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

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- – -

Bishop Kicanas, of Tucson, Ariz., is chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services and is a former vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee, he is blogging from the world Synod of Bishops this month by special arrangement with Catholic News Service. He was elected an alternate delegate to the synod by the U.S. bishops and became a full delegate when Cardinal Francis E. George was unable to attend.

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.

- – -

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.

- – -

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.

- – -

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.

- – -

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 751 other followers