How will the Rome Synod tackle existential and leadership crisis?

 Archbishop Anthony Muheria will be representing Kenya for the three-week Synod of the catholic church in Rome. [File, Standard]

This week witnessed the opening of the three-week long Synod of the Catholic Church in Rome.

It has been described as the most significant gathering in the Church since Vatican II in the 60s. It is the culmination of a consultative process that involved every parish in the world and now some 400 delegates from the globe will deliberate on the findings of that consultative process.

What makes this synod unique is that some 50 lay men and women delegates will vote on the final proposals alongside Bishops and Cardinals. Kenya will be represented by Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri and Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva.

In his opening homily, Pope Francis said the twofold purpose of the synod “was to refocus on the gaze of God and be a church that looks mercifully on humanity”. In his now familiar colloquial language, he stated that the church always needs to be “purified and repaired”.

Many of the faithful and delegates would be reluctant to admit that the church is broken, while at the other end of the spectrum are those who doubt the willingness of the church to change with times.

Put another way, there are those who fear any change and others who fear there will not be sufficient change to address the challenges the church faces.

In that respect, the media will flock to Rome to get the megabytes from extremists at both ends. That was already evident before the opening ceremony when five Cardinals - opposed to Francis’ view that the church is a field hospital that must find room, like Jesus did, for everyone including the leftovers and the rejects of a harsh society - attempted to hijack the dialogue.

On the eve of the synod, the big five leaked a document several months old in which they attempted to put the Pontiff on the spot regarding controversial issues like married priests, women deacons and the LGBTQ+ community. Francis avoided the trap, like Jesus did on many occasions when cornered by the Pharisees, of giving a definitive ‘yes/no’ answer. But now his opponents are attempting to discredit him.

Yet the Pope has reached out to his bitterest critics and invited them to the eucharistic and discussion table. Change is threatening and unsettling for everyone. Yet the Church and the world do not stand still and must always read the signs of the times, as the founder instructed his successors.

Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but the Bishop of Rome cannot be accused of the same. While the media may be focused on internal issues concerning access to ordained ministry and the sacraments, the Pontiff sees a larger picture that includes its mission to the world. That is not to dismiss the importance of the other debates but to contextualise the whole deliberations, as he constantly reminds us that everything is connected and we are not saved alone.

As the Synod began, Francis issued a sequel to his 2015 groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si on the environment.

The new document Laudate Deum (Praise God) was penned because the warnings given about the Climate Crisis have not been heeded, “I have realised that our responses have not been adequate while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be near the breaking point”.

Francis chastises those who still deny the reality of the crisis and as always gives a comprehensive analysis while unapologetically pointing the finger at Americans, where per individual their emissions are twice as high as the Chinese and seven times greater than the developing nations.

The economic model of maximum gain at minimum costs is destroying the planet and crippling the poor. The world organisations are also failing us in this respect and the Pontiff demands drastic and intense measures from COP28 in Dubai that must be committed to. That is a lifetime agenda.

For now, the synod will reflect on Jesus knocking on the door, not wanting to come in this time, but to come out into the field hospital and engage with the world, far away from the locked security of our churches and mega development projects.