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The Propositions from the Synod of Bishops

So when all was said and done, what was the outcome of the Synod of Bishops?

After agreeing the Message from the Synod (the Nuntius – see yesterday’s post), the Synod turned its attention on Friday evening and Saturday morning to agreeing the final list of Propositions. The Propositions go forward to a small group elected by the Synod who do further work on them before submitting them to the Pope as guidance for the future.  Normally they are not published at this stage but a copy has been made available online here:  http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_25_xiii-ordinaria-2012/02_inglese/b33_02.html

There are 51 Propositions.  They were read aloud (in Latin) on Friday evening and Saturday morning.  The reading took several hours.  The Fraternal Delegates were not given the text at this stage and nor, of course, did we have a vote.  The Synod Fathers voted on the Propositions both by marking and signing their own texts and by an electronic vote on each Proposition in the full Synod session.  I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that there was not a great deal of dissent on any of the votes although there were, I gather, some significant alterations made to some of the Propositions after they were examined in small groups.

Many of the Propositions simply affirm or re-affirm present practice in the light of the New Evangelisation.  However, to my Anglican eyes and ears, there was a significant and clear overall direction emerging which resonates with recent Anglican reflection on mission and the transmission of the faith.  Here are eight points worth noting in this respect.

1.  A permanent call to mission.
The Synod represents a further development in reflection on the New Evangelisation in that the Roman Catholic Church clearly perceives a permanent call to engage in God’s mission and to the transmission of the faith both in the countries which have been traditional mission fields and the countries traditionally regarded as Christian (see Propositions 6, 7, 40, 41).

It is proposed that the Church proclaim the permanent world-wide missionary dimension of her mission in order to encourage all the particular Churches to evangelize (7)

The Propositions recognise this both in theory and in suggesting various structural responses, including a permanent Council for New Evangelisation as part of every Bishop’s Conference (40), establishing the study of the New Evangelisation in Catholic Universities (30) and the New Evangelisation to be the integrating element in the formation of priests and deacons (49):

Seminaries should take as their focus the New Evangelization so that it becomes the recurring and unifying theme in programs of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation in the ars celebrandi, in homiletics and in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, all very important parts of the New Evangelization.The Synod recognizes and encourages the work of deacons whose ministry provides the Church great service. Ongoing formation programs within the diocese should also be available for deacons.

New Evangelisation therefore comes to occupy a central place within theology and practice similar to that of the mission of God in many of the Protestant Churches and the Five Marks of Mission within the Anglican Communion.

2.  Inculturation
Inculturation is a key concept in the Propositions, introduced as one of the first substantial paragraphs (5).  It’s prominence reveals the dilemma at the heart of so much of the transmission of the faith: how do we communicate an unchanging gospel in a changing world?  Answers are not supplied but there are significant clues in the rest of the document (12, 13, 19).

3. Secularisation (8)
There is an awareness of secularisation in the Propositions as throughout the documents (8).  However there has been little in depth analysis of the problem.  The Synod has rather reversed my view of traditional Roman Catholic strengths and weaknesses in theological method.  Before the Synod, I held the impression of a Church which was strong in its philosophical theology and weaker in its reflection on Scripture.  Actually the Synod has provided wonderful examples throughout of deep Scriptural reflection, many of which will stay with me for a long time.  However it has been less strong on philosophical theology.  There has been little attempt to analyse the roots and causes of secularisation which I associate with Hans Kung and other theologians of the post war generation.

4. The right to proclaim and to hear the gospel (10, 15, 16)
This is rightly a strong theme. The freedom to preach the gospel is felt to be under attack both in the secularised West and in some places from militant Islam.  The worldwide Church needs to make clear its stance not to impose faith on anyone but to assert the right of everyone to choose their religion.

5. Initial proclamation (9)
Proposition 9 calls for major pieces of work to be done on the initial proclamation of the gospel.  This work is to be both theological – describing the heart of the gospel – and pastoral – describing strategies for communicating the faith.  It calls for serious and welcome attention to the theology of evangelism.

6. Apologetics (17, 18, 19, 20, 54, 55)
A major new initiative is called for here though its shape is less precise. Theologians, universities, new media experts, artists and scientists are all called to be involved.  There have been similar calls recently within the Church of England for a major new initiative in apologetics and for more resources to be invested here.

7. Adult Catechesis (28, 29, 37, 38)
Amen to this sentence:

One cannot speak of the New Evangelization if the catechesis of adults is non-existent, fragmented, weak or neglected.

The Synod has rightly paid major attention to the development of catechesis, building on the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Attention is focussed here on the formation of catechists.  Again there have been similar calls recently for a new focus on catechesis within the Church of England and for the development of new materials.

