Inside the synod: Small groups, and a graced visit from the archbishop of Canterbury

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Today in the morning the synod went into small groups by language, a refreshing change. Our group reflects the diversity of the English speaking church. Members come from Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon,  Ghana, Ethiopia, from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Tonga, Sri Lanka, from Scotland, India, Macau, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Guatemala, and the Bahamas. Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll, a synod auditor who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Athenaeum of San Anselmo and I are from the United States. Auditors, experts and fraternal delegates also take part in the small groups.

Each member of our group gave a brief introduction and what hopes he or she had for this synod. The responses were wide-ranging. A number brought up the need to respond more effectively to the young and to assist families in the awesome challenges they face. Some expressed concern that evangelization has to begin with the evangelizers, with seminarians and priests. It was expressed that the church must be more available, closer to people.

Some bishops are in countries were they cannot freely practice their faith. They suggested that we cannot be afraid to express the faith and one’s rights as a Catholic.

Another perspective was that social concerns are the gateway to evangelization. It is important to engage the world with a clear identity as Catholics.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York talks with Coadjutor Archbishop Nicholas Mang Thang of Mandalay, Myanmar, as they leave a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One participant reminded the group that it is not enough to teach the catechism, our efforts must lead to conversion. It is not enough to know things about Christ, there must be a conversion of heart. One called for the re-evangelization of church structures, suggesting that Europe was more represented at the synod than the emerging, developing nations.

Some of the churches represented around the table are ancient, like the church in Ethiopia, recalling Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, and some new like the church in New Guinea. Our senior bishop present is 75 years and a bishop for 35 years, the youngest has been a bishop for only two years. The only permanent deacon in the synod is present in our group. He is a convert to the faith who embraced Christ only later in life but that relationship has become a passion for him and he now directs a catechetical program emphasizing the need for conversion.

There are three fraternal delegates, one representing the World Council of Churches, one the Lutheran Church and the third a Baptist who is writing a book on Mary as the great disciple. Two women are here too: one from Macau and the other from Nigeria and an auditor who founded a group titled Jesus Youth emphasizing the need for youth to have a personal encounter with Christ, to feel they belong to a community, and to service. Clearly the members who are not bishops will make very helpful contributions to our reflection on the new evangelization.

In the afternoon we returned to the five-minute interventions. While less engaging and, at times, more tedious than the small groups, it gives each bishop an opportunity to offer his insight to the whole body of the synod. Today, Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh was the last U.S. bishop to speak. He suggested that the success of this synod will happen if we can find ways to bring young adults to believe in Jesus Christ as they leave home. We succeed in evangelization when young people come to say for themselves, “Yes, I believe.”

At the end of the day we were graced to hear from Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, who is finishing his service as the 104th primate of England and the Anglican Communion. He has been a bishop for 20 years and is an academic, a writer, and a composer, a husband and father. As a sign of respect, Pope Benedict came into the synod hall specifically to listen to Archbishop Williams.

Archbishop Rowan Williams (far right) attends the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

Archbishop Williams expressed how honored he felt to be invited by His Holiness to the synod called for the good of all Christ’s people. He reminded us why we were gathered, that is, a desire to communicate effectively God’s word in our day. He suggested that the church has to ask itself some challenging questions as happened at the Second Vatican Council that spoke with fresh ways and saw with fresh eyes.

Vatican II presented a new Christian anthropology. It is at last possible to be human. Among his many thoughts, he observed that, “we have a distinctive human destiny to share with the world as Christians. … To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of the human Christ. … We share a contemplative humanity, giving selfless attention to the other. … To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to the Father, receiving all the Father gives. … We are called to the silent gazing upon God. …In this self-forgetting gazing we come to see one another. … To be converted to the faith is to become a new person. … We avoid every effort to make oneself happy or to dominate others so as to become more free to love others as fragile fellow creatures held in the love of God.” He reminded us that works of justice and charity flow from making space for God. “True prayer purifies the motive in order to do justice.”

He emphasized that a contemplative perspective opens us up to the other. He gave examples of ecumenically shared contemplative practices even some for children and young people leading them to the depth of our faith. He commented on how contemplation allows us to live more humanly and live with a joy in the discipline of self forgetting. He insisted that the church cannot be just another institution, competing, ambitious.  We are looking to Jesus, the unveiled face of God.

In his responses to some synod fathers questions, he warned against fragmentation as a great danger. “We can lose the sense of our solidarity with those on the margins, seeing the beauty in one another. We need to reach across this fragmentation.” He mentioned what many have been saying so far in the synod that the reality and character of how we live is what speaks to people. Many at the synod have been concerned about the young, and Archbishop Williams said that, “The young without the church and the church without the young is lost. The young wish to be nourished and to grow, not to be entertained. With regard to ecumenism he commented that “no one should be glad for the suffering of another and we should be glad and rejoice for the success of the other.”

