Synodality and Inculturation in France and the Amazon

La Croix, 3 Dec 2020

Fledgling lay Catholic network in France wants to “continue to work informally”

“Promesses d’Église” (Catholic Promises), created in 2018 in response to the pope’s “Letter to the People of God”, is promoting the further development of synodality in the Church


(Photo: VEGEFOX/STOCK.ADOBE) By- Claire Lesegretain France

Some 40 mostly lay-led Catholic organizations in France joined forces in late 2018 to create a coalition called “Promesses d’Église” or Catholic Promises, with the aim of fighting various forms of abuse in the Church.

It did so in response to the Letter to the People of God that Pope Francis had issued in August of that year.

The network held a virtual, plenary assembly on December 1 to discuss its next steps forward.

Dominique Rouyer, member of the facilitation team and national secretary of CCFD-Terre Solidaire, told La Croix‘s Claire Lesegretain that the coalition is looking to establish local chapters and expand its work on synodality in the Church.

La Croix: The Promesses d’Église platform met by video-conference on December 1. What was the focus of this new meeting?

Dominique Rouyer: There were 75 of us connected, representing about 40 associations, movements and communities — including Bayard (editor of La Croix).

First of all, we went back over the governance proposals presented at our previous meeting on October 15, during which we adopted our charter.

We decided not to form an association right away, in order to continue working informally while respecting certain rules.

Thus, we have chosen not to have a spokesperson, trying to rotate speaking engagements when interview requests are made.

The purpose of this is to retain a diversity of views.

We also worked on synodality, based on the questionnaire on authority sent to the various members in June.

We listened to three talks.

The Conference of Men and Women Religious in France, Catholic Action and the Young Christians’ Rural Life Movement) all explained their decision-making models.

We also asked for input from Jesuit Étienne Grieu.

At our next assembly, on February 2, we will work on service.

This assembly also gave us the opportunity to talk about our meeting with the Catholic Conference of the French-speaking Baptized (CCBF) and to move forward on building local groups.

To this end, we have created a kind of kit for those who would like to start a Promesses d’Église group in their region which is based, for example, on the Letter to the People of God.

Finally, we also presented plans for our new website.

Have you made any progress on synodality?

We intend to make a contribution before the Synod of Bishops’ assembly on synodality, which is scheduled to take place in October 2022 at the Vatican.

We hope to offer some suggestions for the Synod’s preparation by early 2021.

Have you formalized the Promesses d’Église initiative by publishing the list of signatories to your charter?

Yes, you can now check our website for the list of leaders of Church organizations, communities or informal groups who have ratified our charter.

We have also discussed working groups in addition to the one on synodality, notably one that could be created around the former police prefect Yannick Blanc to reflect on the general crisis of institutions and their necessary evolution.

In January, we plan to launch another working group on sexual abuse, with the participation of victims.

This is in anticipation of the extraordinary assembly that the French bishops’ conference will be holding on this issue from February 22-24 in light of the report that the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, is to submit in the fall of 2021.

What are your next deadlines in the short and medium term?

Our next meeting, on February 2, 2021, will mark a third stage in our work on synodality.

We really hope that what we have very strongly experienced as a team of facilitators can be experienced by all the other members.

We are also thinking about a form of plenary assembly that would allow a greater number of participants than just the leaders of the 40 movements that are members.

We are well aware that if we grow, we will need a more structured organization.

Pope encourages creation of Amazonian Mass

Francis shows support for a tailor-made rite for Catholics in the Amazon in the preface of new book on the history of the “Zairean Rite”, the first post-Vatican II inculturation of the Mass


Pope Francis encourages the emergence of a similar approach for the peoples of Amazonia. (Photo by PIERPAOLO SCAVUZZO/PHOTOSHOT/MAXPPP) By- Loup Besmond de Senneville Vatican City

Pope Francis has voiced support for adapting the Church’s liturgy to the culture of believers in the Amazon Region of South America, similar to the way it was inculturated decades ago for Catholics in the African Congo.

He does so in the preface of a book on the history of the “Zairean Rite“, which was created for Congolese Catholics following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

“The Zairean Rite suggests a promising way also for the possible elaboration of an Amazonian Rite,” the pope writes in the new book, which was written by theologian Rita Mboshu Kong and is to be published on December 9.

In his preface, Francis notes that the Zairean Rite “takes into consideration the African way of life and of celebrating solemn occasions […] without upsetting the nature of the Roman Missal, to guarantee continuity with the ancient and universal tradition of the Church”.

“You, our ancestors, be with us at this moment when Christ is coming to save us”

Sometimes referred to as the “Congolese” Rite, this adapted form of the Mass emerged around the Second Vatican Council and the independence of the former European colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.

After more than 30 years of work, the Vatican finally approved the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire in 1988.

It then set down on paper practices such as “dancing around the altar” and “rhythmic movements” that are anchored in Congolese culture.

It also introduced “ancestors of upright heart” into the liturgy.

“You, our ancestors, be with us at this moment when Christ is coming to save us,” says the priest during the Mass.

The pope used these very words on December 1, 2019, when he celebrated the first-ever papal Mass in the Zairean Rite in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was to mark the occasion of the Jubilee of the Congolese chaplaincy in Rome.

The idea for similarly inculturated ritual for Catholics was discussed during the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on the Amazon Region, which took place in October 2109 at the Vatican.

In his preface for the new book, Francis says indigenous peoples must be able to “invoke God, who revealed himself through Jesus Christ with their words, and with their religious, poetic, metaphorical, symbolic and narrative language”.

Already in his apostolic exhortation following “Amazon Synod” (Querida Amazonia), the Latin American pope said inculturation “means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols” (QA, 82).

“The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over 50 years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines,” he then emphasized.

“The liturgy is not a museum”

While the Zairean Rite is the only one that takes into account non-European cultural realities, “there are other adaptations in the Latin Church for ways of celebrating Mass,” explained Dominican Father Dominik Jurczak, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the “Angelicum”) and the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’Anselmo, both in Rome.

For example, there is the Ambrosian Rite, which is used in Milan. And Catholics in northern Portugal celebrate with something called the Rite of Braga.

“A rite is made to allow those who pray to express themselves. The liturgy is, by definition, a moment of encounter with God,” Father Jurczak pointed out.

“For the Church, the liturgy is not a museum where static elements are frozen, but rather it resembles a living organism that can evolve,” he said.

The Dominican professor clarified that it is “obviously not” possible to simply copy the Zairean Rite for Amazonian Catholics.

“But in saying this, the pope reminds us that adaptation is possible. It is not a question of creating a rite ex nihiloor of copying one model from another,” he said.

Pope’s comments reported by official Vatican media

Father Jurczak also pointed out that the process of adaptation is never finished.

“That’s why the missals are regularly revised. One of the reasons is that languages evolve; this is part of the cultural phenomena that the liturgy takes into account,” he explained.

Vatican Media gave special attention to pope’s preface for the new pope and even posted a video of him endorsing liturgical inculturation.

Francis published a motu proprio in 2017 instructing the bishops around the world to “faithfully prepare” liturgical translations.

“The idea is to say that it is the bishops on the ground who are best able to understand the culture of the countries where they are located,” underlined Father Jurczak.

“This is especially true when they are in a mission country,” the liturgist said.

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