Inside the synod: Auditors speak, Christian/Islam concerns, and Cardinal Wuerl sums up the synod so far

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012

VATICAN CITY — The preacher for today’s prayer opening the synod’s day was Bishop Edward Hilboro Kussala, the first bishop of the new country of South Sudan. There was much joy at the establishment of South Sudan and the beginning of a time of peace in an area torn by war and violence.

Regretfully, the enthusiasm of that day that marked a new free state has been dampened by continued violence, Bishop Kussala spoke of courage, a quiet courage that continues to work confidently and to live joyfully despite obstacles, despite setbacks, despite forces that disrupt and destroy. Bishop Kussala witnesses such courage in his service in South Sudan. Some of the bishops present in the synod hall live in danger, serve amid violence, struggle to minister in a local church in tension and in turmoil. We admire them. We learn from them. We pray for them.

Final interventions were made today, some by auditors. Auditors are men and women, religious, a deacon, lay women and men who have been invited by the Holy Father to participate in the synod either because of their founding or involvement in organizations focused on evangelization or because they bring a particular pastoral focus to the gathering.

One clear emphasis of the auditors and the intervention today by Bishop Winston Fernando of Sri Lanka was the important role of the laity in the new evangelization. The laity need to be empowered to transform the world. Clergy on their own cannot realize this new evangelization.

Manoj Sunny, founder of Jesus Youth, was an engineer by profession but for a number of years has devoted his life to evangelization. Yesterday he called for catechesis of the laity so they can be sent forth to bring the Gospel to all. He asked for the formation of full-time lay missionaries.

Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, president of International Union of Superior Generals, spoke of people who are alienated from the church, hurting, and on the margin. They need pastoral care and support. The church must become more pastoral and less judgmental. “Can we enter into the pain of our people?” She reminded the synod of the role of religious in serving the needy, bringing back the alienated.

It struck me that the few auditors who spoke communicated with a different kind of language, accessible and concrete. They spoke from specific examples and life experiences, including their own experiences that connect with the listener. The laity can help us learn how to communicate better and to get our message across more effectively. It was clear that the auditors are laity who care about and love the church and want to assist the church in its new evangelization. We should feel very blessed by their presence among us and strive to find ways to empower them to lead in the new evangelization. It was disappointing that more of the auditors could not speak because of a lack of time, but they will engage with us in the small groups.

Again today synod fathers spoke of the relationship between Islam and Christianity. It has been a recurring and troubling theme that preoccupies many bishops from Muslim nations. While at times the religions work together, value and respect one another, at other times Christians feel they are second-class citizens in Muslim countries. They are merely tolerated or are persecuted. Sometimes Christians feel Muslim states wish they would leave and move to the West. Yet this is their home, a place where they have lived for generations. The question was raised whether evangelization is possible in Islamic countries where conversion is against the law. Bishop Kyrillos William of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt emphasized the need for Christians to live their faith and to be proud of their contributions to the society. They can witness the values of their faith which  can inspire others to embrace Christ.

This theme of the relations between Muslims and Christians needs serious attention, intensified dialogue between the two faiths, and a concerted effort to address fundamentalism and violent elements in both faiths.

Bishop Paul Desfarges of Algeria the other day quoted the Emir Abdel Kader, the son of a patriarchal chief of an Arab tribe in Algeria. The emir was born in 1806 in Mascara near Algeria. His family was Muslim and his father took him to Mecca when he was 8. His Muslim faith was deep in his heart. He said “fear that man who fears not God.” Although he fought against Christians  he was concerned for his Christian prisoners and called upon a priest to attend to them spiritually. Bishop Desfarges mentioned that the emir’s understanding of conversion of Christians or Muslims should be seen as going from God to God from the embrace of God to the embrace of God. Clearly this stands in opposition to some attitudes toward conversion and the importance of freedom of conscience.