His reflection was stunning and held the attention of the synod fathers at the end of a long day, a day well spent.

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: The synod fathers’ various viewpoints

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The synod fathers began today to make their five-minute interventions. And it must be five minutes, since one’s mic is turned off exactly when five minutes have passed. Those getting close to being turned off rush to get in as much of their text as possible. Each synod father has the option to make one five-minute exhortation, as well as do the fraternal delegates (representatives of other ecclesial communities) and the auditors.

Most of the U.S. bishops spoke on the first full day of interventions.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles spoke on the need to reflect on the diverse cultures that make up our dioceses and to find new ways to communicate with these cultures. In Los Angeles, Mass is celebrated in so many languages. We need to find ways for these differing cultures to form one family in Christ,

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York emphasized that if the new evangelization is to happen, it will happen when the evangelizers are themselves evangelized. He reminded us that what is wrong with the world is us. We are sinners and if evangelization will take place it will be through the Sacrament of Penance.

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

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio called upon the Holy Father to consecrate the world to the Holy Spirit at the end of the Year of Faith. The Spirit can bring about a new Pentecost, a new vigor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., suggested that the Blessing of the Child in the Womb can be a powerful ritual that can lead to the evangelization of parents and families. It would be a way of welcoming families and sharing in the hope and excitement of a new child about to enter the family. It would be a preparation for the child’s baptism. Regretfully, some couples are not having their children baptized. it is hoped this blessing might encourage parents to bring their child to the font.

I spoke of the importance of works of charity and justice as necessary and powerful ways to evangelize. I suggested that the synod would strongly and unequivocally assert that works of justice and peace are at the heart of the new evangelization. Some have expressed concern that the “instrumentum laboris” does not adequately emphasize the role of charity, justice and the social doctrine of the church in the new evangelization. Yet works of charity are among the strongest ways to evangelize, especially the young.

Other interventions emphasized the importance for the church to be humble, to listen, to be respectful of all. One bishop asked, “Have youth lost the church or has the church lost the youth?” Some emphasized the need to form seminarians and priests in the new evangelization. They must be set on fire to set others on fire. They cannot evangelize unless they themselves are evangelized.

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

One bishop expressed concern about the number of people who have left the Oriental churches and the importance of encouraging Oriental Christians to remain engaged in their rites. Another indicated that in their country they have embarked on a Year of Grace alongside the Year of Faith. There is a need to rediscover what it means to be a part of the church. Christian faith is not just teaching or a code of morality but a relationship with Jesus Christ.

One fraternal delegate from the Lutheran church indicated that the synod is crucial to all Christian churches. All are eager to recover the joy of believing. He expressed concern that so many were not bringing their children to be baptized  He rejoiced that we no longer have to condemn one another but we have learned to respect one another and strive together for deep internal renewal. We need an ongoing renewal for all Christians.

As I listened to the different interventions I could only think of how varied are the ways people think, act, and feel. Each bishop saw a different path into the new evangelization, placed a different emphasis, identified what he saw to be a priority. Each continent and every country face similar and dissimilar challenges in making the faith come to life. This reflects St. Paul’s reminder that we are one body made up of different members. Each member is unique and plays a critical role in the life of the body. listening to all is core to “communio,” that we draw upon the wisdom and insights of all. St. Benedict in his rule reminded us that everyone in the community has a part to play, a voice to be heard, even the youngest in the community. The opportunity for each one to speak is at the heart of the synodal process.

The new evangelization encompasses a wide range of emphases that surfaced in the various interventions today. The synod will attempt to formulate propositions to be considered by the synod fathers and ultimately presented to the Holy Father for inclusion in the post-synodal exhortation that will be written.

Pope Benedict XVI leads the opening prayer during a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 9. At right is Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the synod relator. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today’s session concluded with a report from Cardinal Marc Oeullett, who had served as the relator general for the 2008 synod, on the reception of the post-synodal exhortation titled “Verbum Domini.” The Bible cannot be simply a Word from when the reception ends to become a living and relevant Word. He explored the meaning of reception. How does the church take possession of the document and make it its own? Cardinal Oeullett mentioned that large numbers of Bibles were distributed in countries around the world since the synod, making the Scriptures more available.

The emphasis on “Lectio Divina” from the document has taken a larger place in the spiritual lives of many people in all walks of life, reflecting a growing love for the Scriptures based on the prayerful and reflective reading of the Bible. The Scriptures now play a greater role in the pastoral life of the church,

Liturgy is the privileged place where God speaks to us. In liturgy we celebrate the living and relevant Word of God. Homiletics was also emphasized in the document. Our U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a homiletic guide for priests and deacons, and the conference is now writing a document on preaching, which will be discussed in November.

