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.

Inside the synod: Small groups consider final propositions

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Today was spent in our language groups meticulously considering each of the 57 propositions presented to the synod yesterday. All synod fathers have an opportunity to offer an amendment or ask to drop or to replace a proposition.

One realizes the different ways each reader views the wording of any proposition. The text is understood from the synod delegate’s perspective, affected by his experiences in his own diocese, the culture and society from which he comes. Yet we all hold a love for the church and a respect for her teaching that binds the group together.

A view of our language group. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

Our English-language group reviewed the English translation of the propositions. One issue is the challenge and difficulty of translation. Some of the concerns raised had to do with how the translator understood the Latin text or the English text. It seemed to our group that greater benefit would come in addressing substantive issues rather than focus solely on concerns regarding individual word differences in the two texts. So that became our focus.

The Tower of Babel continues to influence our communication, which makes it so hard to fully understand one another. How beautiful is the rich diversity of the church felt here at the synod but how complicated it is to hear and understand one another even when everyone in our group speaks English.

The English spoken in our group is colored by Indian, Scottish, Thai, African, Ethiopian, Tongan, Filipino, Sri Lankan, and Malaysian accents and nuances. All of this adds rich color to the deliberations by the synod fathers’ efforts to formulate propositions for consideration by the Holy Father in his post-synodal exhortation.

Certainly the ultimate work of the synod is benefited by the eyes of each synod father reviewing the texts of the propositions and offering his perspective on the wide range of factors that affect the new evangelization. The diversity of the propositions provide each bishop with a wealth of directions for developing a pastoral plan for the Year of Faith that will give his diocese an opportunity to engage the new evangelization with  “new ardor, new methods, and new expressions.”

I enjoy so much the interplay of our group. We learn so much from each other in listening to the pastoral blessings and challenges faced in different parts of the world. For example, the forces of secularization are not as strongly felt in some countries as they are in the United States and Europe. Authority and respect are experienced in different ways. English words can have different connotations. This calls us to be more humble. As Americans we can think our way is the only way, but when the universal church gathers, as at the synod, you realize there are other legitimate, even wiser perspectives.

From left, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, our moderator; Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, our  rapporteur; and Rev. Dr. Timothy George, a fraternal delegate representing Southern Baptists. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, India, our moderator of the small group, and Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, our rapporteur, are doing a masterful job bringing our group to consensus on the many helpful revisions that have been suggested. They show great patience in letting each synod father have his say and offer his perspective. I expect that the other 11 groups are experiencing somewhat the same in their deliberations.

This tedious and thorough process will benefit greatly the ultimate formulation of the final propositions. The synod process is a reminder of the importance of giving each person a voice and for all in the group to be working together toward a final resolution. This is an important lesson and an example for our councils and consultative bodies in the diocese and in parishes.

Our group went the longest, hopefully contributing substantially to the revision of the propositions. We had some great laughs and have come to appreciate one another’s company. A great rapport developed in the group and respect for one another grew. There was a comfortability between bishops, the men and women auditors and experts as well as the fraternal delegate, Rev. Dr. Timothy George of the Southern Baptist tradition who teaches at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

Another view of our group. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

As we ended our work Cardinal Gracias asked Archbishop Malayappan Chinnappa of Madras-Mylapore, India, to close. He mentioned that everyone has a charism from God that he or she can share for the good of the community. He said his gift was the joy of singing and he wanted to conclude our work by singing a Tamil song in praise and thanks to God.

He broke into a beautiful song in his native language as his face was aglow with delight in sharing his music with us. Charisms can move hearts and he did move our hearts, a marvelous way to end our time together.

When I returned home I learned that the Holy Father unexpectedly had named some new cardinals including Archbishop James Harvey from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who has served for many years in the Vatican and has been such a good friend to many. There will be much joy in this appointment.

Among the others named were four synod fathers I have come to know quite well: Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, whom we had hoped would preach this year’s priest convocation in Tucson but was not able; Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, who as I mentioned in a previous blog referring to his reflection at the synod, has a brother in Tucson and has visited recently talking at our Youth Fest; Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, who had invited us to his home for dinner; and Syro-Malankaran Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, who also has a brother in Tucson and who has been a frequent visitor.

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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.

