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Chinese bishop reflects on his experience at the Synod on Synodality

November 17, 2023 Catholic News Agency 0
Bishop Yao Shun of Jining and Bishop Yang Yongqiang of Zhouchun (right) of the People’s Republic of China at the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in October 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 17, 2023 / 11:56 am (CNA).

A Chinese bishop who attended the Synod on Synodality assembly has spoken out about his experience, saying he was cheered to meet Catholics from all over the world and to discover that many showed great interest in and were praying for the Church in China.

Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement. He was one of two bishops from mainland China who participated in the first half of the synod assembly in October before suddenly departing early without explanation. 

In an interview with the Pontifical Mission Societies’ information service, Agenzia Fides, published on Nov. 16, Yao said that he was very grateful to Pope Francis for inviting him and Bishop Joseph Yang to attend the synod.

“We were very happy to meet all these bishops, priests, men and women of different religious and lay orders from all over the world during the synod. Everyone was friendly and cheerful. They welcomed us and showed us their consideration,” Yao said.

“They all showed interest in the development of the Church in China, eager to know more and to pray for us.”

Yao is the bishop of Jining, located in China’s northern Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. Born in Ulanqab in 1965, he is a native of Inner Mongolia. He both studied and taught at the national seminary in Beijing. 

In the interview, the Chinese bishop shared a little bit about his Catholic roots and vocation story.

“I was born into a Catholic family. My parents and grandparents were very devout and faithful. It is with them that I began to walk in faith and received many graces from God,” he said.

Yao described how the greatest influence on his vocation came from an elderly priest. “His virtues and his selfless dedication to the Church inspired me,” he said.

“Meanwhile, my parents’ encouragement and support further strengthened my will and determination to pursue the path of the priesthood.”

After his ordination in 1991, Yao completed a degree in liturgy in the United States at St. John’s University in Minnesota from 1994 to 1998. He also spent some time pursuing biblical studies in Jerusalem.

He went on to serve as the secretary and later vice director of the liturgical commission overseen by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, returning to the Diocese of Jining to serve as vicar general in 2010.

The New York Times reported in 2019 that the Vatican had approved Yao as the successor of Bishop John Liu Shigong in the Diocese of Jining in 2010, but the Chinese government refused to approve him, even after Bishop Liu died in 2017 at the age of 89. 

Yao said that it is his impression that the “prevailing opinion” in China is that the provisional agreement signed by Beijing and the Holy See in 2018, often referred to as the Vatican-China deal, was “very significant” and “paves the way for promoting integration and unity between the Church in China and the universal Church.”

He said that he has seen a slight decrease in the number of baptisms in his diocese but still has young people and adults coming forward to ask for and receive baptism, something he attributes to “the good example set by the parishioners and the kindness, encouragement, and comfort that the local Church shows towards them.”

“In my opinion, the first mission of us Chinese Catholics is to show God’s mercy and love to all other Chinese,” Yao said. “We really care about the needs of society, especially those of the poor and the suffering, and we try to help them in every way.”


The Dispatch

Synod’s next steps? U.S. bishops look to Rome for guidance, say priests and poor need a voice

November 15, 2023 Catholic News Agency 17
Father Iván Montelongo, a priest from the Diocese of El Paso, Texas; Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas; and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend, Indiana, discuss the Synod on Synodality at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 14, 2023. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

Baltimore, Md., Nov 15, 2023 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

U.S. bishops are hoping for further guidance from the Vatican before they formulate concrete plans to prepare for the final stage of the Synod on Synodality next fall.

At the conclusion of the synod’s first assembly that took place at the Vatican between Oct. 4–29, delegates approved a 42-page synthesis document titled “A Synodal Church in Mission” containing more than 80 proposals, including recommendations aimed at giving lay Catholics a greater role in decision-making.

The preliminary document did not, however, specify the next steps that dioceses and episcopal conferences should take during the interim period before the synod reconvenes in October 2024.

On Tuesday during the fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, two of the synod delegates — Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana — emphasized the need for an “executive summary” of the synthesis document to help guide continuing engagement with U.S. Catholics.

“When you think about it being a 41-page document, how are we going to consult people? Are they going to read 41 pages?” Rhoades said during a Nov. 14 press conference with Flores.

“At this point, I think we do need to identify exactly or more clearly what are the big items that we really need to have the input of the faithful. And I think that’s a work in progress because maybe the Vatican is going to provide those for us,” he said.

“We don’t know yet. If not, I mean, we have to get moving, so we may have to do it ourselves,” he added.

Flores agreed that the USCCB might have to produce its own summary if the Vatican doesn’t provide one soon. Asked if there was a timeline for when additional steps need to be taken, he said it was premature to formulate a schedule.

“To be honest, I don’t think we’ve gotten to the timeline stage yet because it is still fairly recent,” Flores said.

The synod’s synthesis document was the fruit of the delegates’ small-group discussions of issues raised in these listening sessions. The document calls for greater “co-responsibility” among all members of the Church and recommends specific steps to take and proposals to consider to achieve that goal.

Bishops: Not enough voices were heard

Pope Francis initiated the Synod on Synodality in October 2021, kicking off a multiyear worldwide Church effort to engage in listening sessions with Catholics. The faithful 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?’”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had noted at last month’s synod that only 1% of Catholics participated in the listening sessions.

