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.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you so much, Bishop, for this blog. We’ll do follow the Synod from home — already a fruit of the New Evangelization!

  2. Bishop,

    I’ll keep an eye on you through this.

    Bishop William McNaughton, MM is there…he was 34 when made bishop of Inchon and attended all four sessions of the council…fine gentleman if you can catch up with him.

    Bob O’Grady

  3. I am SO excited about this Synod, and about the Year of Faith! Those of us lay people in the pews need to talk about it among each other, and glow from within upon the rest of the world. I’m eagerly looking forward to all your blog entries. Thank you for them!

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