Inside the synod: Evangelization by example, and lunch with the pope

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Friday, Oct. 12, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja in Nigeria, whose brother lives in the Diocese of Tucson, offered today’s reflection to begin our full day of interventions. He reflected on an experience of his early episcopacy when he went to visit death-row prisoners living in wretched situations, He saw many wearing a rosary around their necks, which bewildered him since half of Nigerians are Muslim. He asked them what led them to Jesus.

They said that when they saw Christians living alongside of them in awful conditions, less than human circumstances and heard the joy of their singing and how they were able to retain hope amid despairing situations, they said they wanted to become Christians to share in that joy. This is a powerful example of evangelization. He inspired all of us, reminding us of the power of witness to change hearts,

Nigeria, like too many places around the world today, has experienced much violence in places like the city of Jos, where religious tensions and conflicts have surfaced. During our discussions bishops have expressed some of the struggles, persecution, tensions and turmoil happening in their communities. Listening to one another from all over the world gathered in the synod makes all of us more deeply aware of some of these challenges being experienced in many parts of the world. We can share in those sufferings and pain. We can stand in solidarity with those being persecuted, living amid violence. We can join hands, standing up against injustice and advocating for peace.

Today is filled with interventions by synod fathers. Each one brings his own perspective. Each talk adds a small, important piece that gradually forms, with all the others, a large mosaic image of the new evangelization that is beginning to take shape. The interventions are delivered in a number of languages, including Italian, Spanish, German, French, and English. The contributions are not organized by theme nor by the country of the presenter. So they vary greatly from emphasizing the need for the family or the parish or the schools or catechists or small Christian communities or new media to foster the new evangelization. A bishop from Honduras is followed by a bishop from Vietnam followed by a bishop from Cameroon followed by a bishop from Mexico, each talking in his own language and from his own experience about what new evangelization means to him and in his country.

Bishop Brian Dunn of Antigonish in Canada reflected in his intervention today on how sexual abuse by clergy has led to distrust among the people and hampered our efforts to evangelize. He suggested four ways necessary to move forward. He indicated that we must first listen attentively to victims and survivors and be ready to apologize for the harm done and the slow response of those in authority. We must recognize the harm that has been done. Second he encouraged the efforts of all in the church to provide safe environments. Third he called for a spirituality of communion providing rich consultation and dialogue with all in the church, and finally he indicated that victims call us to a change of culture especially in how we work with and empower lay people. Laity must be considered people co-responsible for the church.

The sexual abuse crisis in the Diocese of Tucson and in so many places in the United States and around the world has been a major crisis for the church. The abuse crisis has weakened people’s trust, and trust once broken can be restored only very slowly by consistent and repeated efforts to ensure the safety of children and all in the church. Bishop Dunn’s intervention reminds us of the challenge to restore credibility to the church’s voice. We have learned a painful lesson. As victims of sexual abuse have said to me, “Bishop you cannot change what happened to me, but you can make sure that this never happens again.” That must be our mission.

After the morning session, the Holy Father invited all involved in the synod — the synod fathers, men and women auditors, experts and fraternal delegates — to a lunch in the audience hall of Paul VI that had been changed into a lovely dining room by removing a number of the auditorium seats. Members sat at tables by discussion groups and it was a welcome break after a morning of five-minute interventions one after the other. The lunch was in honor of the inauguration of the Year of Faith.

Pope Benedict speaks at a luncheon for members of the Synod of Bishops and Vatican officials in the Paul VI hall Oct. 12. (Photo by Bishop Kicanas)

The Holy Father was flanked on either side by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Anglican primate, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury. Risotto and grilled fish were served by an army of waiters. Many cardinals and bishops not participating in the synod joined the group for lunch.

At the end of the meal in his remarks Benedict referred to the Emmaus passage reflecting on how we, like the disciples, were sharing a meal as we were walking together in the synod, seeking to know the Lord and one another in a deeper way. He also observed that at this meal we were sharing together with leaders of other faiths, dining together as we seek to walk more closely together.

In what was a miracle, the Holy Father before final prayer overruled Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, who had asked us to return to the synod hall at 4:30 p.m. as planned. The Holy Father seeing on his watch that it was 3 p.m. declared that we could return to the work of the Synod at 5:45. Like school children given a free day, everyone applauded with vigor.

The shortened afternoon was spent listening to Dr. Werner Arber, a  microbiologist and geneticist and the first Protestant president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. He was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1978. He began his reflection on the contemplation between science and faith by identifying curiosity as the driving force for scientific identification of natural laws and the basis for every human being’s effort to know the laws of nature in his search for the truth. He asserted that the ongoing process of evolution of the universe, of nature and of life is a given scientific fact. We believe life may exist on extraterrestrial places, although this has not been confirmed. He discussed genetic variation and how this has occurred over time.

