Opening the synod at St. Paul’s, not St. Peter’s

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will open the world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God with an Oct. 5 Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The choice of location — the site of the Apostle Paul’s tomb — highlights the connection between the synod’s focus on the Bible and the special celebrations of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, traditionally recognized as the author of 14 New Testament letters.

The Vatican put out the pope’s autumn liturgical calendar today and it made it quite clear the decks have not been cleared just because he’ll be meeting Monday through Saturday with synod members Oct. 5-26.

The October calendar also includes:

– An Oct. 9 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, the object of continuing controversy because of his words and actions during World War II.

– An Oct. 12 Mass in St. Peter’s Square to canonize: Italian Father Gaetano Errico, founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart; Swiss Franciscan Sister Maria Bernarda Butler, a missionary to Ecuador and Colombia; Indian Franciscan Clarist Sister Alphonsa Muttathupandathu, a mystic; and Narcisa Martillo Moran, an Ecuadoran laywoman renown for her dedication to prayer.

– An all-day visit Oct. 19 to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompei, Italy, for a morning Mass and evening recitation of the rosary.

– The Oct. 26 Mass closing the synod in St. Peter’s Basilica.

At the upcoming synod: Women experts and a Jewish guest

VATICAN CITY — The buzz at the Vatican is that Pope Benedict XVI’s choice of experts to serve at the Oct. 5-26 world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God definitely will include women scholars; probably four of about 40 experts. The official list of papal appointees should be published in early September.

And, the rumor mill says, alongside the “fraternal delegates” from other Christian churches and communities, Pope Benedict will invite a Jewish scholar as a “guest,” highlighting the fact that Christians and Jews share the first part of the Bible, although they interpret parts of it differently.

Until the list comes out, synod officials are likely to continue receiving postcards encouraging them to make sure women’s voices are heard in the synod hall.

There were no women among the 32 experts appointed by the pope to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. For the 2001 synod on religious life, Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna was the lone female among 16 experts. (In 2004, Pope John Paul II named her undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.)

However, women’s voices consistently have been heard in the synod hall. Unlike the experts who serve as resources to the synod officers and to the bishops and priests who are voting members of the body, the synod observers are invited to address the entire assembly. At the 2005 synod, half of the two dozen observers were women. And both the experts and observers participate in the synod’s small working groups, which is where the propositions to be presented to the pope are drafted.

Studying Scripture on death row

When looking for examples to illustrate the point of a story, sometimes the example can overshadow the story.

Such was the case of a story I recently wrote on Little Rock Scripture Study, in which participants study different books of the Bible in thousands of parishes in the United States and elsewhere, including several other countries.

But one nonparish setting where Little Rock Scripture Study is used is death row at an Arizona prison.

Deacon Ed  Sheffer of the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., has been ministering for the past four years, at the request of Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, to inmates at Arizona State Prison in Florence, Ariz., in the death row unit known as Eyman SMU II.

“It was not something I would have picked out” as a ministry, Deacon Sheffer confided. He develops spirituality programs for elder care and leads youth retreats, and he used to do bereavement counseling in hospice.

Unlike the typical Little Rock Scripture Study group, there is no small-group setting on death row. Instead, Deacon Sheffer conducts one-on-one studies with individual prisoners.

In an essay published in The New Vision, Tucson’s diocesan paper, Deacon Sheffer recalled his first visit to death row. “As I passed through layer after layer of steel doors, I was hit hard by a presence of a genuine darkness. But even more distinct from this feeling was how God was remaining present to me in the midst of all that darkness. When I arrived at the destination for the visit — a 6-by-10 room used for attorney meetings and pastoral visits — I looked searchingly through the thick safety glass. Sitting behind the glass was a man dressed in an orange jumpsuit who looked closely at me and smiled. I wondered apprehensively where this would all lead.”

From the first encounter came a referral for visits with another death row inmate. Then a third prisoner’s legal team asked Deacon Sheffer to minister to their client, as his attorneys greatly feared for the man’s well-being.

Two more invitations followed. None of the five prisoners he has visited to share Scripture has yet been executed, Deacon Sheffer said. One has since joined the Catholic Church while on death row.

In fact, that inmate wrote Deacon Sheffer a letter. It’s reproduced here,  just as the prisoner wrote it.

“Dear Ed,

“May the peace of Christ be with you! … Today I received my new scripture studies from Little Rock Scripture Study, they look very interesting, especially Parables of the Kingdom. I always praise God for all the blessings, and being able to study His word is always real high on my list.

“My journey has been an adventure, and continues to be, your fellowship has helped a great deal. It may seem strange, but being born again spiritually has transformed me in other ways as well. Physically, mentally, and emotionally I feel like a cocoon changing into a butterfly, praise God it is all good.

“Things seem to fall into place when I’m calm and at peace, another learning experience that I am very grateful for. Actually, I have learned it does not matter how many bible studies I do, or how often I read scriptures, without practical experience being able to apply them in my life I do not fully apreciate their meaning. In fact it is entirely possible that during our journey I learn as much from stumbling now and again as I do from any achievements along the way.

“For now things are going well for me, thanks to the many blessings, some of which I have yet to recognize. On the streets I’d probably be dead by now, so even being in prison could be a blessing. I make no judgments and leave it all up to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. …

“Love & Respect Always

“In Christ

“____________”

A woman who knows her Bible

As the world’s bishops gear up for the synod on the Bible in October, stories about how people don’t understand Scripture are inevitable.

As CNS reported earlier this year, not everyone gets the Bible. Although most people in North America and Europe own one, more than half say they don’t understand it.

But not Susanna George, a Korean Catholic woman in Tampa, Fla. As the Florida Catholic reports in its July 4 issue, George’s appreciation for the Bible along with her desire to understand the readings in English, inspired her to spend every night during the last 10 years copying the Bible by hand twice — first in Korean, then in English.

Janet Shelton reports that George’s initial work essentially involved an awkward effort to copy the image of letters. Eventually, the process became easier and George began to recognize words and sounds as she made the translations. One day at an English Mass, the priest read one word that she recognized, which for her made all the work worthwhile.

George finished her project in March and bound the pages into notebooks numbering 2,700 pages. Now that she’s done, she plans to use the 100 minutes a night that she once devoted to Scripture translation to start the process all over again.

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