Inside the synod: Ideas for implementing the new evangelization

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012

VATICAN CITY —  The synod recessed on Saturday afternoon and only returned to session on Tuesday. In the interim the rapporteurs,  those elected to serve as secretaries of each of the small groups, have been working hard to formulate the propositions for consideration by the synod fathers.

There were 330 propositions submitted by the small groups. Over the weekend, they were  organized by the rapporteurs  according to similarity of content and reduced in number. This morning, 57 propositions were presented to the synod fathers covering a wide range of recommendations.

After prayer, before the announcement of the propositions, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, announced to the body that the Holy Father had intended to send a delegation of synod fathers to Syria to show solidarity to the people suffering the ravages of war and violence, but circumstances have made it necessary to postpone that trip until a time when it can be determined how the visit could be conducted safely and with maximum effect. While disappointing, the visitation remains a hope for the near future.

Many in our country and around the world have expressed interest in this Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith and hold great expectations for a renewal of faith during this Year of Faith. That expectation is moving toward reality in the formulation of the initial propositions.

Pope Benedict XVI leads a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Among the propositions (my summary; the official document covers 29 pages) that will now receive attention over the next two days as well as further revision by the small groups were:

  • Evangelization has to be understood in a broad and profound theological/doctrinal framework reminding us that the new evangelization is not just a bunch of programs but needs to be grounded in the faith, the activity of word and sacrament emphasizing the primacy of God’s grace.
  • There is a need for all Catholics to awaken their faith and to be inspired to witness that faith and share it with others. Each culture and society needs to find ways for this to happen in the circumstances of their society. Continue reading

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

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Inside the synod: Evangelization by example, and lunch with the pope

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja in Nigeria, whose brother lives in the Diocese of Tucson, offered today’s reflection to begin our full day of interventions. He reflected on an experience of his early episcopacy when he went to visit death-row prisoners living in wretched situations, He saw many wearing a rosary around their necks, which bewildered him since half of Nigerians are Muslim. He asked them what led them to Jesus.

They said that when they saw Christians living alongside of them in awful conditions, less than human circumstances and heard the joy of their singing and how they were able to retain hope amid despairing situations, they said they wanted to become Christians to share in that joy. This is a powerful example of evangelization. He inspired all of us, reminding us of the power of witness to change hearts,

Nigeria, like too many places around the world today, has experienced much violence in places like the city of Jos, where religious tensions and conflicts have surfaced. During our discussions bishops have expressed some of the struggles, persecution, tensions and turmoil happening in their communities. Listening to one another from all over the world gathered in the synod makes all of us more deeply aware of some of these challenges being experienced in many parts of the world. We can share in those sufferings and pain. We can stand in solidarity with those being persecuted, living amid violence. We can join hands, standing up against injustice and advocating for peace.

Today is filled with interventions by synod fathers. Each one brings his own perspective. Each talk adds a small, important piece that gradually forms, with all the others, a large mosaic image of the new evangelization that is beginning to take shape. The interventions are delivered in a number of languages, including Italian, Spanish, German, French, and English. The contributions are not organized by theme nor by the country of the presenter. So they vary greatly from emphasizing the need for the family or the parish or the schools or catechists or small Christian communities or new media to foster the new evangelization. A bishop from Honduras is followed by a bishop from Vietnam followed by a bishop from Cameroon followed by a bishop from Mexico, each talking in his own language and from his own experience about what new evangelization means to him and in his country.

Bishop Brian Dunn of Antigonish in Canada reflected in his intervention today on how sexual abuse by clergy has led to distrust among the people and hampered our efforts to evangelize. He suggested four ways necessary to move forward. He indicated that we must first listen attentively to victims and survivors and be ready to apologize for the harm done and the slow response of those in authority. We must recognize the harm that has been done. Second he encouraged the efforts of all in the church to provide safe environments. Third he called for a spirituality of communion providing rich consultation and dialogue with all in the church, and finally he indicated that victims call us to a change of culture especially in how we work with and empower lay people. Laity must be considered people co-responsible for the church.

The sexual abuse crisis in the Diocese of Tucson and in so many places in the United States and around the world has been a major crisis for the church. The abuse crisis has weakened people’s trust, and trust once broken can be restored only very slowly by consistent and repeated efforts to ensure the safety of children and all in the church. Bishop Dunn’s intervention reminds us of the challenge to restore credibility to the church’s voice. We have learned a painful lesson. As victims of sexual abuse have said to me, “Bishop you cannot change what happened to me, but you can make sure that this never happens again.” That must be our mission.