He spoke of how established scientific knowledge adds to our worldview and it can open up innovation as a benefit to our lives and environments. Societal life requires rules of conduct. Acceptance of those rules is more acceptable if they are rooted in faith. If Jesus lived with us today he would be open to scientific knowledge for the benefit of society as long as the relevant laws of nature are fully accepted.

The Vatican has long been interested in science and its relationship to faith. We have testimony of that by the presence of the Jesuit astronomers in Tucson and Castel Gandolfo who staff the Vatican Observatory. They stand as peers in the scientific community as they conduct helpful research on behalf of the church. Jesuit Father Jose Funes from Argentina is the director of the observatory. We are blessed to have them in the diocese. They remind us of the regard the church holds for science.

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.

CNS launches new Vatican II look-back project

Yesterday, Catholic News Service launched a new feature, “Vatican II: 50 years ago today,” a step back in time to the daily activities of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council in 1959, the first to be held since 1870. After more than two years of preparatory work, the council convened in its first session, Oct. 11-Dec. 8, 1962. After the pope’s death the following year, Pope Paul VI reconvened the council for three others sessions. These ran Sept. 29-Dec. 4, 1963; Sept. 14-Nov. 21, 1964; and Sept. 14-Dec. 8, 1965.

A total of 2,860 bishops, referred to as council fathers, participated in one or more of the sessions. The council produced 16 documents — two dogmatic and two pastoral constitutions, nine decrees and three declarations. The documents address everything from liturgy to Scripture, missionary activity to ecumenism and interfaith relationships, and the functions of clergy and laity to religious freedom.

During the four years of the council, Catholic News Service, then known as News Service of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the predecessor of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or in shorthand, “NC,” provided some of the most comprehensive English-language coverage of the sessions, the council fathers and those who assisted in the work. In 1965, it published a compilation of its reporting, the working documents and proceedings of the council in a remarkable three-volume set known simply as the Council Daybook. It was edited by then NC director and editor-in-chief Floyd Anderson and was mainly the work of Msgr. James I. Tucek, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth who was NC Rome bureau chief from 1956 to 1964.

Pope Paul VI presides over a meeting of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 1963. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Writing in the preface of the first volume of the Council Daybook, Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste of Belleville, Ill., said, “The first session of the Vatican Council II created more ‘firsts’ than any previous ecumenical council. Among these ‘firsts’ and one of the most important was the establishment of the United States press panel as a source of daily news releases that gave to the session the greatest news coverage ever accorded a religious convention, meeting or council. The world today is linked by a vast network of communications media, and the press panel made the daily events of the council available to all.”

The bishop said that as the council’s first session began, journalists and writers were told that no prior texts would be made available and pre-written stories — the practice in those days since texts usually were handed out ahead — would be inaccurate. Those covering the council could only get texts at the end of the day, if available. “The rule of secrecy, more often violated than observed, added to the confusion,” he wrote. There was near revolt by the press corps.

The U.S. bishops acted quickly to create a daily press panel composed of specialists in Scripture, canon law, dogmatic and moral theology, and church history and social sciences. It was an immediate hit.

“The panel assisted and guided the [newspersons] in interpreting the daily proceedings of the council and furnished valuable background information,” Bishop Zuroweste wrote.

“It also established good will and corrected the dissatisfaction that was general in the first days of the council sessions. The satisfaction with the panel as a source of reliable information grew with each meeting, and before the first session was completed, the attitude and morale of the correspondents were excellent,” he wrote. “At the last session of the panel, the press corps publicly expressed its thanks to the United States bishops for establishing this source of accurate information.”

In this new service, CNS will present the fruits of that vast labor of the bishops, panels of experts and NC editors and correspondents.

Each day CNS will post the entry from the Council Daybook, just as it was reported on the corresponding day at the council 50 years ago. The entries are unaltered from the reporting styles of those times. CNS will often include important addresses of the popes and council fathers or interventions of experts. We also will identify some of the people or issues in the dispatches when the references may not be clear to today’s reader. However, for the most part this will be a page of history as it was reported then.

CNS is grateful to the past U.S. bishops and the U.S. council fathers still with us today, the press panel experts, Floyd Anderson, other former NC editors, especially NC assistant director Burke Walsh, and to all of the past NC correspondents — James C. O’Neill, Patrick Riley and Benedictine Father Placid Jordan, who covered the council and whose contributions appear in the Council Daybook. It is an astonishing and important legacy of Catholic journalism for the church.

You can get to the new service by visiting