By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012
VATICAN CITY — The work of the synod continues but another gift of this time together is the opportunity to build fraternity among those participating in the synod. This happens mostly over food in relaxed settings outside the synod meetings.
Last night I had the joy of sharing dinner at the Maronite Center in Rome with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, who lives in Lebanon and is a member of this synod. The Maronite community is one of about 20 Eastern rites in communion with the Holy Father, all represented at the synod.
The patriarch had invited Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Msgr. Ronnie Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and me to join him and Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut, and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, along with Cardinals Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a highly respected expert on the Middle East, and Archbishop Peter Erdo of Budapest in Hungary.
The discussion over supper centered on the struggles in the Middle East and the plight of Christians who live in the land where Christ lived and walked. Will the Israelis and Palestinians ever resolve their conflict? Will the loss of life in Syria come to an end? Will the civil war in Syria spill over into other areas of the Middle East? Who will step in to help resolve the crisis in Syria? Will Christians be driven out of the Middle East?
While none of these questions were resolved, the angst and concern of these religious leaders in the Middle East was clear. There is a need to increase our efforts to advocate with the government of the United States to intensify our effort to support peacemaking in the region. Many innocent have died or been displaced. People are killed, “as if they are sheep.” Tensions intensify. Solutions are elusive. The evening was an opportunity to express our concern for those who are suffering and to hear the cry for peace by these religious leaders.
The U.S. bishops hosted a lunch at the North American College last week for English-speaking bishops participating in the synod. It was an opportunity for bishops from Canada, from England and Wales, from Australia and New Zealand and from Ireland to meet one another, to get to know one another better and to share common concerns. American members of the hierarchy working in Rome were also invited. Likewise, the bishops from Ireland have invited all English-speaking bishops to dinner later this week at the Irish College in Rome.
The USCCB is hosting a reception for all those from the United States who are participating in the synod since the bishops, auditors, experts and fraternal delegates from the States live in different houses and have not yet had an opportunity to come together.
All these events are marvelous occasions to learn about one another in a relaxed setting as we work together in the synod. They are opportunities to discuss matters of common concern and consider ways to work more closely together.
Today Bishop Launay Saturne of the Diocese of Jacmel in Haiti spoke. I was most interested in his reflection in that Catholic Relief Services and American Catholics have had a keen interest in the recovery of this beautiful country so damaged by the devastating earthquake that struck in 2010. Jacmel, next to Port-au-Prince, received the most damage in the aftermath of the earthquake. Bishop Saturne expressed gratitude for those who rushed to assist his country. He reflected on the huge task of recovery that still remains, especially in rebuilding churches and schools. He struggles to find the time to attend to the pastoral needs of the diocese while trying to rebuild facilities. He prays that a diocese might adopt his diocese to assist in the recovery work that remains. He spoke of the depth of the faith in the people who suffered greatly from this natural disaster
Several bishops today spoke of the need to enhance our means of communication. Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, raised a question whether written texts are the best means of communication. He emphasized the need to speak in a language accessible to people, especially those who are poorly catechized or simply not religious.
Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Indonesia spoke also of the need for the church to speak in the language of the people, especially the young. He raised concern about literal translations of texts and indicated that using the response “And with your spirit” means in his culture “And with your evil spirit.” He suggested that translations must be sensitive to cultural nuance or they will fail to communicate the faith.
Most major themes regarding the new evangelization have been identified through the interventions by the synod fathers. We are moving forward to begin the development of propositions in the small groups later this week to give direction for the Holy Father’s post-synodal exhortation. But before that begins, more fraternal delegates and the auditors who have yet to talk have an opportunity today and tomorrow to add their important perspectives.
The fraternal delegates — men and women religious leaders of varied denominations — who spoke today expressed gratitude to the Holy Father for the invitation to take part in the synod and expressed their shared hope for a new evangelization that would transform all religious bodies.
The presence of these ecumenical leaders reminded me of the great joy it has been in the Diocese of Tucson to work with a wide range of religious leaders on the issue of immigration. We have found a common ground for working together as Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all of whom have an understanding of the stranger as a brother and sister to be treated with dignity and respect. We have prayed together. We have stood in solidarity at the border. We have learned together. We experienced communion and a shared mission that transcended denominations.
We gather at this synod in communion with people of other faiths. Such experiences of communion, Frater Alois of the Taize Ecumenical Community, reminded us today, are powerful experiences for the young. The division of Christians is a scandal but when we come together in communion, the youth find trust and what it means to be a person of faith. “Faith can be born wherever there is an experience of communion,” Frater Alois noted.
As we gathered in the afternoon today, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, interrupted the synod session to announce that it had been suggested to Pope Benedict XVI that a delegation of synod fathers should make a trip to Damascus, Syria, to show solidarity with those who are suffering from the violence and those who have been displaced from their homes and are living in fear. Cardinal Bertone announced that among those who would travel there probably next week would be Cardinal Tauran and Cardinal Dolan, who were present at our dinner the night before when we discussed the tragic situation in Syria.
This is a welcome gesture on the part of the Holy See since the violence in Syria causes deep concern for all of us. While the international community has not been able to stop the violence, the church by this delegation of bishops from many countries can bring the world community’s solidarity and support to the Syrian people.
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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.