After the morning session, the Holy Father invited all involved in the synod — the synod fathers, men and women auditors, experts and fraternal delegates — to a lunch in the audience hall of Paul VI that had been changed into a lovely dining room by removing a number of the auditorium seats. Members sat at tables by discussion groups and it was a welcome break after a morning of five-minute interventions one after the other. The lunch was in honor of the inauguration of the Year of Faith.

Pope Benedict speaks at a luncheon for members of the Synod of Bishops and Vatican officials in the Paul VI hall Oct. 12. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

The Holy Father was flanked on either side by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Anglican primate, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury. Risotto and grilled fish were served by an army of waiters. Many cardinals and bishops not participating in the synod joined the group for lunch.

At the end of the meal in his remarks Benedict referred to the Emmaus passage reflecting on how we, like the disciples, were sharing a meal as we were walking together in the synod, seeking to know the Lord and one another in a deeper way. He also observed that at this meal we were sharing together with leaders of other faiths, dining together as we seek to walk more closely together.

In what was a miracle, the Holy Father before final prayer overruled Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, who had asked us to return to the synod hall at 4:30 p.m. as planned. The Holy Father seeing on his watch that it was 3 p.m. declared that we could return to the work of the Synod at 5:45. Like school children given a free day, everyone applauded with vigor.

The shortened afternoon was spent listening to Dr. Werner Arber, a  microbiologist and geneticist and the first Protestant president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. He was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1978. He began his reflection on the contemplation between science and faith by identifying curiosity as the driving force for scientific identification of natural laws and the basis for every human being’s effort to know the laws of nature in his search for the truth. He asserted that the ongoing process of evolution of the universe, of nature and of life is a given scientific fact. We believe life may exist on extraterrestrial places, although this has not been confirmed. He discussed genetic variation and how this has occurred over time.

He spoke of how established scientific knowledge adds to our worldview and it can open up innovation as a benefit to our lives and environments. Societal life requires rules of conduct. Acceptance of those rules is more acceptable if they are rooted in faith. If Jesus lived with us today he would be open to scientific knowledge for the benefit of society as long as the relevant laws of nature are fully accepted.

The Vatican has long been interested in science and its relationship to faith. We have testimony of that by the presence of the Jesuit astronomers in Tucson and Castel Gandolfo who staff the Vatican Observatory. They stand as peers in the scientific community as they conduct helpful research on behalf of the church. Jesuit Father Jose Funes from Argentina is the director of the observatory. We are blessed to have them in the diocese. They remind us of the regard the church holds for science.

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.

Inside the synod: Celebrating Vatican II, launching Year of Faith

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Today the bishops dressed in miter and green vestments streamed down the center aisle in the Square of St. Peter on a strikingly beautiful day of bright sunlight and deep blue skies. As I walked in procession looking up at the newly restored facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, I thought how fitting it was that we were celebrating outside of the basilica for this 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the opening of the Year of Faith. After all, the beloved Pope John XXIII had called the council to open the windows and let fresh air into the church.

Here we were in the world, in its midst with occasional sirens blaring and noises of every kind, not within the walls of the Basilica. Vatican II taught us that the church is not set over and above the world, not antagonistic to the world but the breath of the world, meant to transform the world into the world God intends it to be. We celebrated that symbolically, bringing to the world the praise and glory of God .

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 11 to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Mass also opened the Year of Faith. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As we processed, I imagined the procession of bishops 50 years before as the council began. A few of them were in our midst. Surely those bishops as they celebrated the opening Mass of the council with Blessed John XXIII must have been wondering what would happen, what would unfold. No council had been held in anyone’s memory. Yet they were making history, bringing the church into a new era.

Through their deliberations, discussions, and writing, profound documents were produced including “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes” on the church, “Dei Verbum” on revelation, and “Sacrosanctum Concilium” on the sacred liturgy.

Pope Benedict XVI exchanges the sign of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Looking ahead I saw on the dais, near to where the pope would sit, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholmew I. He is the successor of St. Andrew and the 240th person to hold the title of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. He is “primus inter pares” (first among equals). He promotes and sustains unity in the Eastern Orthodox communion numbering about 300 million congregants

On the other side of the pope’s place was Archbishop Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I could only think of the incredible energy that came out of Vatican II for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as well as the call for religious liberty, both of which remain challenges today. The document “Unitatis Reintegratio” on ecumenical dialogue and “Dignitatis Humanae” on religious liberty were ground-breaking documents that gave direction for the church’s agenda.

