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Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 21, 2023
Bishops attend a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 23, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Two bishops from mainland China have been given permission by Beijing to participate in the Synod on Synodality, which opens at the Vatican on Oct. 4. The secretariat for the synod broke the news when it published the final list of the 464 participants at noon today, Sept. 21, along with a calendar of the main synod events.

The secretariat had already published the names of most of the synod participants on July 7, as reported in America. But it did not have confirmation at that time if any Chinese bishops could attend, nor did it have the names of all “the fraternal delegates” designated by the other Christian churches and communities or by other religions. Today, it released that information, and more.

The names of the two Chinese bishops are: Antonio Yao Shun, the bishop of Jining (Wumeng), who was the first bishop to be ordained after the signing of the provisional agreement between the Holy See and China in 2018 on the joint nomination of bishops; and Joseph Yang Yongqiang, the bishop of Zhoucun in Shandong Province, who was ordained in 2010 with the approval of the pope and is currently vice president of the Chinese bishops’ conference.

Two bishops from mainland China have been given permission by Beijing to participate in the Synod on Synodality, which opens at the Vatican on Oct. 4.

Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, O.S.A, the undersecretary of the synod’s general secretariat, said their names were presented to the Holy See by the church in mainland China in conjunction with the governmental authorities in Beijing. Because the Holy See does not recognize the bishops’ conference in China, Pope Francis subsequently approved the bishops as papal nominees to the synod, ensuring they could participate as full voting members.

This means that a total of four Chinese-speaking bishops will participate in the synod, the other two being the Jesuit bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow, chosen by the pope, and Bishop Norbert Pu of the Diocese of Chiayi, Taiwan, elected by the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference (the episcopal conference of Taiwan).

It is the second time that Catholic bishops from mainland China have been allowed by the authorities in Beijing to participate in a synod of bishops. Two bishops, representing mainland China’s 12 million Catholics, were allowed to participate in the synod on young people in 2018.

Bishop de San Martín, presenting the final list of names at a Vatican press briefing, said the synod will have 365 members, “like the number of days in a year”; that includes 364 members with the right to vote, plus Pope Francis, who is president of the synod. Among the full members are 54 women.

The total number of participants at the synod, however, is 464, of whom 81 are women; this number includes experts and fraternal delegates. Furthermore, the 61 experts and facilitators do not have a vote at the synod. The same is true for 12 fraternal delegates who will attend the synod, including from several Orthodox churches and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Anglican communion, the World Methodist Council, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Baptist Alliance, the World Pentecostal Fraternity and the Disciples of Christ.

Notably, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., who completed his service as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 1, has asked to be excused from the synod.

Notably, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., who completed his service as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 1, has asked to be excused from the synod. Cardinal Ladaria had been included in a previous version of the list of synod attendees, published July 7. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has been added to the list.

Giacomo Costa, S.J., the Italian-born special secretary to the synod, presented the calendar of work events for the synod. There will be an ecumenical prayer vigil on Sept. 30, followed by a retreat for all members that will be held outside Rome from the evening of Sept. 30 to the evening of Oct. 3. The retreat will be conducted by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., the English former Master General of the Dominicans, and Maria Angelini, O.S.B., a Benedictine abbess from northern Italy. The synod will officially open with a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on the morning of Oct. 4.

The calendar reveals the methodology that will be followed, whereby over the month-long ecclesial events (Oct. 4-29) members will focus on five modules as outlined in the working document (instrumentum laboris), which was published on June 20. The five modules are: “toward a synodal church,” communion, mission, participation and a synthesis document.

Most of the work will be done in 35 small groups, with 10 or 11 members in each group plus a facilitator, divided according to language and using the methodology of “conversation in the Spirit,” characterized by “shared prayer with a view to communal discernment.” There will also be plenary sessions, at which the small groups will report back to the assembly.

There will be five official language groups at the synod, but a pre-synod survey revealed that English will be the most-spoken language, followed by Italian. As a result of this, there will be 14 small groups in English, followed by eight in Italian, seven in Spanish, five in French and one in Portuguese. Documents will be produced in English and Italian.

When asked if the synod discussions will be “under the pontifical secret,” meaning that participants are required to maintain confidentiality regarding their deliberations, Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Dicastery for Communications who will serve as president of the commission for information, said it is not exactly precise to speak of pontifical secret; it is more correct to speak of “confidentiality” or “reserve,” as is appropriate for an ecclesial event, a spiritual event, that involves conversation in the Spirit. He referred to what Pope Francis had said about this on the plane returning from Mongolia, in which the pope underlined the need for confidentiality and respect for the spiritual process. He also pointed to what the constitution on the synod, “Episcopalis Communio,” promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, states about the synod. He concluded by noting that the regulations for the synod have not yet been published, and so it is not possible to give a final answer to the question.

Mr. Ruffini announced that a press conference will be held on the eve of the synod, but he did not give a date for that.

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