Today the list of participants in the XVI Ordinary General Assembly to be held in Rome in October was made public. Momoko Nishimura, a consecrated laywoman from the Yokohama diocese, is among the nine delegates who will direct the work. Among the members appointed by Pope Francis is the Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, but – unlike in 2018 – there will be no prelates from the “official” communities of Beijing.
Vatican City () – A consecrated laywoman from Japan, Momoko Nishimura is among the delegate presidents. Four lay women from Hong Kong, Myanmar, the Philippines and Malaysia are among the ten members proposed by the FABC, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow, among the members personally chosen by Pope Francis. However – despite the 2018 Agreement on the appointment of bishops – there is no bishop from mainland China.
From the point of view of Asia, this is how the list of participants of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops released today by the Vatican Press Office. After the publication of the Instrumentum Laboris a few weeks ago, there was a lot of expectation about the composition of the Assembly that will be called next October to synthesize in two sessions (one this year, the other in 2024) the path on Synodality that put into Pope Francis marches worldwide in 2021. As already announced, there will not only be bishops, but also representatives of the entire People of God (priests, laity and consecrated persons) who have participated in the different stages of the consultation in the last two years.
And it is precisely from this group that the most significant novelty as far as Asia is concerned: Pope Francis has decided to include a woman, a consecrated Japanese laywoman, who is also among the nine delegate presidents of the Assembly: it is about Momoko Nishimura, a consecrated member of the Missionary Community of the Servants of the Gospel of the Mercy of God (SEMD) who lives in Yokohama, where she is a member of the Youth Ministry Committee. Nishimura will turn 48 in a few days, studied at Sophia University in Tokyo and ministered for a few years in Argentina before returning to Japan in 2017. She is the author of the Japanese translation of the Pope’s encyclical “Fratelli tutti” Francisco.
“It is an honor for me to have been named president-delegate for this Synodal Assembly,” she commented in a statement released by the Synod’s secretariat, “I feel very inadequate, but I trust that, with the help of my colleagues, the Spirit will help us guide so that the Assembly is a place of listening and discernment so that the Church can walk together”.
Momoko Nishimura is one of ten members of the group of priests, religious and laity that Pope Francis chose as non-bishop members of the Synod from a list of names suggested by the FABC, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. The other names included in this group are the Hong Kong theologian Vanessa Cheng Siu Wai, the Myanmar laywoman Rosalia Minus Cho Tin, the Franciscan Fr. Joel Casimiro da Costa Pinto, rector of the Catholic University of East Timor, the Malaysian priest Fr. Clarence Devadass, Fr. William La Rousse, Maryknoll missionary in Thailand, where he is a member of the FABC Secretariat, Filipino theologian Estela Padilla, Malay layperson Anna Teresa Peter Amandus, Indian nun Lalitha Thomas and Sri Lankan theologian Fr Vimal Tirimanna.
As for the bishops, the long list includes members by right, those appointed by each episcopal conference and those personally chosen by Pope Francis. Among the first two groups – in addition to all the patriarchs of the Eastern Rite Churches and Card. Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, president of the FABC – there will be another 28 cardinals and bishops appointed by the collegiate bodies of each Asian region. To their names, Pope Francis added only one from the continent: that of the Bishop of Hong Kong, Monsignor Stephen Chow Sau-yan. However, unlike the previous Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the list does not include any bishops from mainland China.
As will be recalled, in October 2018, in the Synod on young people – which was held a few weeks after the first signing of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the Beijing government on the appointment of bishops – two Chinese bishops were able to participate: Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai, Bishop of Chengde (one of the seven “illegitimately” ordained bishops whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Francis) and Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting, Bishop of Yan’ An. Today, on the other hand, Pope Francis it has to rely once again on Monsignor Stephen Chow and on the Church of Hong Kong, which has been a bridge with the Catholic communities in China for decades (as the prelate’s recent trip to Beijing also attests).
The step backwards is evident and eloquently portrays the current state of the Interim Agreement, which was renewed last year, but was then only forcefully followed by Beijing without new appointments being agreed. In this context, the participation of mainland China in a Synod of Bishops, which in 2018 had been possible and presented as a fruit of the Agreement, is no longer possible. In the same way that the bishops of mainland China could not participate in the initiatives of the Asian Churches of the Synod Path or in the Bangkok Conference for the 50th anniversary of the FABC. Beyond his theorizing, the sinicization of religions that President Xi Jinping has increasingly insisted on in recent years also implies this.
In the photo: Momoko Nishimura with Philippine theologian Estela Padilla, two of the six Asian women named among the Synod participants.