Inside the synod: Deliberating on the new evangelization, and applause for a young catechist

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Iraq, reflected on today’s reading at our morning prayer. I came to know Bishop Warduni when I visited Baghdad recently on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Warduni speaks with passion and lives with courage in a land torn by violence. I remember well his impassioned plea to me that the United States help in the recovery of a land that suffers from the ravages of war and has become racked by divisions.

Bishop Warduni in today’s meditation called the synod to work together to awaken faith. He challenged us to be courageous in living our faith and announcing the Good News. He spoke not just with words but the witness of his life.

Today we heard reports from the small groups that met all day yesterday. Each group reporter had 10 minutes to summarize their group’s deliberations, which are meant to help the synod fathers formulate propositions for presentation to the Holy Father. Among the points identified in these wide-ranging discussions are the following:

-There is a need to clarify the meaning of the new evangelization. Is it only reaching out to those active in the church seeking a deepening of their faith? Does it reflect concern for those who have not yet known the Lord? Is the new evangelization only for those countries long steeped in the faith? Wouldn’t it be better to speak of renewal evangelization? There are three receivers of the new evangelization: those who are believers and want to deepen their relationship with Christ and his church, those who have grown distant from the church, and those who have not met Christ. Continue reading

Youth merge marketing & new media to spotlight their newest saint

VATICAN CITY — Move over Flat Stanley, there’s a new kid in town.

His name is “Pedrito” and his goal is to reach the four corners of the Earth, helping people learn about the Catholic faith and get closer to God.

Pedrito, of course, is a doll-version of soon-to-be Saint Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teen catechist killed in Guam in the 17th century.

People who have purchased the limited-edition of the small doll (it’s a little more than one-foot tall) are asked to take photos of him wherever he may be in the world and upload them to a special page on Facebook. People can also track him with geo-mapping or follow his journey to sainthood on www.sanpedrocalungsod.com

The idea comes from a special team of young people who work on the New Media Committee of the communications office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. From their site:

In a YouthPinoy! interview, New Media Committee head Eilleen Esteban explained how Pedrito is meant to adapt the very Pinoy culture of “picture-picture” by having Pedrito meet pilgrims, have his picture taken with them and post them on social media as part of a geo-tagging tracking of his whereabouts.

Being true to Bl. Pedro’s quality of dynamism and energy, ‘mini Pedro’ has been moving around Rome – riding the Italian metro trains and buses ― nearly non-stop since touching down yesterday.

Image

The new media team we met today at the Vatican Press Office gave their Pedrito his own “iPad.” They said it’s obvious he’d have one because “he is the saint of the youth” and even though he died in the 17th century, “he is a saint for the 21st!”

People can also follow Pedrito and the new media team’s coverage of the canonization on twitter @jpcalungsod or on Facebook at FilipinoSaintPedroCalungsod.

Brooklyn bishop off to Haiti to see reconstruction progress

Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, N.Y., will get his first look at church-led reconstruction in Haiti when he visits several projects next week.

He will be representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during his Oct. 22-25 visit to three projects west of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Specifically, the projects on the bishop’s schedule include the new St. Francis of Assisi Church in Grand Goave, Our Lady of Angels School in Leogane and the IDEPH diocesan school in Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast.

The projects are being completed under the auspices of PROCHE, or Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti, which was formed in collaboration with the Haitian bishops’ conference, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated about 20 percent of Haiti’s geography.

St. Francis of Assisi Church already hosted its first Mass Oct. 4, the feast day of the saint. Auxiliary Bishop Glandas Toussaint of Port-au-Prince presided at the liturgy, which was broadcast on Haitian television.

PROCHE continues to review reconstruction and repair projects across the earthquake zone. Jacques Liautaud, Haiti manager in the U.S. bishops’ Office of National Collections, told Catholic News Service that 37 projects are in the pipeline, most of which are in the planning or design stage.

“This should give us a good feeling because we’re making progress,” Liautaud said.

Church agencies, including U.S. parishioners donating through a special collection conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Church in France and Adveniat, the German bishops’ agency for solidarity in Latin America, have about $70 million available for reconstruction. That’s less than half of the $150 million estimated in 2011 needed to rebuild parishes and schools, Liautaud said.

As projects are completed, Haitian and American planners involved in the reconstruction effort hope to leverage additional funds for future undertakings.

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.

- – -

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.