Today provided an opportunity for Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, relator general for this synod, to draw together the varied interventions that marked the substance of our time together so far. He has been listening carefully, taking occasional notes, organizing the messages into categories, forming an outline of what contributes to the new evangelization. The summary is presented in Latin and a bound copy is given to each participant. This document guides the formulation of propositions that will be the work of the small groups that begins tomorrow. He has taken the various individual broad brush strokes made by the synod fathers and drawn them into a portrait of what, we pray, will realize a new evangelization.

In his presentation Cardinal Wuerl recalled experiences the synod fathers have had from the liturgies we celebrated with the Holy Father to the moving words of the pope at the opening reflection on ‘confessio’ and ‘caritas’ during morning prayer. At this synod we have already had a number of shared experiences that have given direction to this synod.

He reflected on four themes that became apparent in the interventions:

  • The Nature of the New Evangelization.
  • The Context of the Church’s Ministry Today.
  • Pastoral Responses to the Circumstances of the Day.
  • Agents/Participants of the New Evangelization.

He raised questions for the synod’s further work on realizing a new evangelization. He underlined that “it is God who speaks and acts in history” and that “evangelization is at the very heart of the church.” He underscored the “vital participation of every Catholic …  in the mission of evangelization.” While we say this, the challenge is how to bring this into the consciousness of every Christian, that they bear a responsibility to evangelize, to care for the poor, the sick, those with disability, to be Christ in the world today.

In our Diocese of Tucson as in so many dioceses, most Catholics are at best Sunday observers. They do not bring their faith into daily and active involvement in proclaiming Christ in their homes, places of work, and in the community. How can we engage them in their responsibility to make their faith central to their lives? How can we get Catholics more engaged in the social mission of the church?

A challenge for the synod fathers is to understand how we might better catechize the people, deepen their knowledge of the faith and their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. All of us struggle with this challenge. So few people take part in adult faith formation. We have so little time with young people in religious education classes and in our Catholic schools. Can we find more effective ways of communicating the faith, especially with the young?

Cardinal Wuerl reminded us of what we know so well, that “parishes … are the recognized place where … the life of the church unfolds.” Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk wrote a book in which he said the parish is the place where our people live. I see this in our diocese. Some feel their faith is deeply nourished by their parish and some feel their spiritual lives are left barren in their parish.  If only we could make every parish alive and thriving.

Within the parish, the role of the catechist, the family, the laity and the priest are preeminent. Cardinal Wuerl raised the question whether this is the time to give the catechist an instituted, stable ministry in the church? “How might the church better support and guide the family in its crucial ministry in their responsibility for the transmission of the faith and human values?” “How can the church more fully integrate the laity in the organization of the local church?” “How can the church foster a renewed missionary imperative to the ministry of priests?” How can seminaries form a generation of priests intent on evangelization?

In the open discussion following Cardinal Wuerl’s presentation, bishops identified several areas that were not sufficiently addressed in the summary, namely the role of religious, the role of theologians, the importance of liturgy in evangelization, reviving the sacrament of penance, the need for an exact definition of evangelization, the place of prayer in realizing the new evangelization, the need for the conversion of the church, the importance of beauty and contemplation as a means to evangelization, the positive role of the world in evangelizing, the benefits and blessings of Islam and the participation of ecumenical bodies.

Now the most important work begins, finding strategies to address these biting questions and move the church to a new evangelization.

- – -

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.

5 Responses

  1. Thank you, Bishop, for your kind words about the laity.

  2. “They do not bring their faith into daily and active involvement in proclaiming Christ in their homes, places of work, and in the community. How can we engage them in their responsibility to make their faith central to their lives? How can we get Catholics more engaged in the social mission of the church?”

    Throw out your “Consistent ethic of life” and “collegiality” that you bought into from Cardinal Bernardin, the Archbishop of Chicago who snowed you into believing that would bring more people into the prolife movement which would save the unborn. It was a lie that has been proven to be so. 52,000,000 murdered babies later, we are looking at the legalization of same-sex marriage and so many other intrinsic evils promoted by one political organization. That is the “fruit” of Cardinal Bernardin’s cause besides its saving the Democrat Party by enabling Catholics to remain registered in that organization and voting for it. Catholics are the single, largest voting block of the pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage organization – the Democrat Party. What ever happened to the sinning against the 5th Commandment by joining an organization that promotes the denial of one’s human rights? That is still a teaching of the Catholic Church. Does God create life to be aborted? Why are the bishops ignoring it? Is it because if will force Catholics to choose between their love of being Democrats or what they profess to believe and pray for as Catholics?

