Fifty years ago on this day in 1962, Pope John XXIII inaugurated the Second Vatican Council – a great assembly of the Roman Catholic Church from all across the world to attempt a great work of re-sourcing Christian theology and identity in the life of the Church in the modern age.

The Council met every October to December for five years (much longer than first intended).  It produced a significant agenda for change in the Roman Catholic Church: a new understanding of the Church; a more positive and generous attitude to the world; liturgy in the mother tongue and not only in Latin; a more coherent embracing of biblical scholarship and the insights of charismatic renewal; an openness to greater collegiality and collaboration and a more positive approach to ecumenical endeavour and to sharing the faith.

Less than twenty years after the end of the Second World War, as society emerged into the modern era, the Catholic Church found a confidence to embrace a vision of a global Church and Communion, a sacrament and sign of God’s love in the world.  For a recent, readable and detailed history see John W. O’Malley, What happened at Vatican 2, Harvard, 201.

This morning in a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the same St. Peter’s Square, the Pope remembered Vatican  II and the many rich blessings which flowed from its meeting.  The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch were both present along with many Cardinals, Bishops and Archbishops from across the world and thousands of priests and laity filling St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Benedict XVI also inaugurated this morning the Year of Faith to mark the 50 years from the beginning of the Council, a Year which will be kept in every Catholic parish across the world: a year of prayer to deepen the whole faith of the Church and a prayer for a deeper experience of the new evangelisation – the theme of the Synod of Bishops.  Like everything else about this Synod, the call to faith is Christocentric: it is call to focus on Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12.2).

Pope Benedict spoke in his homily of the tension which was present in Vatican II and which is present today:

… we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man.

The Pope pointed the Church back to the actual documents produced by the Council as a source of renewal, theological study and apologetics and on to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago today, as a summary of Catholic doctrine and a tool for teaching the faith.

Will these new ventures make a difference?  As we looked back fifty years this morning, there was a real sense of thanksgiving for the changes effected through Vatican II.  The Catholic Church acknowledges that change in an every changing world is not easy.  Yet change there has certainly been.    There is no doubt that Vatican 2 was one of the most significant Christian gatherings of the 20th Century.  The documents and history deserve to be better read and more widely understood.

What fills me with more hope than anything is the determination which comes through in almost every service, discussion and Synod session I have attended here that the Church must be drawn back to Christ, hear the gospel afresh and so renewed in God’s mission for the coming years.

Archbishop Rowan is in Rome for three days.  Yesterday evening he addressed the Synod of Bishops. He chose as his theme the importance of contemplation as the foundation of evangelism.  The Archbishop’s springboard was the hope engendered by the Second Vatican Council and in particularly the renewal of the Christian understanding of what it means to be human (Christian anthropology).

the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources – the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in God’s image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’.  In such a light, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that it is at last possible to be properly human:  the Catholic and Christian faith is a ‘true humanism’

A key part of being human is therefore to contemplate God’s goodness, grace and love and in that contemplation to forget our pre-occupation with ourselves and be caught up into service of God and the world.

To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly.  It is a deeply revolutionary matter.

The Archbishop drew attention to places of spiritual depth in the contemporary world – such as Taize and Bose – and to the new ecclesial movements and communities which flow from the discipline of the contemplative life.  It is a rich and inspiring address and worth reading and re-reading.  The habit of contemplation is foundational to evangelisation:

The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious.

It is hard to communicate what a significant mark of respect it was for the Archbishop to be invited to address the Synod for 30 minutes and take questions for a further 30.  This is the first time such an invitation has been given to an Anglican in the 50 years of the Synod’s existence.  All contributions to the Synod by the Roman Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops are limited to just five minutes.  This was both a significant honour and an opportunity.

The address was very well received and matched the theme of the Synod exactly.  The Synod Fathers have returned again and again to the need to begin afresh from the face of Christ, to reflect more deeply on their own faith, to the need for the evangelisers to be evangelised.  The Archbishop spoke from the theologians who themselves resourced the Second Vatican Council to resource their successors in their vital task.

Archbishop Rowan is regarded here will immense respect and affection.  His legacy of a stronger link between Canterbury and Rome is seen as vital for the future.  Ecumenism and Evangelisation continue to walk hand in hand:  to be one so that the world may believe (John 17.24).

The full text of the speech is here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2645/

Buon giorno e Roma!

People say there is less of the Bishop of Sheffield than there used to be.  It’s about a stone less to be precise (and still going down as of last Saturday).  This is partly due to Ann becoming very fierce on the matter of diets and partly to the Hairy Bikers’ recent television series.

A hazardous time then to be in Rome.  So far I’ve managed to resist the bread, the pasta and the pizza (well, almost).  However I have discovered gelati – Italian ice cream.  It’s very warm here at the moment (sorry about that!).  I have to walk through Rome four times a day in a cassock (more on that another day).  There are gelateria on every corner including one under the window of the room where I am staying.  Coconut is my favourite flavour so far but there are many still to try…..

