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.

- – -

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.

11 Responses

  1. This is a message of hope in a time of sadness in the Church. To welcome — including us adult laity once welcomed in our baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist — at a time when the drumbeat is “a smaller church of homogeneous belief will be better” — is to echo God’s mercy. Jesus welcomed the riff-raff. Our Church has had open arms for the riff-raff for a long time. May it so continue. And may we all work together to share our faith in truth and joy. Thank you, Bishop.

  2. Homogeneneous belief vs welcoming rif-raf? Christ welcomed sinners but he did not alter his teachings to gain acceptance or ask those people who disagreed with him to stick around. We should accept people but we do little favor by failing to teach the faith or asking the people to alter their lives. I come from a faith community where priests walk on egg shells to avoid offending those who hold secular values in order to create a “big tent” faith community. Is that what is required? In this age of the tyranny of relativism is THAT what is meant by the new evangelism? OR is it something else? How do we define rif-raf? Is it the sinner who looks to change his or her life in search of healing or is it someone intent on challanging the teachings of the Church? Is it someone who wishes to work on the challenges of being a Catholic or is it a cafeteria Catholic who storms out of Church when the priest points out something with which he/she happens to disagree?

  3. Dear Jim: How do you define “rif-raf”? I say , all of the above! Who do you give up on? Christ doesn’t give up on anyone. Neither should you or your community.

  4. It’s really sick when your Bishops act like worldly little children as our present administration is. The Bishops don’t realize themselves that God has this all worked out for them and even came to earth to tell them what to do———-HAVE FAITH AND PRAY.
    It’s just that easy and they aren’t putting that message out to the “sheep”.
    PL;EASE GOD ENLIGHTEN YOUR “SHEEP”!

  5. In regards to those living in irregular marriages, they should be encouraged to seek annulments. Often, marriages fail because they weren’t right in the first place. I am one of those who divorced, and with the Church’s help through the annulment process, was able to discover why we hadn’t been “joined by God.” People fear the process, but shouldn’t, because it is very cleansing. No guarantees, of course, but the process helps people truly evaluate conditions before the marriage took place. There is a lie out there that annulments cost a lot of money, but that’s not true. I was told what it would cost the diocese to handle my case, and then told to pay whatever I could–or nothing at all. It was totally up to me, and once I decided what I could afford, I heard nothing more about it.

    I do wonder why people remarry after divorce without first seeking an annulment when they know it’s wrong. Then they complain because they can’t receive Communion. It’s important to do things in right order, and to want to do what God commands. That too needs to be emphasized.

  6. It seems like Catholics who talk about our ‘weaker Brothers & Sisters’ in a way in which they are beneath them in Faith are really just stoning them with their hypercritical judgement as if to justify their good deeds & efforts and that these weaker – lesser? – ones are just trying to cheat their way through their Catholic Faith, thus stepping all over their efforts, making situations somehow unfair/unjustified. What about compassion & emphathy? I know that some here will object to my use of the word “hypercritical.” Concerning marriage, divorce, & adultry: why were these considered an “intrinsical evil” in Jewish society as well as the later Christian community? In a nutshell, I would think because communities back then were extremely small, families were very interconnected, marriages were (for the most part?) prearranged by the parents, and in such a setting these things were truly scandalous if discovered. It certainly could/would upset the harmony of the community through blood retaliation, family fueds, and even just plain old nasty gossiping. So these issues being perceived as intrinsical evils provided a very important social moral order of conduct. Well, here especially in the US, times have changed. Of course I acknowledge that adultry & divorce cause serious damage, but not usually to the community; it is more confined to the family, especially when children are involved. How many stories I have heard concerning serious physical & psychological abuses endured by spouses (& their children) who felt it necessary to “tough it out” because they were afraid of how seeking seperation/divorceit might affect their own relationship to The Catholic Church, and therefore God. In any case, today I find the issues concerning marriage, divorce, & adultry to be very minor when considered with the truly larger SOCIAL issues of corruption, fraud, defamation of character, sexual ABUSE, spiritual ABUSE, lying, cheating, stealing, to name a few. I will say this much: If any Catholic believes that their abiding to all of the laws of The Church has therefore earned them merit for eternal salvation, then, isn’t that good enough? Or is it that there might still be a tinge of jealousy, resentment – maybe even hatred? – that there may be in fact a few Brothers or Sisters in their Church who, somehow, are getting by easy? I don’t know what else to say. When I see a few Church members who are sitting in the pews for Communion – and I don’t honestly know, maybe they aren’t Catholics or are still Catechumens – it always seems to hit me hard in the gut because I just feel like I wish they could be receiving Communion. I agree with Monica S that there are avenues of pursuit for annulment but the fact is that there are unfortunately many Catholics who simply don’t know that these avenues even exist, and probably a lot of them are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek them if they do. I will end with this: The Catholic Church has many rules – many that I do not agree with – that resemble some of those of the Jews that our Lord Jesus disputed, which had maybe been around in Jewish culture for hundreds of years, if not more. It’s NOW 2000 years later; I think that merits some serious consideration for some modest changes in some of the laws of The Catholic Church, like these which I have addressed.

