"Be the leaven that encourages communion, participation and mission"
Letter for Religious and ecclesial movements
Dear men and women religious in the Holy Land,
Dear members of the ecclesial movements,
Greetings in the Risen Lord!
We are all of us, faithful in the dioceses of the Holy Land, bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay people, young and old, setting off on a journey together with all faithful everywhere. We are embarking on a synodal process which is less an event than a change in mentality. It begins with the readiness to go out, walk together, listen to one another and grow as Church for a new age that is dawning. This is very much needed at this time of great fatigue in order to continue fulfilling our mission here in the Holy Land. In his letter of October 15, 2021, our Patriarch, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, wrote: “I deeply desire that the other diocesan realities also allow themselves to be involved: parishes, men and women religious, contemplative monasteries, seminaries, young people, groups, movements, associations, migrants, foreign workers.
All those who feel they have a word to speak should be enabled to do so. Their comments can express gratitude, misunderstanding, encouragement and hope or disappointment, expressions of expectation, desire, and orientation. However, this moment of the synodal journey must not be limited to speaking only of our problems because it would make everything sterile, without perspective. It must be a path illuminated by the Word of God, which is always the bearer of life.”
On Saturday, October 24, 2021, the Minister General of the Franciscan Friars Minor, Massimo Fusarelli OFM, inspired us with a conference on the role of the religious in the synodal process. His presentation was a great help in understanding where we fit in.
We are called to be a sign of hope in the world. Our willingness as religious to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience makes concrete the hope that we have in the Resurrected Lord. Our commitment as members of ecclesial movements to promote a vibrant Church inspires all faithful. The synodal process can be a time to remind ourselves of our vocation and recommit to being at the very center of the life of the Church, a leaven that encourages communion, participation and mission, the three main themes of the Synod. Central to the synodal process, which implies a change in mentality is our willingness TO GO OUT in order TO LISTEN to one another and TOGETHER to encounter the Risen Lord who shows us THE WAY in this time in the life of our Church.
How can we engage as religious and members of ecclesial movements? We can propose two main axes of participation:
1. First, we can be in profound communion with the parishes wherever we are situated. I propose that superiors contact the parish priests and inform themselves of what the parishes are doing. This might be the time to attend parish masses, if you do not usually do so, and especially register for the events that are being proposed in the parishes. Of course, there might be an issue of language as many do not speak Arabic, Hebrew, Tagalog, etc. However, there are many in the parishes who can be our translators and thus welcome us.
2. There is also a parallel process in which we can engage. This can be carried out within our communities but perhaps also across communities. The synodal process in our dioceses has proposed the account of walking the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33) hand in hand with the image of the two disciples on the road with Jesus (see the appropriate documents prepared for the synodal process). This can inspire us too:
We all know that these are difficult times: vocations are few, the apostolic works are exhausting, the political situation with its injustice and violence drains us and the COVID19 pandemic has been a blow both to our communities and to our ability to provide for ourselves. We are well versed in reciting what we lack. This is where we begin our way to Emmaus. We can do this as a community or perhaps with neighboring communities. At this time, it would be wonderful if communities, both men and women, from different congregations and ecclesial movements could join together and share with each other, walking together, listening to each other, on this way, realizing that the challenges we face are shared challenges.
But we are invited to encounter Jesus on the way. He comes among us to listen. We encounter him especially as we listen to one another and read Scripture together. As Jesus reads Scripture with us, he focuses not on what we lack but rather on what we have. He restores our priorities, helping us discern what is important and what is secondary. As we read Scripture together, he explains how the Spirit is at work within our reality. In our poverty, in our crises, in our anxiety, can we open ourselves to the work of the Spirit? This too might be a fruit of GOING OUT, WALKING TOGETHER, LISTENING to one another, OPENING ourselves to the others and encountering in them and in the Scriptures the Risen Lord. Our dream is renewed.
Whether it is in our own community, in the local parish or in the encounters of different communities across congregations and ecclesial movements bringing together men and women religious, the celebration of the Eucharist is when our eyes can be fully opened to the presence of the Lord. We can pray that our eyes be opened to the gifts we bring to the Table but also the gifts we receive by walking with others on a way that takes us beyond where we are able to go alone.
This is also the time to go out and discover realities in the life of our Church in the Holy Land that we do not know. This includes the diversity of Arabic speaking parishes (Latin, Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian), the Hebrew speaking and migrant communities, the institutions we administer (schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly and the handicapped, centers for migrants, youth movements, hospices for pilgrims, etc).
Finally, the contemplatives among us in monasteries and convents who do not go out physically are also at the heart of the Church. They accompany this process too. They not only pray unceasingly for the Church but are constantly listening to the Spirit. Let us include them too in every step of the way.
It is essential to keep records of this process in your community. This record will be sent to the Preparatory Committee towards the end of March 2022 so that a final report from the Catholic Church in the Holy Land can be drawn up. This too is the responsibility of each superior.
The Holy Land Preparatory Committee for the Synod 2021-2023 is at your service. Please share with us your reflections, questions, suggestions and desires.
For the Committee,
Rev. David Neuhaus SJ