“One thing we have to do going forward is to encourage greater participation and invite people to partake and engage in this process of speaking, and listening and praying together,” Broglio said in October, adding: “That would be a source of growth for the Church.”  

Flores echoed these sentiments Tuesday, calling for a greater variety of voices to be heard as the synodal process continues.

“The voice of the pastors and the priests was not heard as clearly as we need to hear it, “ Flores said. “I think we all, as bishops, will get an encouragement to kind of find the vehicle by which, with their priests, they can reflect on what this document says as we prepare for going forward.”

“But they’re not the only ones. We all admitted that because it was our first sort of effort that we could do a lot better in consulting with the peripheral materially poorer. It’s because it’s hard, because you’re not always going to get a welcome,” the bishop of Brownsville said.

In his remarks, Flores said he expects to send some “resources” out to bishops and dioceses before the U.S. bishops’ conference in June.


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Pope Francis at Synod closing Mass: To reform the Church, adore God and love others

October 29, 2023 Catholic News Agency 3
Bishops process into St. Peter’s Basilica for the closing Mass of the first assembly of the Synod on Synodality on Oct. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 29, 2023 / 07:30 am (CNA).

At the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass, Pope Francis said that God’s love cannot be confined “to our own agenda” and that those who truly want to reform the Catholic Church should follow Jesus’ greatest commandment: to adore God and love others with his love.

“We may have plenty of good ideas on how to reform the Church, but let us remember: to adore God and to love our brothers and sisters with his love, that is the great and perennial reform,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29.

“We are always at risk of thinking that we can ‘control God,’ that we can confine his love to our own agenda. Instead, the way he acts is always unpredictable, it goes beyond, and consequently, this action of God demands amazement and adoration,” he added.

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media

The pope underlined that worship of Jesus in the tabernacle “in every diocese, in every parish, in every community” is necessary in the “struggle against all types of idolatry” in today’s world.

“Let us be vigilant, lest we find that we are putting ourselves at the center rather than him. And let us return to worship. May worship be central for those of us who are pastors: let us devote time every day to intimacy with Jesus the Good Shepherd in the tabernacle. Adoration,” he said.

“Only in this way will we turn to Jesus and not to ourselves. For only through silent adoration will the Word of God live in our words; only in his presence will we be purified, transformed, and renewed by the fire of his Spirit. Brothers and sisters, let us adore the Lord Jesus!”

The pope’s homily marked the closing of the monthlong 2023 Synod on Synodality assembly, where 365 delegates discussed and voted on more than 80 proposals for how to become a more “synodal Church.”

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media

“Brothers and Sisters, the General Assembly of the Synod has now concluded,” he said. “In this ‘conversation of the Spirit,’ we have experienced the loving presence of the Lord and discovered the beauty of fraternity.”

“Today we do not see the full fruit of this process, but with farsightedness, we look to the horizon opening up before us. The Lord will guide us and help us to be a more synodal and more missionary Church, a Church that adores God and serves the women and men of our time, going forth to bring to everyone the consoling joy of the Gospel,” Francis added.

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

In his homily, Pope Francis said that he believed that the conclusion of this stage in the Synod “it is important to look at the ‘principle and foundation’ from which everything begins ever anew: loving God with our whole life and loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

“Not our strategies, our human calculations, the ways of the world, but love of God and neighbor: that is the heart of everything,” he said.

Pope Francis emphasized that adoration and worship are “essential in the life of the Church.”

Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches  at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“To adore God means to acknowledge in faith that he alone is Lord and that our individual lives, the Church’s pilgrim way, and the ultimate outcome of history all depend on the tenderness of his love. He gives meaning to our lives,” he said.

“Those who worship God reject idols because whereas God liberates, idols enslave,” he added.

“We must constantly struggle against all types of idolatry; not only the worldly kinds, which often stem from vainglory, such as lust for success, self-centredness, greed for money — the devil enters through our pockets let us not forget — the enticements of careerism; but also those forms of idolatry disguised as spirituality: my own spirituality, my religious ideas, my pastoral skills.”

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis said that being “a worshiping Church and a Church of service” entails “washing the feet of wounded humanity, accompanying those who are frail, weak and cast aside, going out lovingly to encounter the poor.”

Quoting St. John Chrysostom, he said: “The merciful man is as a harbor to those who are in need; and the harbor receives all who are escaping shipwreck, and frees them from danger, whether they be evil or good; whatsoever kind of men they be that are in peril, it receives them into its shelter. You also, when you see a man suffering shipwreck on land through poverty, do not sit in judgment on him, nor require explanations, but relieve his distress.”

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. Vatican Media

About 5,000 people attended the closing Mass for the Synod on Synodality’s 2023 assembly, according to the Vatican. The Mass concluded with the congregation singing the Marian hymn “Salve Regina.”

Pope Francis thanked all of the cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, and lay people from around the world who traveled to Rome to participate in the Synod. Next year, the delegates will return to the Vatican in October 2024 to take part in the second assembly to advise the pope on the theme: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

“In expressing my gratitude, I would also like to offer a prayer for all of us: may we grow in our worship of God and in our service to our neighbor. Worship and Service. May the Lord accompany us. Let us go forward with joy,” Pope Francis said.