2006 MID-TERM SYNOD ASSEMBLY
"Launch out into the deep" (Lk 5:4)Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Bombay Archdiocesan Synod, which was held in January 2001, set the Church in Mumbai on an enterprising journey of pastoral renewal aimed at attaining the fulness of life in Christ and making it a Home and School of Communion. Among the many initiatives taken in the ensuing years after the Synod, we must needs mention that each of the parishes and units in the Archdiocese, after a broad-based consultation, drew up a Parish Vision and Mission Statement (PVMS). It was deemed opportune to pause for a moment to take stock of the progress made in the Synod implementation process over the past five years and to consider which pastoral priorities the Archdiocese should be emphasised during the next quinquennium. Hence, a Mid-Term Synod Assembly (MTSA) was held at St. Pius X College, Goregaon, on January 25-26, 2006.
The MTSA was indeed a moment of grace. Four hundred and seventy-eight delegates from all the parishes and sectors of the Archdiocese met to collectively discern what the Spirit was saying to the Church in Bombay. I warmly welcome the Statement they submitted at the end of the meeting: it contained the fruit of their deliberations on the achievements registered after the 2001 Synod and concrete suggestions for the years ahead.
The MTSA felt that the Church in Bombay should now focus on deepening the personal and communitarian Spirituality of the faithful, which must then permeate in a special manner three important areas in the Archdiocese: Family, Youth and Marginalised. This thrust was to be fitted into each PVMS and concretised into time-bound action plans.
I am pleased to present this Post-Assembly Document to the Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful of the Archdiocese. It should be read together with the 2001 Post-Synodal Document (PSD) and its directives must be treated as an archdiocesan priority in every parish. Since Spirituality should be the "incarnational" force animating the other three themes indicated by the MTSA, as a soul does to the body, I deem it wise to speak about it at length in this document, for "unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the labourers toil" (Ps 124:1).
Holistic SpiritualityA genuine Christian spirituality must necessarily be holistic, i.e. embracing our relationships with God, with our Christian brethren and with those of other faiths who are co-pilgrims with us towards our heavenly Father. It is imperative that our Catholic faithful be taught to cultivate a proper relationship with the Triune God, to develop sound Christian values and to make faith flow into action. This is especially necessary today when many are adopting worldly mindsets and egocentric behaviour patterns, at times even lured by some evangelists preaching a so-called “prosperity gospel cult” which ignores or considers as irrelevant the Gospel virtues of Christian discipleship, like carrying one’s cross, poverty, humility, etc.
I earnestly encourage the faithful in the Archdiocese to attend Holy Mass frequently - daily, if possible. The Eucharist is, in fact, the summit and source of Christian life. I also recommend that they receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month. The practice of many to visit Our Eucharistic Lord in the Blessed Sacrament Chapels is indeed praiseworthy and should be fostered in every family, association and community in the parish.
Personal and communitarian prayer too must have an important place in our daily life. I exhort everyone to spend at least 15 minutes in personal prayer everyday. For prayer - in the words of St. John Chrysostom - is "a precious way of communicating with God… It is an indescribable desire for God, a fruit of God’s grace, whereby the fiercest of fires light up the soul." (Homily 6). - May all learn the art and beauty of contemplative prayer - where one is led to be still in the Lord’s presence and to know that He is God (cfr Ps 46:10) - choosing from the various schools of Christian spirituality present in the Archdiocese (Desert Fathers, Franciscan, Carmelite, Jesuit, Dominican, Salesian, and others). - All prayer, of course, must be Christ-centred: through Him, with Him and in Him we are in communion with God the Father in the Holy Spirit. United thus with Jesus, as branches to the vine, we shall produce abundant fruit (cfr Jn 15:1-5) and be true witnesses “of the hope which is in us” (1 Pt 3:15).
The Holy Bible should be a companion for every Catholic in the Archdiocese. Courses could be organised at various levels, so that the faithful can deepen their understanding of the Word of God and its implications in their personal lives and communitarian behaviour. This should go hand-in-hand with catechetical faith formation. In his message for the next World Youth Day (2008) Pope Benedict XVI says: "I urge you to become familiar with the Bible, ... so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow. By reading it, you will learn to know Christ. ... A time-honoured way to study and savour the word of God is ‘lectio divina’ which constitutes a real and veritable spiritual journey marked out in stages. After the ‘lectio,’ which consists of reading and re-reading a passage from Sacred Scripture and taking in the main elements, we proceed to ‘meditatio’ ,... in which the soul turns to God and tries to understand what His word is saying to us today. Then comes ‘oratio’ in which we linger to talk with God directly. Finally we come to ‘contemplatio.’ This helps us to keep our hearts attentive to the presence of Christ". The Holy Father thus describes the four classical steps in the ladder of prayer which leads to an authentic Abba-experience, unique to Christianity. These prayer steps are: vocal (lips), mental (mind), spontaneous (heart), and unitive (total abandonment). In fact, when in silence we surrender to what we have read, reflected, prayed over and contemplated, it has a better chance to penetrate into the depths of our being and be woven into the tapestry of our daily lives.
There are many archdiocesan bodies which cater to the spiritual life of our faithful. Among them, we could mention the Biblical, Liturgical, and Dialogue Commissions, the Catechetical Centre and the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Committee (PEACE). An Archdiocesan Spirituality Commission will be established to co-ordinate them, so as to foster a harmonious overall deepening of the Christian faith and ensure that the parish liturgies are spiritually uplifting, meaningful and performed with due solemnity and decorum. Particular attention must be paid to sacred music during the liturgical celebrations. The hymns should elevate the mind and soul to God, while rhythms, tunes and accompaniments which echo the mundane must be totally avoided. The aforementioned bodies should offer everyone in the Archdiocese the possibility to grow maturely in the knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that, deeply rooted and grounded in love, they may be able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding and be filled with the fullness of God (cfr Eph 3:17-19, 4:13).
