By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series
Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012
VATICAN CITY — One of the joys of the synod is the opportunity to meet bishops from other countries and experiences and to hear about the life of their local churches.
On my right at this synod is Bishop Gabriel Akwasi Ababio Mante of Jasikan, Ghana. He was the founding bishop of the diocese 17 years ago. It is a remote diocese in a rural area. When he began he had to travel 32 miles to make a phone call. There are about 120,000 Catholics in the diocese. There are 14 parishes and 41 priests. Most people are farmers and some have livestock.
The church is very poor. For a long time they depended on money from countries in Europe, but that is shrinking. Only teachers and a few government workers receive a regular salary. There is no industry. The great need is for financial support. There is a need for income-generating efforts so the diocese can become more self-supporting.
The bishop has established two hospitals and a clinic since medical resources are so limited. Thirty-five percent of health care in the country is done by the church.
Education in the region is weak. They have one Catholic school. It is very hard to do character formation unless you have a boarding school. The bishop is interested in starting a girls’ high school. There are no schools for girls and the need is great.
The commitment and faith of the people is weak even sometimes among priests. Clearly the bishop faces many challenges with very limited resources. We can take for granted the many blessings we have.
On my left is Bishop Julio Cesar Teran Dutari, a Jesuit who is the bishop-emeritus of Ibarra in Ecuador, now serving as the administrator of Santo Domingo de los Colorados, Ecuador. He is very knowledgeable of language and unlike most of us, except for the Holy Father, he does not use a headset to hear translations because he is comfortable in all the languages of the synod. He was a professor of philosophy and theology at the Catholic University in Quito. He was the dean of the School of Theology there before becoming the rector of the same university.
He was then asked to be the auxiliary bishop of Quito, where he served for nine years before becoming the bishop of Ibarra, where he served seven and a half years before retiring. He became administrator in Santo Domingo seven months ago.
There is no break in the synod on Saturday. During the morning we heard 26 continuous five-minute interventions. While we might feel overwhelmed and weary with so many interventions, the Holy Father at 85 sat through the same number of comments with close attention, even from time to time taking notes. In the afternoon we listened to another 24 five-minute interventions for a total of 50 today. Some of this vast number of interventions drew my attention.
Several interventions underscored the close relationship between the new evangelization and the church’s social teaching. It was asserted that it is essential that the church be committed to the poor and marginalized and that commitment inspires others to embrace Christ.
When one cares for the other, it draws people to Christ. Pastoral works of charity are alive and an instrument of evangelization. Those who receive the testimony of charity are moved to the faith. People are struck by the church’s self-less concern for others. We make known through works of charity the God who is charity. The Scriptures were quoted, “By this will people know you are my disciples, by the love you show others.” As Pope Benedict has said, when one becomes aware that God loves me that one can love others. Charitable activity of the church is not about proselytizing but living as Christ lived, serving and healing others. In Latin America and the Caribbean living the social gospel has played a critical role addressing poverty and inequality. This doctrine has led to hope. It is important the church ratify the preferential option for the poor.
Another intervention commented on the need to address the purification of popular piety which, while it can foster faith, can slip into superstition. It falls upon the priest to educate and form the community to foster true popular piety while maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist and the sacraments.
Some comments reflected on the importance of mass media as a great opportunity and support to spread the gospel. There needs to be a larger Christian presence in modern media. It can be an instrument to carry the teaching of the church and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
Some bishops spoke of the new agents of evangelization — the youth. Youth must evangelize youth. They also called for an expanded role of the laity in realizing the new evangelization. It was said that the laity must be more courageous and forthright in proclaiming the Gospel and its values. We must understand better the secular culture and engage it, especially by the efforts of the laity.
One bishop called for increased dialogue between Christians and Muslims respecting the rights of all as full citizens of their countries. Now there are only secret conversions for Muslims to become Christian. There are unjustified aggressions against Christians. There must be a true Arab spring that brings peace and harmony.
Some introduced a discussion of the age of Confirmation, a neuralgic issue in the church. Some felt the linkage of the sacraments of initiation should be restored while others felt it was important to prepare young people for the Sacrament of Confirmation when they are more mature and can truly embrace the faith. In fact there appears to be no time when the order of Sacraments of Initiation was common across the church. The need for mystagogia in the U.S. for the young is so important and makes a person catechized to receive the sacrament.
We have been listening to a wide range of directions for realizing the new evangelization from the importance of family, the parish, small-faith communities, movements, the catechist, to the need to evangelize the evangelizers including seminarians and priests, to the importance of mass media to communicate the church’s message, to the centrality of works of charity, to the youth as the new evangelizers, to the need to empower the laity to transform the world, to the need for increased inte religious dialogue. Clearly these themes are important.
Yet the challenge we face is how to make these themes live, how to bring them into action in order to realize a new evangelization. While we need to be faithful to the faith we hold dear, I believe the call for new ardor, new methods, and new expressions call us to be bold or we will not realize the dream we have for the new evangelization.
Can we fully empower the laity? Some have said they are a sleeping giant. Can we awake the giant? Can we move away from polarization and division within the household of faith to focus our energy on the mission entrusted to us? Can we intensify our witness to charity and justice in all parts of the world? Can we as bishops and priests fully embrace the faith we profess? Can we give women more significant roles in the life of the church that do not require ordination? We are invited to consider many other changes in fidelity with our faith. I look forward to the small groups as a place where the synod participants can find bold and faithful directions that will bring new ardor, new methods and new expressions to the faith we love and that needs a new Pentecost.
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Bishop Kicanas, of Tucson, Ariz., is chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services and is a former vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee, he is blogging from the world Synod of Bishops this month by special arrangement with Catholic News Service. He was elected an alternate delegate to the synod by the U.S. bishops and became a full delegate when Cardinal Francis E. George was unable to attend.