Inside the synod: Worries about the Middle East, and enhancing our means of communication

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?

The group that gathered for dinner hosted by Patriarch Rai in Rome Oct. 15. (Photo courtesy Bishop Kicanas)

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.

- – -

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.

CRS explains how it upholds Catholic teaching, values

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid and development agency, has explained — once again — that it upholds Catholic teaching as a pro-life organization “dedicated to preserving the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

Fedlen Philio plants a mango tree with a youth group encouraging sustainable development in Kafou Kols, Haiti. The group received support from Catholic Relief Services to plant and raise trees in their community. (CNS/Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services)

post on the CRS Newswire examines the agency’s role in providing food, emergency relief and disaster assistance around the world, and defends its partnerships with other relief groups, including those that do not share the full realm of Catholic values, in an effort to better serve the world’s poor and marginalized. It explains that when working in coalitions with other organizations in a program that is does not align with church teaching, CRS does not participate.

“Our membership in these coalitions gives us a platform to present effective methods and procedures that demonstrate the efficacy of Catholic approaches to health and family planning,” the post says.

John Rivera, the agency’s director of communications, who wrote the post, told Catholic News Service the clarification has been on the CRS website for about a month and is refreshed regularly to keep it in the forefront for new readers.

The post makes clear that the statement was developed in response to a “coordinated series of attacks condemning aspects of our work, our partners, professional associations and even some of our employees” over the summer.

“We want to be clear that we are open to and welcome correction, presented to us by people and organizations who offer it in the spirit of Christian charity and with the intention of helping us to live the Gospel mission of serving he poorest of the poor around the world,” Rivera wrote.

The online statement acknowledges that CRS employs diverse staff members, not all of whom are Catholic. It also explains that all employees receive “instruction on Catholic teaching and its manifestation in our work” during orientation to the agency.

In the post’s final segment, Rivera outlines the process used in producing resources and materials for various audiences.

Inside the synod: Modern-day martyrs can transform the faith

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Monday, Oct. 15, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The synod fathers returned after a welcome free day. Interventions continue. Bishops speak from their experience and the realities in their dioceses. The most moving comments for me come from bishops serving in the persecuted church, where suffering for the faith exists. The interventions spoke both of the blood of martyrs as the seed for the growth of the faith and the need to guarantee the right of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, the ability to express one’s faith publicly without fear of retribution.

Today, again, a number of bishops spoke of suffering that strengthened faith in their countries.

Cardinal Joseph Bozanic, the archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia, spoke of the priests, religious, and above all the laity in his country who gave their lives for Christ. Martyrs give the most striking witness to the faith and move others to embrace Christ. While we read of the early martyrs and their heroism, we become inspired most by those who witness Christ by the shedding of their blood in our times. This happens in too many places today.

Bishop Virgil Bercea of Romania spoke of the 12 bishops and many Catholics who died for their faith in his country, but the church has been transformed by their suffering. These martyrs and evangelizers became “icons” calling the country to a renewed faith.

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, recalled the destruction of innocent human life under the cruel and violent Khmer Rouge regime. Out of this suffering the church is taking root in Cambodia.

In July, I visited Phnom Penh for Catholic Relief Services. We visited the killing fields and stood stunned by the atrocities that happened in this country. We stood in silence before the tower of skulls of men, women, and children slaughtered by those with little regard for the dignity of human life.

Yet in the wake of such senseless, brutal violence, our visit with Bishop Olivier introduced us to a church in Cambodia coming to life after the massacre of people. Bishop Olivier has established a college in the rural area to educate a new generation of young people, both Christian and those of other faiths. They can study English, agriculture, tourism and IT that will help them in the future. He is providing a path to self-sufficiency for the young and opening them to the interest and concern of the church.

We saw the church in Phnom Penh caring for the elderly, children with disabilities, those living on the margins, a caring church.

In his intervention, Bishop Olivier spoke of the laity as the new evangelizers. He called for a simple church attentive to the poor and the uneducated, a welcoming church that accepts the different, those others reject. He reminded us that we need to be a church that prays. “I look at Him and He looks at me.”  Finally we need to be a joyful church. Our visit to Phnom Penh introduced me to a simple, welcoming, praying and joyful church that has come alive out of a suffering people.

Several interventions today spoke of the restrictions to religious liberty that exist in too many places. Some Christians today live in fear for their lives in practicing their faith. Inviting others to encounter Jesus Christ is forbidden.

