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Synodality: The Central Focus Of The Bishops Conference

This year’s 113th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei (CBCMSB) was a momentous event in more ways than one. The assembly of the bishops, archbishops and cardinals was held at the Minor Basilica of St Anne’s in Bukit Mertajam, Penang on 8-12 January 2024, to coincide with Cardinal Sebastian Francis’ Thanksgiving Mass on the occasion of his elevation to the College of Cardinals.

The Bishops’ Conference assembly was graced with the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio of Malaysia, Archbishop Wojciech Załuski, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, a missionary jurisdiction that covers the entire country of Mongolia and the General Secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) Fr William La Rousse.

Cardinal Giorgio expressed his great appreciation and thanks to the Bishops’ Conference for their fraternal support when the Mongolia church was graced with the historic visit of the Holy Father Pope Francis in September 2023. He presented the Bishops’ Conference with a wooden plaque in the shape of the country of Mongolia, with words of thanks and appreciation written on it.

Nuncio Archbishop Zaluski expressed his appreciation for the Bishops’ Conference’s solidarity with the Vatican. He communicated the Pope’s thrust and tireless efforts in speaking out against the wars, human suffering, death and destruction happening globally. He reiterated the Pope’s call for the Church to commit to bring the Gospel message to society, and to be steadfast in upholding pastoral charity.

Fr William La Rousse, a Maryknoll priest based in the FABC’s Central Secretariat office in Bangkok, Thailand, provided an update of directions and thrusts of the Asian Church as it moves toward synodality. He brought with him several publications from the FABC; namely, the FABC General Conference Bangkok Document, the FABC Final Document of the Asian Continental Assembly on Synodality and the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops First Session Synthesis Report.

Fr William reminded the Bishops’ Conference of the follow through effort required in the preparation towards session two of the general assembly of the Synod of Bishops scheduled for October 2024. The worksheets and instructions comprise questions for the local churches to reflect and to respond to the 20 questions and themes considered to be priorities. Each country is requested to elaborate the contributions of the in-depth study received from the local churches, and summarise a report at the national level.

The Bishops’ Conference also held a joint cocktail and dinner with the Conference of Religious Major Superiors (CRMS), followed by a session together the next day. This annual joint meeting serves as a platform upon which the religious communities journey together with the church – clergy and laity. The exchange of ideas, sharing of experiences and support for each other are one of the benefits from these joint meetings.

Joint meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei with the Conference of Religious Major Superiors of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei.

At the joint meeting, it was a great opportunity for many of the religious superiors to openly engage in discussion with the bishops on any pressing matters, or matters that require the bishops’ attention. This open dialogue certainly helps to cement the relationship of the religious communities with the diocesan shepherd in the dioceses they are serving.

President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Archbishop Julian Leow, seated beside President of the Conference of Religious Major Superiors Friar Derrick Yap, OFM, in a lively discussion with all superiors and bishops present.

For the nine dioceses in Malaysia, each bishop then reported on their respective Archdiocesan/Diocesan Pastoral Assemblies (APA/DPA) held in 2023. Everyone expressed positively on the spiritual conversation method (spiritual conversation focuses on the quality of one’s capacity to listen as well as the quality of the words spoken) that was introduced at the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

These diocesan assemblies will lead up to Year 2024, declared as Year of Prayer where the three regions of Semenanjung Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak will come together for their regional assemblies. For the young Catholics in Malaysia, during the Jubilee Year 2025, the Perjalanan Salib Malaysia (Journey of the Malaysian Cross) will begin after the Malaysia Catholic Young People Assembly scheduled in April 2025. This assembly will bring together young Catholics from all the nine dioceses in Malaysia.

The ultimate convergence of all these assemblies will no doubt be the Malaysia Pastoral Convention (MPC) 2026 scheduled to be held in Johor, which will see the convergence of the clergy, religious and laity from all across the nine dioceses in Malaysia where we will meet together as one Malaysian church.

Prepared by Richard Chia, Executive Secretary CBCMSB

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