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.

U.S. well represented among experts at Second Vatican Council

Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11, 1962. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962. We thought it would be a good opportunity to look back for the next year or so on some of the coverage of the council by Catholic News Service. CNS was known at the time as National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, NC for shorthand.

Today’s blog is about the American experts who were appointed to assist the council fathers. Originally, the Pope John XXIII named 10 people, all priests, from the U.S. among the 195 experts from around the world. During the next three years of the council, almost a dozen more were added.

According to the NC report of Oct. 1, 1962, the experts “are specialists in fields such as theology, canon law and social action. They will be able to attend general sessions of the council, but may not speak unless called upon.”

The experts’ principal duty was “to collaborate with the members of the various council commissions — at the invitation of the presiding officers — to help compile and correct texts and to prepare them for publication.

The initial 195 experts were appointed in their own right. Later appointees first arrived at the council as personal experts or advisers to bishop members and were later appointed as experts to the full council. It was difficult throughout the council for NC — or any news organization — to get a handle on who had been appointed in later years, since the Vatican did not always announce the appointments in its public statements.

Here is the list of the initial American experts appointed, all giants in their field:

— Msgr. Francis J. Brennan, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, dean of the Sacred Roman Rota.

— Msgr. William J. Doheny, of the Diocese of Superior, Wis., a Rota judge.

— Msgr. John Steinmueller, a Scripture scholar from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.

— Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review at The Catholic University of America. (The AER ceased publication in 1975.)

— Msgr. Rudoph G. Bandas, an educator and theologian from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

— Msgr. George G. Higgins, the legendary director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in Washington, forerunner of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

— Father Fredrick McManus, member (and later dean) of the canon law faculty at The Catholic University of America and former president of the North American Liturgical Conference as well as head of the postconciliar USCCB liturgy office. (He was one of the architects of the council’s document on the liturgy.)

— Benedictine Father Ulric Beste, a priest of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., who was a professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of St. Anselm in Rome.

— Holy Cross Father Edward Heston, procurator in Rome for the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

— Assumptionist Father Georges Tavard, chairman of the theology department of Mount Mercy College in Pittsburgh. The priest, a noted ecumenist, was a native of France but spent most of his 60 years as a priest in the United States.

— Passionist Father Barnabas Mary Ahern, who served on the council’s theological commission. A top U.S. biblical scholar, he was a leader of the movement in the 1950s and ’60s to popularize the use and understanding of the Bible among Catholics.

— Jesuit Father Gustave Weigel, a theologian who was a major influence on the document on ecumenism.

By the end of 1962, the pope named 10 more priests. They were:

— Vincentian Father Nichale E. Persich, rector of Kenrick Seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

— Father Joseph Baker, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a canon lawyer and Latinist.

— Msgr. William W. Baum, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. (He was later bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., archbishop of Washington, and cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican.)

–Msgr. Ernest J. Fiedler, Kansas City- St. Joseph diocesan director of vocations and of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

— Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, chancellor of the Diocese of Stockton, Calif. (He was later auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and bishop of Santa Rosa, Calif.)

— Msgr. Andrew P. Landi, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., director in Italy for Catholic Relief Services-NCWC.

— Msgr. George W. Shea, a Marian scholar and rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.

— Oblate Father John J. King, professor of dogmatic theology at the seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Washington.

The next year John XXIII appointed five more Americans, including one of the most famous in the council’s history. They were:

— Msgr. Manuel J. Rodriguez, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

— Father Vincent A. Yzermans, former editor of the St. Cloud Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., who was director of the NCWC Information Office and compiler of the NC Council Daybook. (He was later head of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters.)

— Msgr. William J. McDonald, rector of Catholic University and a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

— Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, professor of theology at Woodstock College in Maryland and editor of the magazine Theological Studies. He became one of the chief architects of  the council’s 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (“Dignitatis Humanae”), which redefined church-state relations and said religious freedom is a human right the state is required to protect.

— Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, a convert to Catholicism from Judasim, who was a top theologian and leading advocate of Jewish-Catholic reconciliation. He was one of the architects of the council document “Nostra Aetate,” which among other things called for an end to anti-Semitism.

— Dominican Father John A. Driscoll, a native of St. Paul, Minn., the American assistant general of the Order of Preachers.

Other experts from around the world were named at the start and during the council sessions, but widely lost in the council’s history is the fact John XXIII also named two Italian princes as “custodians” of the council: Prince Aspreno Colonna and Prince Allesandro Torlonia, referred to as “prince assistants to the papal throne.”

According to the NC report, “The title of prince assistant has been held by the heads of the Colonna and Orsini families since the 16th century. The present Prince Orsini, however, was relieved of the title several years ago because of scandal.” Ouch.

“The duties of the custodians have not been announced publicly,” the report said. “The office — today more or less honorary — derives from earlier and stormier councils when military protection was sometimes needed to assure peace.”

Later NC dispatches noted heated disagreements during the council’s years, but as yet we haven’t come across any reports of sabers being drawn. At least literally.

An ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome’s Church of St. Gregory

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams lights a candle in the chapel of the Church of St. Gregory in Rome. (CNS/Cindy Wooden)

ROME — Before delivering a major address to Pope Benedict XVI and the world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization this evening, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury stopped for prayer at a church significant to both Catholics and Anglicans.

The Church of St. Gregory on the Caelian Hill is the church from which Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and his fellow monks to evangelize England in 597.

Archbishop Williams is supporting the efforts of the Camaldoli monks and nuns at St. Gregory’s to develop the church’s popularity as an ecumenical pilgrimage stop for Anglican and Catholic visitors to Rome.

In the little chapel of St. Gregory — where Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict prayed together in March — the archbishop and Camaldoli Father Peter Hughes, the prior, led a short prayer service this morning.

Father Hughes told the archbishop, “The symbolic weight of pilgrimage to this holy place in order to pray for Christian unity cannot be overemphasized. When hope begins to fade and enthusiasm wanes, it is the corporate memory of moments such as these that inspires us and helps us recuperate the dynamic of the ecumenical vision, continue to legitimate it and reinforce our commitment to it.”

Archbishop Williams led the monks, nuns, Anglican and Catholic faithful present in prayers for Pope Benedict, for the synod and for all those praying and working, especially in Rome, to promote Christian unity.