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.
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.