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ROME – It’s safe to presume that after the weekend opening of the two-year synodal path in Rome that most of those who participated in the opening event are sold on the concept.
The two-year process that will include consultations at parish, diocesan, national and continental levels before a summit of bishops in Rome in 2023.
However, not all of those at the opening ceremony at the Vatican originally thought a Synod of Bishops on synodality is necessarily the best idea, with some critics calling it self-referential and others just thinking it is a waste of time and money.
One of those skeptical of the process was French-born Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon, who works in Mosul, Iraq. He took part of the weekend launch at the invitation of French religious sister Nathalie Becquart, under-secretary of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops.
Speaking with Crux, he said that he wasn’t in Rome as a Frenchman, nor a Dominican nor a priest working in Iraq, but because “I didn’t understand the concept of synodality,” and he also feared that it would be “talking about talking, until I read the subtitle: Communion, participation, mission.”
“When I heard about the topic, and the appointment of Sister Nathalie, I congratulated her, because we’re friends, and began criticizing the topic,” he said. “She asked me to give some explanation, and I then realized, she was inviting me to enter in the synodal process.”
Poquillon is now a member of the Synod’s commission on methodology, which exists alongside commissions on communications, theology and spirituality.
“This morning I was really pleased to see people from all over the world who were willing to contemplate, as the pope said, meeting and listening to others, but first listening to God,” the French priest said. “This is not just another gathering, nor is it let’s watch rugby meeting. This is a gathering centered on God and God’s plan to save humanity. It’s a meeting rooted in reality but looking at God, and God is looking at us!”
“Communion is Fratelli Tutti: Humanity is one, and you cannot find a solution for one part of humanity without addressing the rest of it,” he said. “Participation, it’s a personal choice. I can remain in the sidelines, looking at those who are having a hard time and not intervene. But I’m still part of the game, and it’s my responsibility – and choice – as a baptized to get involved. It’s like in the Gospel, you can look at the Lord passing you by or yell with those crucifying the suffering ones. Or you can stand up when stand up when he calls you and follow him.”
“Mission … I believe that God gave his life to save my life, there’s a reason,” he said. “But not everyone knows that they too can be saved, and our actions are not always saving people. We have to act accordingly, take the right steps together, listen to the law together- because I’m not perfect, my understanding of the Lord’s will is not perfect, so I need the others to accompany me and help me approach God’s mercy.”
The Dominican has been given the responsibility for how the synod is lived in his local community, as he’s the chaplain of the foreigners who live in the war-devastated city of Mosul, which is currently being re-built after it was liberated from the Islamic State.
Poquillon works with people from the Asia Pacific region, India, and the West, some of whom are facing very challenging situations.
“I’m really moved by the attitude some of these people have, since the weakest and poorest of my community are the ones who are most engaged, as it’s a place where everyone is welcome,” he said. “They’re praying for the Synod this Sunday!”
He plans to hold listening meetings, in which people can come together and see how to help others to live better lives. It’s not about starting processes, but about life, “living and sharing the happiness of the resurrection in a difficult situation.”
Pope Francis met the French priest when he visited Mosul in March, during the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. Poquillon said he’s convinced the visit had a “very positive impact on Iraq.”
“One of your colleagues, from a very prominent U.S. media, called me, and told me that the pope’s visit was the first time in 20 years following Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf War, it was the first time she was reporting about Iraq on a positive note, and this made her cry,” the priest said. “It was something positive, and Iraqi people were bringing something good to the world, instead of being the suffering ones. The vast majority of Iraqis are Muslims, but all of them participated in welcoming the pope.”
As he was leaving Mosul, Pope Francis stopped the car and greeted a group of children who were playing on a nearby street. Poquillon later asked their grandfather if they knew who he was, to which the man said “no, but we know he was a man of God and he visited us. That was the pope’s visit to Iraq: He opened the door to the weakest, to a suffering people and brought them back within the [global] community.”
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