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Bishops told to build relationship with people – heart of synodal journey

Catholic bishops of English, Dutch and French-speaking Caribbean dioceses and archdioceses recently held their Annual Plenary Meeting. The following report was submitted by the AEC Secretariat.

A Church of Synodality was the underlying theme of the 66th Annual Plenary Meeting (APM) of the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) that was again held virtually, May 1–5, 2022.

During this meeting, the bishops immersed themselves in deep prayer and reflection through their participation in a one-day retreat, one-day study day, Lectio Divina, focused on the work of the commissions, and updated themselves with a major Vatican document on the restructuring the Roman Curia.

Between all the sessions, they paused for prayer. This was a gentle reminder that it was the Holy Spirit that directs and guides the Church, and our role was to pause to consult and to discern.

Our retreat and study days were directed by Fr Peter McIsaac SJ, with the theme: Listening as Reverence. Explaining that we are made for union with God, he stated that contemplative prayer must become a conscious awareness that God was gaz-ing on us – an experience that would require reverential silence and listening.

He also shared that contemplation must lead to a consciousness of God in others and in creation. Therefore, our desire for union with God must involve personal transformation that leads to a new awareness of others, characterised by just relationships with persons and creation.

This dynamic would have profound implications for our engagement and facilitation of synodality as the renewed way of being church, in the third millennium, for our individual dioceses and the Caribbean region.

An important aspect of the weeklong meeting was the conversation with representatives of the People of God on their own experience of the synodal journey (priest, deacon, lay consecrated, religious, laity, youth, and someone from the periphery).

As they shared their different perspectives, what emerged was a picture that the Synod was a journey upon which we had embarked, one that was underway, but one that needed much attention from all of us if we were to become a synodal Church.

A highlight of the conversation was the testimony of a young woman, Christianna Paul from Dominica, who challenged us that relationship building is at the heart of the synodal journey, and the youths must be included by attentively listening to them.

She also invited us “…to dream of a Church where my generation would be at home and active and joyfully Catholic”.

Our President, the recently appointed Archbishop of Castries, Most Rev Gabriel Malzaire, gave an overview of the past several months of AEC activities which included the appointment and ordination of the new Bishop of Cayenne, Most Rev Alain Ransay.

In his address to the APM, Fr Luciano Labanca, Chargé d’Affaires and the Holy See’s representative, noted that the region was awaiting the appointment of the new Nuncio to replace Most Rev Fortunatus Nwachukwu who started a new assignment at the United Nations (UN) on February 5, 2022.

He encouraged us to sustain fraternal support for brothers in the episcopacy, adding that the impact on the lay faithful would be invaluable.

One of the concrete outcomes of the weeklong conference was the solidarity of the bishops in their policy on disasters and the commitment to support and share tangibly with each other when disasters strike. In addition, they further agreed to share their financials with each other and, where possible, to offer financial support.

In a synodal Church, we all journey together towards Christ and that is what our bishops have demonstrated during the May 2022 week of activities.