It was moving to see Archbishop Williams and Patriarch Bartholomew embrace as brothers before the Mass and Pope Benedict’s embrace of each of them during Mass. While our Christian faith remains divided, perhaps this celebration, remembering Vatican II, will stir the embers, giving new energy and life to the dialogues, which although now more difficult, are still important. The disunity of the Christian faith is scandalous and exactly what the Lord prayed at the Last Supper would not happen.

The Holy Father in his homily referred to the rich thought and clear articulation of the church’s continuous teaching that can be found in the documents of Vatican II. He indicated that he has called for a Year of Faith to inspire us again to encounter Jesus Christ and to realize the new evangelization which has been a major theme of his pontificate,

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., center, arrives with other bishops for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

This Year of Faith is a marvelous opportunity for all dioceses to reinvigorate the faith. In the Diocese of Tucson three words describe my hopes for this Year of Faith: Awaken, Discover, Inspire. Through this year we will hold activities to awaken the faith in those who are practicing their faith by deepening, enriching, and strengthening our relationships with Jesus Christ. We will seek to discover anew what the church teaches and strive to inspire others to come to know Jesus Christ by the way we live our lives. The year will be an opportunity to learn the history of our diocese and of each parish so all can understand how the faith was planted in this area. It will also be an opportunity to share our faith journeys with one another and to study the documents of Vatican II. We will also engage in a diocese-wide service project in which all of us throughout a large geographic diocese will join together as one to serve others.

While I feel badly not to be in the Diocese of Tucson when we begin the Year of Faith the weekend of Oct. 13-14, it was a joy to join the universal church as our Holy Father launched the Year of Faith in St. Peter’s Square.

At the end of Mass Bartholomew I spoke in Italian of the importance of this occasion and the need to seek unity and dispel differences. He spoke of the historical significance of this event commemorating the 50th anniversary and the deep regard and respect he holds for the Holy Father.

The service concluded with the Holy Father meeting groups who represented the categories of people Vatican II spoke to: rulers, scholars and scientists, artists, women, the poor, sick and suffering, workers, artists, and the youth. He gave each member of the group the text of what was directed to these groups at the time of Vatican II and to some he gave a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church since we are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its promulgation by Blessed John Paul II.

While 50 years have passed since these exhortations were written and so much has changed, many texts are exactly what one would write today. For example, to the young of the world the council wrote, “It is you who are to receive the torch from the hands of your elders and to live in the world at the period of the most gigantic transformation ever realized in history. … The church is anxious that this society that you are going to build up should respect the dignity, the liberty, and the rights of individuals. … Open your hearts to the dimensions of the world, to heed the appeal of your brothers, to place your youth energies at their service.”

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful as he arrives to celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

The afternoon continued the interventions by the synod fathers. While many themes are beginning to recur, it is interesting to watch, on the screen in the front of the room, the enthusiasm and conviction with which each synod father presents his text. Clearly each one has thought seriously about what he wants to say to the whole body and he desires earnestly to make a contribution.

Among the common themes I am hearing are the following: the need to evangelize the evangelizers, priests and seminarians; the importance of reaching out to youth and families; and to make efforts to strengthen marriage. There is a hunger in human beings that only God can fill. We seek a relationship with Christ who alone brings joy. We need to be a humble church. Evangelization begins with each one of us. Our parishes must become evangelizing. There is a value to the ecclesial movements but they must be integrated with parish life. We need to see the importance and make better use of the new technologies. If we would evangelize we must be a serving church which leads others to the church. We recognize the importance of the lay faithful in the evangelization of the world. We must value contemplation, listening and silence. We need to recover the ecumenical dimensions of Vatican II and the call to unity in which we all need one another in our diversity of cultures and languages. It would be powerful to consider our own experiences of evangelization and communicate our own faith journeys, giving personal witness to the vitality of faith in our own lives. Another theme that surfaces from time to time in the discussions is the need to uphold the freedom of conscience and of religion especially in those areas of the world where public practice of religion is so restricted or conversion is not allowed.

We need to keep listening in the days ahead in order to develop helpful proposals for the Holy Father’s consideration in writing his post-synodal exhortation.

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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