For me the opportunity of having been at the synod on the Word in 2008 left me inspired and determined to read the Word of God more, to pray that Word and to encourage people to love, appreciate, and value the reading and praying of the Word. It was encouraging to hear how this has happened in many places as a result of the document “Verbum Domini.” We need to continue to develop a hunger and thirst for the Word which can inspire 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: We begin with words from the Holy Father

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The U.S. delegation began the day at Mass in the small Marian chapel of the North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, where we are staying. The reading of today’s Gospel of the Good Samaritan reminded us that the service of the Good Samaritan is to be our mission as well. Who would not be moved by the sensitivity of the Samaritan to human need? He had, as Pope Benedict would say, “a heart that sees where love is needed and he responded.” Such a demonstration of compassionate care draws people to the church.

The synod day begins at 9 a.m. with a break at 12:30 p.m. and then resumes from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Roll is taken of all synod participants, indicating their presence by pressing an electronic pad that lights up the seat on a chart in front of the hall. There are no cuts or ditching a session. You would get caught.

The Holy Father entered the synod hall right at 9. He led us in the Liturgy of the Hours and offered a reflection after the reading. This elderly man spoke passionately and with vigor, without any notes, on confession and charity as roots of the new evangelization. The wise teacher obviously knew the message he was presenting. His strong gestures and clear thoughts were captivating. Alert and vehement in delivery, one could only feel in the presence of a master teacher for whom the new evangelization matters much.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, right, speaks with a bishops as they leave the opening meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He called Catholics to confess out loud and make public what is in their hearts. We need courage to utter the Word. He called us to sing out our faith.

Recently I was in Madagascar for Catholic Relief Services. I was moved by the profession of faith of the people as they sang and danced, possessed by a profound faith that they were not embarrassed by but were proud to profess. They celebrated their faith and professed that faith openly. Martyrs of course confess their faith with their very lives.

The Holy Father then spoke of charity in living the faith. Confession is nothing abstract. The Gospel is not mere words. Faith cannot be separated from love. For some time the Holy Father has been calling the church to awaken, to be set on fire with love of the Lord so that we can set others on fire with this love.

I could only feel that the Holy Father with his open, wide gestures during his reflection was trying to get the church moving, to give it new life, new energy, to wake us from our tiredness and shake us from our lack of confidence.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, reviewed for us in Latin the process that led to the gathering of the synod fathers. He described an extensive consultative process that led to the “instrumentum laboris” that will guide the work of the synod. He used the image of the icon of the Good Shepherd that was found in the Catacomb of Priscilla that shows Christ carrying back the lost sheep. We seek like Christ to bring back the stray.

As I listened to him I could only think of how many have drifted from the church. We feel their loss. We miss them. We long for their return. If only this synod might give us “new ardor, new expressions, new methods” to draw people back to Christ.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, speak as they leave the opening meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican Oct. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I was very proud of our own Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who is the “relator general” for this synod. He presented —  in exquisite Latin no less —  seven important points that underlie the new evangelization that gave a good grounding to our discussion.

He reminded us first that we can never forget the One we proclaim. Second, he reminded us of the rich documents about evangelization written by the popes since Pope Paul VI even up to the present Holy Father. He spoke of how challenging it is today to evangelize, especially in cultures that are immersed in secularism and materialism strongly influencing the young. He reminded us that “evangelization is not a program but a mode of thinking, seeing and acting.” He called us “to a new confidence of the truth of our message.” He laid out the theological foundations of the new evangelization and the qualities of the new evangelizers as boldness/courage, connectedness to the church, as well as a sense of urgency and joy. He concluded with an emphasis on social justice in evangelization.

In the afternoon we covered the continents of the world, hearing about the glimpses of light and shades of darkness that are present in each continent. Having just visited in Southeast Asia for Catholic Relief Services, I was interested in the report on Asia. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai spoke of this young continent, central for the future of the world and the church. China and India are emerging. There is great inequality among the Asian nations. Asia is the cradle of many religions. He enumerated three areas for the work of the church in Asia: Dialogue with culture, with the poor, and with traditions. Youth are vulnerable.

He described five challenges for the church in Asia:

  1. Secularism — even though people are spiritual by nature we need to present faith as relevant, appealing to mind and heart.
  2. Family ties are being eroded and sanctity of married life, and there are some voices being raised in support of same-sex marriage.
  3. Anti-life movements are growing, including ethnic conflicts and threats against the helpless. For some a girl child is a divine curse.
  4. The Asian soul seeks community, but individualism is creeping in.
  5. There are attacks on religion and persecution of Christianity. Christians feel weak and vulnerable.

In Asia Christians are 3 percent, and only the Philippines and East Timor are very Catholic. For Asians, discipleship matters more than doctrine. Contemplative prayer is important.

After the continental reflections, some of the five-minute interventions started, beginning with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, who was given the right to speak first by the Holy Father. For the last hour of the day anyone can speak for three minutes in a free-floating conversation which will get more interesting as the synod continues.

