Inside the synod: Seeking a church that can transform the world

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

VATICAN CITY — We enter the last two days of the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. It’s a time when the results of all the presentations, discussions, and recommendations come together in two documents:

  • The message.
  • The booklet of propositions to be given to the Holy Father for his post-synodal exhortation.

It is the final days as well for interventions by auditors and fraternal delegates who have not yet spoken.

The message is the public document that communicates, for all on every continent, the focus of the synod’s work done on the invitation of the Holy Father “in order to sustain and direct the preaching and teaching of the Gospel in the diverse contexts in which the church finds herself today to give witness.”

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, left, speaks with a cardinal before a meeting on the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The image used in the message read to us today is “the Samaritan woman” who was thirsting for meaning and purpose, just as all of us. This synod challenges the church to intensify her efforts to revive and renew the faith as that which will satisfy our thirst. The encounter with Christ is what will give meaning to those searching.

The efforts of this synod will be realized, through God’s grace, when we become an even more welcoming church that gives witness by our love for one another. Holiness in the hearts of all believers moves others to discover the joy that comes in knowing Christ.

As the text of the message was read in varied languages represented by the bishops who formulated it, one could hear the conviction and longing in them that the work of the new evangelization, guided by the Spirit, will take hold in the church. My thoughts, as I listened, went back to the days after the Second Vatican Council, whose anniversary we celebrate in this Year of Faith. I remember the enthusiasm and new energy that permeated the church after that council. That defines the very same longing and desire of all gathered in the synod, a new Pentecost.

All want the church to be a joyous community that is the “bearer of light.” All want the church to transform the world, to permeate our society with the message of the dignity and worth of every human being. All want the church to be engaged in works of charity serving the needs of the poor, to support families, to care for the young, to re-energize all in the church that all might proclaim Christ and, by our witness, inspire others to meet Christ.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., second from right, attends a meeting of the synod Oct. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The document speaks to many pastoral concerns. Before coming to the synod, I spoke to the priests serving on our Presbyteral Council. I asked them what concerns in their parish work should be brought to the synod. They expressed as pastors their deep concern for couples in irregular situations because of the failure of a previous marriage. I was encouraged to hear in the message the concern of the church. “To all of them (those in irregular marriage situations) we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the church loves them, too, that the church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist.” We need to continue to explore  ways to respond to this painful situation for divorced and remarried in keeping with the Lord’s teaching on the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

The message speaks up strongly on the importance of religious freedom and the freedom of conscience. In far too many places around the world people still suffer and even lose their lives in professing their faith. The synod calls the world to a tolerance and respect for all religions and expressions of faith. That was certainly a recurring longing expressed in the synod.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, looking up from booklet, participates in an opening prayer during a meeting of the synod Oct. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The message upholds the preeminence of care for the poor, “placing ourselves side by side with those who are wounded by life…. We must recognize the privileged place of the poor in our communities, a place that does not exclude anyone, but wants to reflect how Jesus bound himself to them. The presence of the poor in our communities is mysteriously powerful: it changes persons more than a discourse does…. The social doctrine of the church is integral to the pathways of the new evangelization…”

There is much to contemplate and reflect upon in this message. While the document has been translated into the five official languages of the synod — Italian, German, Spanish, French and English — effort will be made to make translations for many of the regions represented at the synod.

The experience of the synod reminds me of the need for us in the United States to learn different languages, which is common for people from around the world. It is important to emphasize language learning for the young. We remain much too content to know English, which is not sufficient in our global community.

As the religious and laity — many young, many women — spoke their interventions today, they covered again a wide range of issues, oftentimes speaking not in abstract ways but from their own concrete efforts and experiences, to make the faith live.

Chiara Amirante works in Rome with marginalized youth addicted to drugs and sex, those whose lives are burdened, unfree. She is working in the street where there is desperate need. She is inviting these young people to know Christ and find a freedom and joy that eludes them. She has had much success.

Cardinals and bishops from around the world attend a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Dr. Ernestine Sikujua Kinyabuuma, a member of Focolare who is a university teacher, spoke of her work with college students. She spoke of sending a small text every day encouraging each other in the living of the faith. We need daily reminders. She spoke of her efforts with her students to lead them to Christ by her witness not by her words.

Some of the laity spoke of the need to awaken the laity, a sleeping giant. They have great talent and creativity. Entrust them with the task of awakening this new evangelization. As I listened I felt great hope that the laity, who hold a deep love for the church, have much to offer in the work of the new evangelization.

Many references, including one by Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, were made about the importance of the family in transmitting the faith. Clearly we need to do more to support families and help them address the many challenges they face.

I leave the synod grateful for the opportunity to meet bishops, religious, clergy and laity from all over the world, certainly the greatest gift. I leave the synod eager to instill a new ardor in the Diocese of Tucson, seeking new expressions and new methods of making the faith live which will draw others to Christ. I leave the synod with a determination to work with my co-workers in the vineyard of the diocese to encourage the coming to life of the new evangelization in this Year of Faith.

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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.

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