ROME — One of the 75 prelates who addressed the Synod of Bishops General Assembly at the end of last week floated a new idea: Before heading to a synod in Rome, bishops of each continent would meet beforehand to formulate a regional perspective on the issues to be discussed.
According to the Rev. Manuel Dorantes of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who’s serving as a Spanish-language Vatican briefer, the suggestion came from a bishop from Latin America. (The Vatican does not identify who says what inside the synod on the theory that the bishops will speak more freely.)
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, president of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, supported the idea, insisting that those local gatherings wouldn’t be making unilateral decisions.
“You have to start discussion in the local area, and to bring it to the national and universal level,” Cleemis said. “This can be more highlighted with our own specific context.”
Dorantes said the prelate who floated the idea also suggested that instead of having each individual bishop at a synod making three-minute addresses, there could be more comprehensive speeches from representatives of each continent.
A Vatican spokesman, however, pointed out that this was a proposal made by just one bishop, and that it’s not a formal suggestion.
“Don’t oversell the fact that it was mentioned by one of the 150 bishops who have spoken so far,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi during the synod’s daily press conference Saturday.
Nevertheless, the Rev. Javier Alvarez-Ossoro, one of the 10 members of religious orders participating in the synod as observers, said he’d be open to this proposal even if it were the only concrete recommendation that comes out of the synod this year.
“This could be one of the fruits of this synod,” Alvarez-Ossoro said. “Not so much a document where we repeat each other, and talk and talk, because we priests talk a lot, quoting ourselves, but a proposal that would start a change in the dynamics of the Church, where decisions can be made according a concrete reality,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cleemis also discussed the refugee crisis in Europe at the press conference, thanking Pope Francis for his strong appeals to developed nations to welcome refugees while also calling on the international community to help families fleeing war, violence, and religious persecution be safe in their homelands.
“A stable solution is that we work together to keep these people in their own countries,” he said. “The world should work together not just to accommodate refugees, but to help them thrive in their own countries.”
Cleemis’ comments echo those made by Francis earlier this month, when he said wealthy nations should provide development assistance to countries where migration originates to help eliminate some of the reasons people abandon their homes.
Other issues discussed in the synod hall, according to Vatican media personnel, were family spirituality and the importance of the living the faith in everyday life, with one of the Asian bishops saying: “The family that prays together, stays together.”
(That’s actually a quote from the Rev. Patrick Peyton, an American priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order that sponsors the University of Notre Dame, who was the founder of a “Family Rosary Crusade” during the 1950s and 60s.)
As it has been throughout the early stages of the synod, mercy was also a key theme in the discussions held Friday and Saturday.
One bishop suggested that mercy can’t be in opposition to truth, one of the arguments used by conservative bishops who say the Church can’t use mercy as an excuse to change Church teaching while being more welcoming.
According to the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the English aide for the Vatican press office, one of the bishops said that “mercy cannot be encountered unless it’s measured against an eternal law. One must seek truth in order to encounter mercy, and the Church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage.”
Another prelate said that mercy means challenging people, “not covering reality with a gift wrap.”
Other issues brought up by bishops were marriage preparation and the importance of not constricting family issues to marriage alone, according to the Vatican briefers.