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.

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

  1. saintpio1 says:

    Evangelization starts at home. If statues, holy candles, little prayers are constant in a home and done EVERY DAY and talked about -especially by a good catholic father, then Godliness is in the hearts of the children. When they have children it wil be done in their home too. And will give them the background to talk about it with “strangers on the streets” as they encounter them daily. I heard a good catholic say, she never lets anyone know she is catholic because she didn’t know if she could tell about her faith! I said she was a good catholic. She came to mass every morn and her boys were altar servers. —-

  2. Norm Chouinard says:

    Bless you Bishop Kicanas for sharing with us. It is deeply appreciated.

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