Inside the synod: Auditors speak, Christian/Islam concerns, and Cardinal Wuerl sums up the synod so far

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The preacher for today’s prayer opening the synod’s day was Bishop Edward Hilboro Kussala, the first bishop of the new country of South Sudan. There was much joy at the establishment of South Sudan and the beginning of a time of peace in an area torn by war and violence.

Regretfully, the enthusiasm of that day that marked a new free state has been dampened by continued violence, Bishop Kussala spoke of courage, a quiet courage that continues to work confidently and to live joyfully despite obstacles, despite setbacks, despite forces that disrupt and destroy. Bishop Kussala witnesses such courage in his service in South Sudan. Some of the bishops present in the synod hall live in danger, serve amid violence, struggle to minister in a local church in tension and in turmoil. We admire them. We learn from them. We pray for them.

Final interventions were made today, some by auditors. Auditors are men and women, religious, a deacon, lay women and men who have been invited by the Holy Father to participate in the synod either because of their founding or involvement in organizations focused on evangelization or because they bring a particular pastoral focus to the gathering.

One clear emphasis of the auditors and the intervention today by Bishop Winston Fernando of Sri Lanka was the important role of the laity in the new evangelization. The laity need to be empowered to transform the world. Clergy on their own cannot realize this new evangelization.

Manoj Sunny, founder of Jesus Youth, was an engineer by profession but for a number of years has devoted his life to evangelization. Yesterday he called for catechesis of the laity so they can be sent forth to bring the Gospel to all. He asked for the formation of full-time lay missionaries.

Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, president of International Union of Superior Generals, spoke of people who are alienated from the church, hurting, and on the margin. They need pastoral care and support. The church must become more pastoral and less judgmental. “Can we enter into the pain of our people?” She reminded the synod of the role of religious in serving the needy, bringing back the alienated.

It struck me that the few auditors who spoke communicated with a different kind of language, accessible and concrete. They spoke from specific examples and life experiences, including their own experiences that connect with the listener. The laity can help us learn how to communicate better and to get our message across more effectively. It was clear that the auditors are laity who care about and love the church and want to assist the church in its new evangelization. We should feel very blessed by their presence among us and strive to find ways to empower them to lead in the new evangelization. It was disappointing that more of the auditors could not speak because of a lack of time, but they will engage with us in the small groups.

Again today synod fathers spoke of the relationship between Islam and Christianity. It has been a recurring and troubling theme that preoccupies many bishops from Muslim nations. While at times the religions work together, value and respect one another, at other times Christians feel they are second-class citizens in Muslim countries. They are merely tolerated or are persecuted. Sometimes Christians feel Muslim states wish they would leave and move to the West. Yet this is their home, a place where they have lived for generations. The question was raised whether evangelization is possible in Islamic countries where conversion is against the law. Bishop Kyrillos William of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt emphasized the need for Christians to live their faith and to be proud of their contributions to the society. They can witness the values of their faith which  can inspire others to embrace Christ.

This theme of the relations between Muslims and Christians needs serious attention, intensified dialogue between the two faiths, and a concerted effort to address fundamentalism and violent elements in both faiths.

Bishop Paul Desfarges of Algeria the other day quoted the Emir Abdel Kader, the son of a patriarchal chief of an Arab tribe in Algeria. The emir was born in 1806 in Mascara near Algeria. His family was Muslim and his father took him to Mecca when he was 8. His Muslim faith was deep in his heart. He said “fear that man who fears not God.” Although he fought against Christians  he was concerned for his Christian prisoners and called upon a priest to attend to them spiritually. Bishop Desfarges mentioned that the emir’s understanding of conversion of Christians or Muslims should be seen as going from God to God from the embrace of God to the embrace of God. Clearly this stands in opposition to some attitudes toward conversion and the importance of freedom of conscience.

Today provided an opportunity for Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, relator general for this synod, to draw together the varied interventions that marked the substance of our time together so far. He has been listening carefully, taking occasional notes, organizing the messages into categories, forming an outline of what contributes to the new evangelization. The summary is presented in Latin and a bound copy is given to each participant. This document guides the formulation of propositions that will be the work of the small groups that begins tomorrow. He has taken the various individual broad brush strokes made by the synod fathers and drawn them into a portrait of what, we pray, will realize a new evangelization.

In his presentation Cardinal Wuerl recalled experiences the synod fathers have had from the liturgies we celebrated with the Holy Father to the moving words of the pope at the opening reflection on ‘confessio’ and ‘caritas’ during morning prayer. At this synod we have already had a number of shared experiences that have given direction to this synod.

He reflected on four themes that became apparent in the interventions:

  • The Nature of the New Evangelization.
  • The Context of the Church’s Ministry Today.
  • Pastoral Responses to the Circumstances of the Day.
  • Agents/Participants of the New Evangelization.