8. New ecclesial communities (43)
Finally the Synod is extremely positive and affirming of all that the new ecclesial communities (movements such as Sant’Egidio) have brought to the life and witness of the Church since Vatican 2.  Again this has been evident through the Synod.  In Church of England language, this is about living out the mixed economy church on a macro rather than a micro level: points of relationship, connection and integration are key between new movements of mission and the established structures of the Church.

Since Vatican II, the New Evangelization has greatly benefited from the dynamism of the new ecclesial movements and new communities. Their ideal of holiness and unity has been the source of many vocations and remarkable missionary initiatives. The Synod recognizes these new realities and encourages them to utilise their charisms in close collaboration with the dioceses and the parish communities, who in turn, will benefit from their missionary spirit.

Overall then there is a significant agenda here. This has been a prayerful, biblical, united and humble Synod which has taken a further step of placing the idea of the mission of God and evangelisation at the heart of the theology and structure and purpose of the Church.  It’s been a privilege to take part.  Thanks be to God.

Postscript:
If you read the Propositions or the Message please bear in mind that the translations are reasonably accurate but don’t always read that well.  It’s worth persevering!

The Message from the Synod of Bishops

I returned to Rome on Friday morning (this time with Ann) for the final part of the Synod of Bishops here.  It’s been good to step back in to the conclusion of the process which began three weeks ago.

While I have been away the Synod has been working mainly in small groups of about fifteen people.  Each group works in the same language (there are six different languages at the Synod).  The groups have been working on the two main outputs.  The first is the Message (Nuntius) which was read in the main assembly yesterday and the second are the Propositions which form the basis for the advice to the Pope on future direction.

The groups had the opportunity to look at initial texts for the Message and then to approve a second draft.  The Message runs to some 14 pages in the official booklet.

You can find the full English text here:  http://en.radiovaticana.va/articolo.asp?c=633215

The Message is essentially a pastoral document from the Synod to the whole Church.  The Synod Fathers I spoke to were very pleased with its tone and content.  Reading it through yesterday, the Message does authentically represent the Synod I’ve been part of.   It’s a helpful summary of the main themes of the New Evangelisation.

The Bible passage chosen to frame the Message and to stand as a model for the New Evangelisation is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:

There is no man or woman who, in one’s life, would not find oneself like the woman of Samaria beside a well with an empty bucket, with the hope of finding the fulfillment of the heart’s most profound desire, that which alone could give full meaning to existence. Today, many wells offer themselves to quench humanity’s thirst, but we must discern in order to avoid polluted waters. We must orient the search well, so as not to fall prey to disappointment, which can be disastrous.

Like Jesus at the well of Sychar, the Church also feels obliged to sit beside today’s men and women. She wants to render the Lord present in their lives so that they could encounter him because he alone is the water that gives true and eternal life.

This is a powerful story of cross cultural evangelisation in a situation of great need and, it seems to me, holds great lessons for our age.

The Message goes on then to draw out some of the principal themes of the working document for the Synod which have flowed through all of our discussions.  The new evangelisation is all about a personal encounter of faith with Jesus Christ:

The work of the new evangelization consists in presenting once more the beauty and perennial newness of the encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time, above all to ourselves. We invite you all to contemplate the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, to enter the mystery of his existence given for us on the cross, reconfirmed in his resurrection from the dead as the Father’s gift and imparted to us through the Spirit.

The Fathers call the Church to courage, to hope rather than despair and to a serious spiritual conflict, again using language from the interventions.  They issue a bold call for personal conversion for ourselves even as we seek to recall others to Christ:

We firmly believe that we must convert ourselves above all to the power of Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially of his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we Bishops first of all – that we could never really be equal to the Lord’s calling and mandate to proclaim his Gospel to the nations. We know that we must humbly recognize our vulnerability to the wounds of history and we do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins.

The middle part of the document introduces different aspects of the new evangelisation which will be the theme of the Propositions (more on these tomorrow).  So there are sections dealing with the family, the parish, with schools, with catechesis, with the ordained and lay, with young people.  There is a notable section on contemplation clearly responding in part  to Archbishop Rowan’s address:

A testimony that the world would consider credible can arise only from an adoring gaze at the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, only from the deep silence that receives the unique saving Word like a womb. Only this prayerful silence can prevent the word of salvation from being lost in the many noises that overrun the world.

Being at the side of the poor also receives a special prominence, again picking up comments made during the Synod.

Finally the Fathers have a message for the Church in each different continent, mirroring the presentations given from the different Bishops Conferences at the beginning of the three weeks.  There is a paragraph for each and these were read out by someone from these continents in different languages at the assembly.

I looked with some care, as you would imagine at the message addressed to Europe and I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed here.  The treasures and achievements of the past are mentioned alongside the twin difficulties of aggressive secularisation and hostile regimes.  The paragraph concludes with these words:

May the present difficulties not pull you down, dear Christians of Europe: may you consider them instead as a challenge to be overcome and an occasion for a more joyful and vivid proclamation of Christ and of his Gospel of life.