A bishop from Africa spoke of the dangers of fundamentalist religious groups who make the practice of the Christian faith difficult, if not impossible. This was affirmed by interventions from Pakistan and Syria. The church lives confined and imprisoned, restricted and endangered.

Recently Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, and I visited Baghdad, Iraq, hosted by Bishop Shlemon Warduni, a Chaldean bishop also present at this synod. We stood in the center of the bombed Church of Our Lady of Deliverance,  the Syriac Catholic Church in the heart of Baghdad  We saw on the walls bloody hand marks, on the ceiling the impression of an automatic weapon indented there by a bomb the terrorist used to blow himself up while holding his weapon. We saw the baptistery where many innocent Christians lost their lives when a terrorist broke in and blew himself up, killing all who were hiding there.

Such acts of terrorism terrify. They lead to Christian families fleeing to safeguard their lives and that of their families.

Recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held a symposium in September at Catholic University in Washington on the topic of religious liberty. It raised the importance of this issue in our world today. It emphasized the need for increased dialogue between religions so that we might all live in harmony with respect for one another and the right to practice one’s religious freedom. The symposium called upon governments to protect and defend the right of religious liberty.

The topic is sensitive and complex, yet important to address in discussing the new evangelization. We need to value and respect all religions. We need to expect that other religions show reciprocal respect for the Christian faith. We need to acknowledge the right of people to change their faith without fear of retribution.

Bishop Joseph Absi of Syria spoke of some young Muslims who became Christian because they found in the Christian faith a joy and freedom they treasured. They met a God known as Father who loved them unconditionally. Such conversions should not be seen as a rejection of one’s previous faith for which the person should be punished or rejected.

Religious liberty was one of the compelling messages of Vatican II expressed in Dignitatis Humanae. Fifty years hence in places all around the world people of faith experience suffering, even death, for practicing their faith. Fifty years hence people’s right of religious freedom is still threatened by governments and even people of faith. Clearly the church must continue its forthright advocacy as well as respectful and determined dialogue on behalf of religious liberty, a fundamental human right. There is an urgent need to intensify interreligous dialogue leading to reciprocal respect for all religions and an end to violence between faiths.

The challenges and opportunities to realize the new evangelization are varied and profound as has been described vividly these days by the synod fathers in their interventions. Now it is incumbent on the synod fathers to begin exploring ways to address the challenges with concrete strategies. As courage and creativity are demanded to address the challenges to religious liberty, as was discussed today, so courage and creativity will be necessary if we will realize a new evangelization. Business as usual will result in a new evangelization in name only but not in a renewal of faith that inspires others to encounter Jesus Christ.

- – -

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.

YouTube makes its synod debut — clip gives rise to objections

UPDATE: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, apologized to the synod members last night for having asked that the YouTube clip be shown.

There are no written texts of the synod’s evening discussions, but Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English-language press officer for the synod, said Cardinal Turkson told the assembly that he “never meant to hurt people, cause harm, scare people or to stir up things as he did and he apologized for that.”

Father Rosica said several bishops spoke about the clip again last night. “There were questions. Most of the concern was that the facts weren’t right,” Father Rosica said.

 

VATICAN CITY — The screening of an anonymous YouTube clip about the decline of Christian populations in Europe and North America and the growth of the continents’ Muslim community launched heated debate and some serious objections at the Synod of Bishops Saturday evening.

A cardinal who works in the Vatican asked that the 7-and-a-half-minute video be shown to bishops at the synod, according to the Vatican press office.

The video, posted on YouTube in 2009, makes claims such as, “In just 39 years, France will be an Islamic republic.”

The clip ends by telling people, “The world is changing; it’s time to wake up.”

Officials from the council of European bishops’ conferences said the film’s premise is based on faulty statistics and they would provide synod members with accurate figures on birth rates in Europe, and the religious make-up of the continent’s population.

The video was shown at the beginning of Saturday evening’s “open discussion” in the synod hall. The synod’s English-language briefing officer, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, told reporters about the film and reaction to it, but in keeping with synod rules, he did not name any of the bishops involved.

Father Rosica said that even this morning, bishops at the synod were asking who made the film and why it was shown at the synod.

Inside the synod: Seeing the life of the universal church through the eyes of other bishops

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.

- – -

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 712 other followers