He raised questions for the synod’s further work on realizing a new evangelization. He underlined that “it is God who speaks and acts in history” and that “evangelization is at the very heart of the church.” He underscored the “vital participation of every Catholic …  in the mission of evangelization.” While we say this, the challenge is how to bring this into the consciousness of every Christian, that they bear a responsibility to evangelize, to care for the poor, the sick, those with disability, to be Christ in the world today.

In our Diocese of Tucson as in so many dioceses, most Catholics are at best Sunday observers. They do not bring their faith into daily and active involvement in proclaiming Christ in their homes, places of work, and in the community. How can we engage them in their responsibility to make their faith central to their lives? How can we get Catholics more engaged in the social mission of the church?

A challenge for the synod fathers is to understand how we might better catechize the people, deepen their knowledge of the faith and their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. All of us struggle with this challenge. So few people take part in adult faith formation. We have so little time with young people in religious education classes and in our Catholic schools. Can we find more effective ways of communicating the faith, especially with the young?

Cardinal Wuerl reminded us of what we know so well, that “parishes … are the recognized place where … the life of the church unfolds.” Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk wrote a book in which he said the parish is the place where our people live. I see this in our diocese. Some feel their faith is deeply nourished by their parish and some feel their spiritual lives are left barren in their parish.  If only we could make every parish alive and thriving.

Within the parish, the role of the catechist, the family, the laity and the priest are preeminent. Cardinal Wuerl raised the question whether this is the time to give the catechist an instituted, stable ministry in the church? “How might the church better support and guide the family in its crucial ministry in their responsibility for the transmission of the faith and human values?” “How can the church more fully integrate the laity in the organization of the local church?” “How can the church foster a renewed missionary imperative to the ministry of priests?” How can seminaries form a generation of priests intent on evangelization?

In the open discussion following Cardinal Wuerl’s presentation, bishops identified several areas that were not sufficiently addressed in the summary, namely the role of religious, the role of theologians, the importance of liturgy in evangelization, reviving the sacrament of penance, the need for an exact definition of evangelization, the place of prayer in realizing the new evangelization, the need for the conversion of the church, the importance of beauty and contemplation as a means to evangelization, the positive role of the world in evangelizing, the benefits and blessings of Islam and the participation of ecumenical bodies.

Now the most important work begins, finding strategies to address these biting questions and move the church to a new evangelization.

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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.

Cardinal’s peace efforts lauded by interfaith understanding organization

Cardinal McCarrick joins with other religious leaders in this CNS file photo.

Between fall trips to Africa and South America, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick , the technically “retired” archbishop of Washington, stopped long enough in Washington to be honored Oct. 10 for Extraordinary Commitment to Peace by an organization that’s itself an active force for peace through understanding, the Rumi Forum.

The Rumi Forum has for 13 years aimed to foster interfaith and intercultural dialogue, through dialogue, seminars, scholarships, study opportunities, travel and other activities.

In honoring Cardinal McCarrick, the forum cited his long work on various national and international bodies, as a human rights advocate, and his emphasis on education and meeting the needs of new immigrants. The annual awards dinner also honored Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and two State Department employees –- Hannah Rosenthal, special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, and Farah Anwar Pandith, special representative to Muslim communities — with prizes for Extraordinary Commitment to Public Service, and Ajla Delkic, executive director of the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Extraordinary Commitment to Peace Building – Youth Award.

In brief comments as he accepted the award, Cardinal McCarrick said the honor was sincerely appreciated at a time when simply talking to people and working to understand one another is a necessary and too-rarely attempted necessity.

He paraphrased the 13th-century Sufi philosopher and poet for whom the forum is named, Mawlana Jalaladdin Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but to seek the barriers inside yourself which form barriers to love.”

That philosophy meshes well with that of another 13th-century religious leader, St. Francis of Assisi, Cardinal McCarrick said. St. Francis also was known for what today would be considered interreligious dialogue, in particular for his time spent with a Muslim ruler, Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, on a quest for peace at the time of the fifth Crusade.

The Rumi Forum’s principles are broad:

 We have no one particular agenda and no inherent ideology, other than respect and genuine concern for the spiritual quality and welfare of life on this planet of ours.

We are a nonpartisan organization; however, in principle, we support activities pertaining to the better service to humanity, such as promoting conflict resolution within and between nations. As such, we are committed to universal values of freedom, justice, democracy and the rights of all living beings.

And its advisory board is a veritable Who’s Who of interfaith understanding, including a handful of former ambassadors; Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian clergy; and academics from Georgetown University, American University, Johns Hopkins, Catholic University of America, George Mason University and George Washington University.

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