The Synod had its first session in groups this morning.  The groups are divided according to language and I am in one of the English speaking groups but with a real spread of nationalities.  There is more of a dialogue and for deeper sharing than is possible in the plenary.

The last twenty-four hours have been a chance for me to think about the dogs which are not barking yet: the words or concepts which would feature on a discussion of this subject in the Church of England and which haven’t yet been a part of the conversation here.

There are several, as you might imagine.  Some of them I don’t miss.  But the most striking absentee so far is the idea of discipleship and of making disciples.  The concept doesn’t feature, as far as I have discovered, in the Instrumentum Laboris, the preliminary document for the Synod.  The focus is largely there on apologetics, the initial proclamation of the gospel and on catechesis (all associated with the inital passing on of faith).

But my reflection back to the Synod through the group this morning was that the conversation about Evangelisation must be joined to a conversation about discipleship: the fruits of a mature faith which is able to endure and to flourish in the midst of a secular society and culture.  The Church also needs to give careful thought to a vision of Christian discipleship and flourishing – to define the ends as another member of the group ventured so that we can then develop the means.  There have been a number of very positive references so far to small Christian communities from different places in the world which are of course immensely important as places for the forming and sustaining of disciples.

The thought connected for me with the presentation Ann Morisey gave to our Diocesan Development Day on Saturday which focussed on Methodism as a discipleship movement working for “transformation on an industrial scale”.

One of the fruits of coming away from your own situation is that you see some things more clearly.  One of the insights I will be taking back to Sheffield is that any conversation about sharing the faith needs to connected to a vision for growing disciples: Christians who will not melt in the heat of the day but endure and be sustained an grow stronger in their witness.

 

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.

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.

 

The Synod of Bishops held its first session this morning and began, as expected, with prayer and an address from Pope Benedict.  About 400 Synod Fathers, experts and fraternal delegates are gathered in the audience hall, a tiered auditorium.  There was a substantial press presence at the start of the morning.

Orientation
Today is all about orientation.  We were brought up to date with the pathway to the Synod this morning and looked ahead to the main themes for our conversation and listening over the next three weeks.  The feel of the gathering is formal but not stuffy: the bishops all in cassocks; everything so far has been in Latin with simultaneous translation into five different languages.

The Fraternal Delegates sit together behind the Cardinals near the front of the auditorium.  I have a Metropolitan from Romania on my left and two Armenian Orthodox priests to my right.

The main theme of this evening are a series of 10 minute reports on the new evangelisation from every continent represented here which promises to be fascinating.

The Pope’s Address
However the highlight of the morning was undoubtedly the opening address from the Pope.  He began by introducing and exploring the term good news (evangelion) drawing on both the Book of Isaiah and its use in Imperial Rome:  news from the Emporer was by definition good bringing power, renewal, salvation and health.  Luke fuses these two senses in his use of the term.

The gospel is great good news: the question asked by humanity in every generation is the same:  is God there and is God good?  The good news we proclaim is that God has broken his silence and spoken and Jesus is his word.  God is a God who loves us, suffers with us.  God is no longer the great stranger.  God has spoken and has broken the great silence.  This is good news today as it was in the days of the apostles.

The theme of this Synod is to ask how we can convey this message to the contemporary world?  How can we make this known?  We must begin in prayer and in co-operation with the Spirit like the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.

The Pope then developed two specific ways in which God involves us in the proclamation of the Good News around the two Latin words confessio (confession of faith) and caritas (charity or love).  We must be penetrated by the gospel, so that it abides deeply within us.  We must also be prepared to witness to the gospel, to make the good confession.  Our lives must be set on fire by love.  That love must work itself out in our actions.

The Pope left the Synod in no doubt that the consideration of the New Evangelisation is an urgent task, a theological task, a task which engages heart and mind and life and calls for deep engagement with Scripture and the tradition as well as the experience of the Church.

And finally…
One of the striking stories told this morning was from Hong Kong where the diocese has trained over a thousand catechists.  This has resulted in an increase in the number of baptisms – 3,000 this year.  Thanks be to God.

 

We had a great Diocesan Development Day today in Sheffield on the theme of learning to be salt and light in our communities.  500 people came together from all across South and East Yorkshire.  Ann Morisey was our main speaker.  There was a great buzz in the room.  Thanks be to God and to the organising team.

The Development Day was the main reason that I’m arriving at the Synod a day late.  Everything begins tomorrow in Rome at 0930 local time with the solemn inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

However my bags are packed (just!) and I leave first thing in the morning for the flight so I will be there well in advance of the first congregation at nine o’clock on Monday morning.

The subject of the Synod needs a slightly fuller introduction.  What is meant by the term “the new evangelisation”?

Fifty years ago, evangelisation became one of the central topics of the Vatican Council.  According to one of the key documents of the Council, “evangelisation is the energy which permits the Church to realise her goal, namely to respond to the universal call to holiness” (Lumen Gentium, 39-40).

