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.