At the end, Cardinal Wuerl expressed how encouraged he was to see so many media present for the press conference. The press wondered whether there would be continuity between the synod and the Second Vatican Council. Media members emphasized the importance of the work of the church in serving others as a way of bringing people to the faith. They asked how the church will provide spiritual resources for people hungering for deeper meaning.

It was a full and productive day.

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: Opening Mass is extraordinary moment

Editor’s Note: Today we are pleased to publish the first in a series of blog posts from the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., one of four delegates chosen by the U.S.  bishops.

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Two hundred and sixty two synod fathers participating in the XIII General Assembly for the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith concelebrated Mass today in the piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Benedict XVI. While it was the XXVII Sunday of Ordinary Time, it was an extraordinary moment.

The concelebrants included 103 bishops from Europe, 63 from the Americas  50 from Africa, 39 from Asia and seven from Oceania. Forty delegates were appointed directly by the Holy Father. One hundred and seventy two bishops’ conferences elected representatives as we did in the United States.

The U.S. delegation consists of seven, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the “relator general” for the synod, a significant and demanding responsibility. He and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop William C. Skurla, who leads the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, were appointed by the Holy Father. The others elected by the U.S. bishops’ conference are Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the conference, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, vice president of the conference, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, and me serving as an alternate to Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, who was unable to attend because of sickness.

An image of St. John of Avila and a banner thanking Pope Benedict XVI are seen as the pontiff greets pilgrims after celebrating the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 7. The banner in Spanish thanked the pope for proclaiming St. John of Avila as the 34th doctor of the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Three cardinals will serve as presidents of the synod, including Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, a good friend, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition to bishops there are 15 fraternal delegates representing 15 churches and ecclesial communities not necessarily in union with Rome. Included among the fraternal delegates are two who will make a speech at the synod: Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Patriarch Bartholomew, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

This synod is about mission as St. Mark said at the end of his Gospel, “Go into the whole world proclaiming the Gospel to all creatures.” We are to always and everywhere announce the Good News. Pope Benedict in his homily talked with us of the joy of living our faith in such a way that inspires others to meet Christ. He is calling the church to a new evangelization from within. He is awakening us from our tiredness and challenging our lack of confidence as a church to discover anew the call we have received to make all things new.

At the beginning of this Mass Pope Benedict proclaimed two new doctors of the church, the 34th and 35th in church history: St. John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen.

John was born in Spain on the feast of the Epiphany, 1499. He was a priest, a friend of St. Ignatius and Teresa of Avila. He cared for the poor. He had wanted to go as a missionary to New Spain but  never did leave Spain. He was a great preacher and mystic. He was accused of heresy and jailed. There he became intensely aware of God’s love and how we have benefited from Jesus, the one who redeemed and saved us. He was exonerated. Known as the Master of Avila, he published a catechism and treatises on God’s love. His words and teachings brought others to Christ.

Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098. She became a Benedictine abbess and was also a mystic, philosopher, writer and composer and a great promoter of the Christian faith. She was respected by popes and bishops, kings and princes. She wrote on a wide range of subjects like health, natural science, the cosmos, ethical questions and theology. Her great mind clarified the faith, what we believe.

Both St. John and St. Hildegard are models of the importance of verbal proclamation in evangelization. Pope Benedict holds them up for us at the beginning of the synod as model teachers of the faith, who drew others to Christ and his church by their words. Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote an article before his death on the modes of evangelization. He lists six: personal witness, verbal proclamation, worship, community, inculturation and works of charity and justice. Clearly St. John and St. Hildegard remind us of the importance of verbal proclamation, the need to teach and communicate the faith to others.

This synod and the Year of Faith are meant to stir new ardor in us for the faith, as Blessed John Paul II before and now Pope Benedict urge. We are being called to stir the embers of faith and bring new enthusiasm, new zeal, new energy to the living of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

As bishops gather from all around the world for this synod, I was thinking of what it must have been like for the bishops to gather in Rome for the Second Vatican Council called for by Blessed John XXIII. Bishops from all over the world gathered then as we are now gathering. You could hear, as we hear, the varied languages and see the diverse cultures that have gathered as they did 50 years ago. A dynamism developed among the council fathers as they deliberated over the many important documents of Vatican II that gave the Church an inspiring vision of what it means to be church. There was a great deal of excitement generated by the council which I hope we can recreate at the synod and in this Year of Faith.

Mass was the only event of the day. We got off easy. Tomorrow the work begins. I remember well from the last synod in 2008 on the Bible the many demands and amount of time the synod entails. But I look forward to meeting and hearing the synod fathers as they begin their comments on the theme of the synod. I pray the Spirit will bring a new Pentecost from our gathering in the upper room of the Paul VI audience hall for the next three weeks.

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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