Religious to have a prophetic voice leading into the future.

“I think we can ask the question: ‘Can we be a prophetic presence for the Church, even in this difficult time?’” he said.

“That’s who we’re meant to be. We’re not about numbers, prestige, or influence – we’re about being ahead of the game.”

Bishop Vincent said being a prophet was about having “the ability to read the signs of the times and to venture into that space”.

“I love the way Pope Francis is leading the Church. He’s showing us that we must not fear newness because something of the Spirit is moving us beyond the present,” he said.

“We are pathfinders and explorers of new possibilities. We’re not meant to be settlers.”

He challenged the SVD and all Religious to discern where the waters of fresh life are flowing and not stay back at dried-up water holes.

“We have to explore the places where there is life, love, where there is the presence of the Spirit. We have to clear the pathway so other people can follow too.

“The Church depends on us to lead all people to where the journey beckons.”

Bishop Vincent said this will require examination of many of the present Church structures.

“In the present structure there is a sense of staleness, of weariness, because the old way of being Church is no longer fit for purpose, no longer life-giving,” he said.

The old model of Church, sometimes characterised as the Barque of Peter, was “very clerical”.

“Laity were much reduced to being passive and subservient to the clergy,” he said.

“The Church is steeped in clericalism. Thank God we had the Second Vatican Council which brought us a change in understanding of who we are as Church, that it is not ordination but baptism which is the foundation of the Christian identity.

“So, we had the image of the Church as a perfect society give way to the Biblical image of a pilgrim people on a journey. That’s where synodality comes from.

“After Vatican II, the priesthood of the faithful was established, emphasising that the working of the Holy Spirit was available to all the faithful, not just the ordained, and we’re all on mission.”

Bishop Vincent said he is convinced that Pope Francis’ crucial legacy that he leaves the Church will be synodality and that Religious can help lead the way in bringing it to life.

“Religious life is really a form of synodality,” he said.

“It’s a very concrete expression of walking together. We are all very used to decision-making in community because we have instituted these synodal systems and practices into our very life.

“We have the duty to share this with the entire Church.

“Religious are at their best in times of transition and crisis. This is now – we are in a time of transition and crisis. Our parishes are transforming. We can lead the Church in this journey towards synodality.

“The world needs the lived experience and interculturality that Religious exemplify so well.”

Bishop Vincent said that when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he subverted the exercise of power.

“If the Church is by nature synodal, its mission can’t be defined by expanding its footprint, power and mission. I think that when we look at mission grounded in dialogue, learning and respect, it is a whole new world.”

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In the spirit of reconciliation, the Society of the Divine Word, Australia Province, acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea, sky, and community.

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