  3. Evangelization starts with lay people. Communication with everyone they meet. Many do no know how to start a conversation and bring it to morals. -the 10 commandments. No words of the bible need to be said. The first apostles didn’t need the bible -they wrote it so to speak. Our priests need to be blunt, in plain english, when speaking to their flock. Then it will be easier for their flock to go among others and speak the same words without preaching. I talk politics and morals to almost everyone, -it’s easy. Today everyone is concerned and we should bring the right answers to those who forget God is alive and among us!
    PLEASE GOD ENLIGHTEN YOUR PEOPLE -ESPECIALLY OUR “LEADERS”

    with everyone I talk with.

  4. On some of the topics raised in the open discussion:
    The role of religious – Religious are at the forefront of evangelization, working with people of many faiths and no faith, leading them to question why these people do what they do and yearning to emulate them.

    The role of theologians – ‘Faith seeking understanding’ makes theologians of all of us, and we look to those who are at the ‘professional’ level for professions of Faith in clear language that is convincing, not coercive. We’ve seen the history of Vatican officials crackdowns on anything perceived as threatening their authority.

    The importance of liturgy in evangelization – Good liturgy, especially at weddings and funerals, can open the hearts and minds of guests who do not yet share our Faith. The ‘Announcement’ prior to the distribution of the Eucharist does nothing to help non-Catholic Christians or non-believers. Nor does it protect Jesus from any feared threat from these people. It may be just what they need.

    Reviving the sacrament of penance – We have a long way to go if we’re still calling it the sacrament of ‘penance.’ Which priest do we trust for appropriate guidance? A priest in my childhood parish, who was part of the reason I entered the seminary, now deceased, was identified as having abused preteen girls in the confessional!

    The need for an exact definition of evangelization – Let’s not worry about ‘exact.’ Every act of charity can be an act of evangelization. I have even presided at funerals for non-Catholic firefighters as ‘Chaplain’ of our County Firemens’ Association. The Vatican came out with an instruction that laity were not to use the title, ‘Chaplain.’

    The place of prayer in realizing the new evangelization – No question! Prayer is the core.

    The need for the conversion of the church – This should be Number One! We are not ween favorably when priests lead prayers at public events and insisting on closing, ‘through Jesus Christ Our Lord.’ This is exclusive and even confrontational. People know that you’re Catholic. Inclusive prayer is much more likely to attract.

    The importance of beauty and contemplation as a means to evangelization – Very high!

    The positive role of the world in evangelizing – We’ve been taught to fear ‘the world, the flesh and the devil.’ We must recognize both the world and the flesh as gifts of God to reduce their abuse, which is the work of the deceptive devil.

    The benefits and blessings of Islam and the participation of ecumenical bodies – We must share our prayer, Love, and theology with all people of Faith,

  5. We can say evangelization starts with the lay people but so many of our priests are followers of Cardinal Benardin, his philosophy and the Democratic Party. AND no lay person will be allowed to evangelize within the Church without the supervision of a priest. Maybe what we need is an expansion of the persecution we are experiencing under the current adminestration to cause an awakening. Too many remain willing to trade the lives of the unborn for the government assuming our responsibility of care for the poor. Add to that our religiious freedom as they remain in denial of the seriousness of the problem. One of the key components of the new evangelism is a return to the sacrament of reconciliation. That is going to be difficult to do unless we are made aware of the need. 40 yrs ago my wife made the remark “What ever happened to sin?” The subject has been absent from homilies now decades along with the line leading to the confessional. There is a tremendous amount of inertia. The new evangelization needs to begin in the hearts of our priests as well as the laity.

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