These ideas around evangelisation have been developed and underlined now by three popes.  Pope Paul VI emphasised the need in particular to evangelise those who have been baptised but have never understood or grasped the faith as their own.  Pope John Paul II developed the term “new evangelisation” to describe this aspect of the task: the transmission of the faith to those who have already received it through baptism but not embraced it as their own and especially in the traditionally Christian countries of the so-called First-World.

Pope Benedict VI has built on these ideas in his own teaching and has made this the theme of the key Synod of Bishops.  The new evangelisation is not therefore the primary communication of the gospel to those who have never heard it but the transmission of a real, living faith in Jesus Christ to those who have grown up in some sense within the Church and within nations which have been traditionally Christian.

Anglicans are familiar with the need to do this though we would not distinguish in such depth between the transmission of the gospel to those who have only a nominal faith and those who have never heard it.  We would acknowledge that society in the United Kingdom contains different groups with different experiences of both the Church and the faith and that different means are needed to connect with each.

There is a recognition in all the documents that the only place to begin is through the renewal of the individual Christian and the Church through a fresh encounter with Christ.  Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical letter to welcome the new millennium (in novo millienio inuente), calls all Christians to begin again by encountering the face of Christ.  We will be led from there to develop new tools and new expressions for the transmission of the faith.

So the Synod, I hope and pray, will not be about techniques and methods but about encountering Christ and helping others to do so.  Please pray for us!

The process for the Synod is very different from anything I’ve experienced in the Church of England.  For one thing the programme is in Latin.  My ancient languages are stronger than my modern ones so that’s not so much of a problem.  My first form Latin teacher was right – it has come in useful!

We are dealing with one big subject over quite a long time rather than lots of big subjects in small bites. The subject for the Synod is identified several years in advance and there is very thorough preparatory work.

An initial list of questions is prepared (the Lineamenta – a kind of outline) and sent to all the Bishops Conferences and other institutions around the world.  Responses are requested by a certain date.  From those responses the Synod staff prepare the key preparatory document called the “Instrumentum Laboris” (I guess working tool would be a reasonably translation).

The Instrumentum Laboris summarises the responses to the Lineamenta and organises them into themes for discussion at the Synod.  I normally have to take a very thick ringbinder to a four day meeting of the Church of England General Synod.  The Instrumentum Laboris is an 80 page book and gives me, I think, everything I need to know.  There is a realistic chance that everyone will have arrived having read the Instrumentum and prepared to discuss its themes together – a kind of level playing field.

The Instrumentum is divided into four chapters.  The first and I think the strongest is the theological introduction to evangelisation entitled: “Jesus Christ, the Good News of God to Humanity”.  This is the first paragraph and well worth pondering:

“The Christian faith is not simply teachings, wise sayings, a code of morality or a tradition.  The Christian faith is a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ.  Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions which lead to this encounter between the person and Jesus Christ.  The goal of all evangelisation is to create the possibility for this encounter, which is at one and the same time, intimate, personal, public and communal” (IL 18).

The second chapter has the title “Time for a New Evangelisation” and seeks to discern and map the changes in the world which affect how we live our faith and which influence our communities (social, cultural, media etc.).  The term new evangelisation needs a post in itself.  Chapter Three maps the basic classic places and ways the Church aims to transmit the faith.  Chapter Four explores areas of newer areas pastoral activity which are a response to the changing cultural conditions.  I guess we will hear more about these in the contributions to the Synod itself.

The Synod has the specific goal of producing a further document over the three weeks summarising the reflections of the Bishops and offered to set future direction and the agenda for future work.  Hence the structure of the Synod is 12 days in plenary followed by around nine days in smaller groups then some final plenary sessions.

All the documents (including, I think, the responses to the Lineamenta) are posted on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va)

 

Welcome to this new blog.  A bit of an experiment.  We’ll see how it goes.I’ve started blogging because of an invitation to go to Rome in a few days time for something called the Synod of Bishops.

The Synod has been called by Pope Benedict.  Bishops are coming together from all over the world to explore the theme of The New Evangelisation.  The Synod has been called to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It also marks the inauguration of the Year of Faith.

I’ve been asked to to as a Fraternal Delegate representing the Anglican Communion.  There are about a dozen Fraternal Delegates at the Synod representing different churches across the world and scattered among several hundred Roman Catholic bishops.

Most of the Synod will be spend listening to other people but every fraternal delegate is invited to speak to the whole Synod for around four minutes.  I’m thinking hard about what to say.

It’s a real privilege to be attending and I’m looking forward to it.  The Synod lasts for three weeks.  I’m there for the first twelve days (in plenary) and the final three days.  In between, I have to come back to fulfil commitments in the Diocese.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is giving one of the major addresses to the whole Synod part way through the plenary time.

I’ve enjoyed the preparatory reading (more on that later) and I think I’m going to learn a lot.  I have a long standing interest in catechesis (teaching the faith to new Christians), apologetics and forming fresh expressions of church.

I’m hoping to use this blog initially to pass on some of the reflections and the lessons.  Beyond that, who knows.