I think I was hoping for a bit more in terms of future direction.  Overall, though, I think the Message is an accurate summary of the themes of the Synod.  It has a pastoral heart, it is written in love for the worldwide Church, it carries something of the spirit of Vatican 2, and it is Christ centred and gospel centred as the Synod has been.  It deserves to be read widely and studied carefully by Christians of all Churches.  We are called to do as Jesus did: to sit and listen to thirsty people, to serve them and allow them to serve us, and bear witness to the one who gives the water of life.

New Evangelisation: humility, respect and silence

This morning the Synod began to listen to the contributions of the Synod Fathers.  Each speaks for five minutes only on any aspect of the topic or agenda and each is allowed only one contribution during the main plenary sessions.

The contribution which spoke most powerfully to me this morning began with a question which the Bishop speaking had been asked by a young person: are the youth lost or has the Church lost us?  The Bishop went on to make an appeal for the Church to cultivate three qualities above all others which will create the conditions for the new evangelisation.

The Church must learn humility and learn humility from Jesus Christ who came not to serve but to be served.  We must become a humble church not pre-occupied with itself.

Second, the Church must learn respect for every human person as Christ was a respecter of persons.

Third the Church must discover again the power of silence: that there are no easy solutions in the face of the great suffering in the world.

There were many other contributions but this is the one which I will reflect on most from today in the coming days.  It speaks of a Church which is learning to be Christ-like again: a church of the beatitudes.

As I tune into the Synod I am beginning to hear two different kinds of contributions from the Synod Fathers.  There are contributions which argue that to go forward the Church must return to fundamentals and do them better (enliven the liturgy; preach the word better; deepen observance of the sacrament of reconciliation).  And there are contributions which argue that to go forward the Church must listen more deeply to the culture, understand it better and be prepared to communicate the gospel in new ways.

Just occasionally there is the glimpse of a contribution which suggests that both are essential and it will be interesting to see which of these voices predominates as we move through the different contributions.

But humility, respect and silence are the themes of the day for me.

Postscript
It was very good to make my first visit to the Anglican Centre in Rome today and preach at the Tuesday Eucharist there.  Excellent also to see Ken Howcroft again (now Methodist minister in Rome) and to learn that there is a fresh expression of church attached to All Saints Anglican Church here led by a newly ordained deacon.

Around the world in 80 minutes

The Synod heard contributions from five different continents today.  Each speaker had 10 minutes to paint a picture of the need for the new evangelisation and what was already happening.

My listening was inevitably subjective.  Some of the presentations were in English and some I heard through simultaneous translation so may have missed part of what was intended – but here goes.

The picture in Europe is a sober one.  Europe needs to be evangelised.  There are many obstacles to the transmission of faith, rising secularism, a rising number of attacks against Christians and many cases of discrimination (note this is the whole of Europe from East to West).  Nevertheless it was a bleaker picture than I recognise from Britain.

Africa was much more positive.  To distinguish between the old and new evangelisation is very difficult.  The challenge over the last generation has been to be truly African and truly Catholic.  There are spectacular numbers of African bishops, priests, religious and catechists.  The establishing of small Christian communities has been a key development.  Several factors mean that faith must be deepened: the rise of globalisation; challenging elements from African culture and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

The report from America was more about central and south America than North America (curiously there was no separate report).  There has been an emphasis on enabling the laity and on catechesis.

The report from Asia was clear and inspiring.  Asia is a major culture for the world’s future and a young culture.  There are many challenges including secularisation; family ties being eroded; anti life movements; a growing individualism and a growing number of attacks on religion (though different in different places.  For Asia, religion is primarily discipleship to a person.  The person of Jesus Christ is deeply attractive.  To tell the story of Jesus to Asia is our challenge.

Finally Oceania – the Islands of Humanity – covering one third of the earth’s surface.  The impression of a Church working well together across the whole region yet facing many challenges (including secularisation and globalisation but also serious environmental challenges).  A clear recognition that we must talk about the evangelisers and see them formed if we are to have a new evangelisation.

The session was a masterclass in the challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church (and to some extent all the churches) all across the globe.  There seemed to be a consensus that whilst some regions face particular challenges in the light of their context and history, others were much more shared and general because of the shared global culture which affects every part of the world.  Therefore there is real merit and value in the Church considering the new evangelisation as a global movement.

For this Fraternal Delegate, it was good to be offered a panoramic view of the questions the Church faces.  Each presentation was born out of the pastoral experience of the bishops present from that region.  Again and again the Synod returned to the theme of the need to transmit the faith with faith, hope and joy to the contemporary world.  There is a deep sense of something stirring.