  7. I’ll let someone else define “rif-raf”. I prefer to comment on what it means to “Give up on”? “Giving up on” means failing to deliver the Church’s teachings in their fullness and failure to maintain discipline within the Church. I think many pastors, some of them themselves dissident, gave up on certain teachings long ago and in doing so gave up on the people. Now efforts are being made to push back on other teachings. The organization Catholics United has called the defense of marriage “A far right wing social issue”, criticizing Catholic donations to organizations that support marriage and oppose its redefinition to include same-sex couples. Catholics United called for a halt to financial support for “anti-marriage equality ballot initiatives” in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, states where the issue is on the November ballot. Would it be “giving up” on them to firmly ask that their organization not use the term “Catholic” when what they advocate defies the Catechism, the leadership of our bishops and teaching authority of the Church? Failing to convey the Church’s teachings in fullness and failing to maintain discipline within the Church is “giving up on”. It is not love, it is betrayal just as parents betray their child when they fail to teach and enforce what is acceptable.

  8. Dear Jim: Of course, avoiding the question is not a response . It is always easier to answer your own question. Frankly, I share your view that the Church has a duty to defend the Truth without watering it down, but that is not the issue here. Your comments seem overly judgmental and not quite pastoral. I pray to love the sinner and reject the sin. Ralph G Conte

  9. Bishop Kicanas, that was beautifully and succinctly written. Thank God for your gift and talent. God bless!

  10. regarding “the church and the “truth”:
    In the late 1940s, old manuscripts were discovered buried in one of the caves in Nag Hammadi in Egypt. There’s one manuscript (translated in english) that is available for readers now and that was how I luckily got hold of a copy. This gospel was a collected teachings by Jesus Christ
    compiled by St. Thomas, banned by the first pope, and not included when they made the first bible (Roman Catholic). I was so intrigued by this book, I wanted answers to my “WHYs”. /As I read along, I came upon a passage that is so mind-boggling, I can’t stop pacing back and forth, my whole body was shaking, it was BIG!
    The lines read like this when Jesus’ students posed a question to Him if they too are on their way to the kingdom in heaven:

    Jeshua replied;
    “When you are able
    to make two become one,
    the inside like the outside,
    and the outside like the inside,
    and the higher like the lower,
    so that A MAN IS NO LONGER MALE
    AND A WOMAN, FEMALE,,
    BUT MALE AND FEMALE
    BECOME A SINGLE WHOLE;
    when you are able to fashion
    an eye to replace an eye,
    and form a hand in place of a hand,
    or a foot for a foot,
    making one image supercede another
    —then you will enter in”.

    This TRUTH was kept from us for 2,000 years and was made mankind to believe that homosexuality is wrong, a grave sin, and must be shunned by society.as an abomination.

    I am a new person, TRAnSFORMED!!!!

  11. Why do you assume that’s the truth? If it wasn’t included in the Bible it wasn’t considered inspired, and that means you can’t accept it as truth from God. Jesus entrusted his authority to Peter and the Church, not to some book that, frankly, sounds like gibberish to me. He promised his Church would teach truth; I don’t think he meant we’d have to wait 2,000 years to get it. I think this book will be used by people to justify things not meant to be justified. Homosexuality IS wrong; but homosexual people themselves still have as much dignity and worth as anyone else.

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