I would like to mention here the necessity of cultivating a communitarian spirituality in all our parishes. The SCCs, in particular, are fertile grounds where the spirit of unity in diversity should be sowed and where all the members learn to live "with one mind and heart", as was the characteristic of the first Christian community (Acts 4:32).
A holistic Spirituality which does not flow into service is sterile. The MTSA signalled out three areas where this should occur as an archdiocesan priority: Family, Youth and Marginalised.
FamilyAlthough the establishment of cells in every parish has been left to the discernment of each Parish Team and Parish Pastoral Council, given the important role which the family plays in society today, the family cell must be established in every parish by December 2007 and persons/associations in the parish specialised in family matters should be called to collaborate with it. The same consideration applies to the formation of deanery family cells. In order that these may have qualified persons, our Family Service Centre, Snehalaya, will organise training courses and I encourage all to avail themselves of them.
In our present-day society into which secular values and options are making stealthy inroads, family prayer must be encouraged, since "the family that prays together stays together". I would like to make special mention of Scripture Reading (see lectio divina above), the Holy Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet as powerful means of bonding the members of a family in the love of Christ and of each other.
I warmly recommend that the faithful be cognizant of the Church’s teaching on modern bio-ethical problems which intimately touch family and pro-life issues.
YouthNo one can underestimate the importance of the care due to the youth in our Archdiocese. I request the Parish Teams and Parish Pastoral Councils to extend their full support to this special ministry, which forms a unique segment in the life and mission of the Church.
The Archdiocesan Youth Centre has envisaged a three-pronged approach in their apostolate - the formation of Neighbourhood Youth Groups (NYG) within the SCCs, whose representatives will form the Parish Youth Councils (PYC), and the setting up of a Parish Youth Animation Team (PYAT). The May 2007 deadline suggested in the MTSA Statement to establish these bodies should be respected and adhered to. I warmly encourage the formation of an Archdiocesan Team of Resource Personnel to foster and facilitate creative ministries for youth.
MarginalisedFaith must flow into action. In his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est Pope Benedict XVI speaks at length on the Church as a "community of love". It should remind us of Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as He has loved us (Jn 13:34), His thought-provoking teaching in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) and the criterion He will use at the Last Judgement: "whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). St John the Evangelist says quite emphatically: "If you do not love your neighbour whom you see, you cannot love God whom you do not see" (1 Jn 4:20), and St. James insists that "faith without works is dead" (2:26).
It is in this spirit that the Archdiocese has made a pastoral option in favour of the poor and marginalised. Already at the Priests’ Consultation in 1990 it was resolved to set up a Centre for Community Organization (CCO) in every parish, not merely to dole out aid, but as an agent to empower the weaker and underprivileged to attain and fully express their dignity of being children of God, in whose image they have been created. Through awareness programmes, community initiatives and action plans the CCO fulfils the thrust of the Archdiocese to be in communion with others, especially with those who are marginalised, irrespective of their caste or creed, social condition or political affiliation.
It is heartening to note that to-date there are CCOs in 75 parishes of the Archdiocese. I hereby direct, once again, that - with immediate effect - CCOs be established wherever they do not exist as yet. The rules governing them are contained in the Handbook for CCOs. Experience has suggested that the office of the CCO executive director be henceforth separated from that of the Parish Priest, who will shoulder the overall responsibility as CCO manager.
The Community Welfare Fund is mandatory in every parish. I am glad to note the success it is having in the many parishes where it has started already, and I request that it be established in all the other parishes of the Archdiocese by May 2007 the latest. As it happened among the early Christians, our common ideal and concern should be that no one in our communities lacks the basic necessities of life, viz. food, health and education (cfr Acts 4:34).
Finally, true to Jesus’ wish that we welcome Him in the strangers around us, I request that special attention be paid to the vernacular groups in our parishes: let them not feel estranged and forced to live in ghettos. Let us help them to be integrated in our parish liturgies and pastoral activities so as to form one flock of Jesus Christ, where God is all things to everyone (Eph 4:6).
ConclusionDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: "Our contemporaries listen more easily to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses". These words of Pope Paul VI (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41) are especially true of the people, Christian and others, in our Archdiocese today. May we come up to their expectations with words and deeds worthy of our identity as followers of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Saviour. For this, the members of our Catholic community must help each other to grow and mature in the faith, a faith which is strong and convinced, ready to be communicated and credibly witnessed with concrete actions in their daily life.
Echoing the Master’s command to His disciples, and taking the cue from Pope John Paul II’s clarion call at the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium to "launch out into the deep" (Lk 5:4), the MTSA has beckoned the Archdiocese of Bombay to steer the Church along the routes of Spirituality, Family, Youth and Marginalised, in the spirit of communion envisaged by the 2001 Archdiocesan Synod. The secret of safe and secure sailing lies in having all hands on deck and each one on board doing his/her part without counting the cost and giving tirelessly even if it hurts. Our common task ahead is very challenging indeed and its success is assured, thanks to the presence in the barque of Him who calms the winds and commands the waves. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelisation, pray for us and guide us as we wander on the high seas of life.
While commending the excellent work done by the Bombay Archdiocesan Synod Implementation Committee (BASIC) during the past years, I entrust it with the execution of the on-going archdiocesan pastoral thrust as traced in the MTSA Statement and confirmed by this Pastoral Letter.
Together with my Team of Bishops, I bless you affectionately and assure you of our special prayers.
+ Ivan Cardinal Dias
Archbishop of Bombay
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