Today is my last full day in Rome. I leave first thing in the morning to return to the other beautiful city built on seven hills (Sheffield). Today is also the last full day of the five minute interventions. We’ve heard around 160 so far.
There were two significant themes for me this morning and one significant question.
The first was ecumenism and the new evangelisation. There were significant interventions both yesterday and today from Cardinals here in the Vatican on this theme. Cardinal Coccopalmerio spoke yesterday in favour of a “renewed relationship between the other Churches and ecclesial communities”. He said: “The division between Christians is not entirely innocent in terms of the de-christianisation of the Old Continent”. If we are seeking a new evangelisation of Europe, unity is vital. He focussed his remarks on a plea for urgency in the dialogue between the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches especially in Russia and Romania because consumerism and relativism which have become “the subtle poison that pushes them towards a devastating secularisation”.
Today Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity spoke in even stronger terms. He said that division among Christians is a scandal which endangers that most holy of causes, the preaching of the gospel. He recalled the historic Edinburgh conference of 1910 which was the beginning of the global ecumenical movement: the original roots of that movement are in common concern for mission. He drew the attention of the Fathers to the unity of the Church found in the martyrs of the 20th Century (see yesterday’s blog).
Enculturation was the second theme which struck me this morning. Sorry about the long words. Enculturation is the process by which the gospel needs different languages and forms in different places. We had several pleas for greater listening to local culture, a plea for more local decision making about liturgical texts and patterns, a plea for enculturation to be more complete. These voices came from Asia and Africa predominantly where the members of the church can sometimes still feel caught between two cultures: their own local culture and that of the missionaries who first brought the gospel. There was a general sense in the Synod that this matter of enculturation is a profoundly challenging part of being a global Church and a single communion. The direction of the comments was clearly a plea for greater freedom and local decision making.
And finally, the silence of the West. One of the abiding privileges of the Synod is attending to voices from all across the world. Just this morning we heard very movingly from Syria and from Haiti of Christian faith in the midst of catastrophe. The Synod has heard clearly the voices of Asia and Africa, of South and Central America and the voice of the Middle East , Oceania and Eastern Europe.
The Synod has not heard as clearly, in my view, the voice of the North America and Western Europe on the new evangelisation. In the initial presentations from each continent, the presentation on Europe was more reflective of the former communist states than western Europe. There was a single presentation from America which focussed on South and Central America.
There have, to be sure, been some individual interventions from these areas but they haven’t been frequent and nor have they articulated as clearly as some of the others a single position. If there is a theme uniting them it is a willingness to ask a series of more difficult questions arising from, for example, the abuse scandals, or the situation of the divorced and remarried. Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, made a very good intervention yesterday on the need for deep listening to the multiple cultures around us and for deep dialogue with them as key to the new evangelisation. There was a similar contribution this morning from a Swiss bishop. This is not so far from the question of enculturation above, but the culture we are listening to is pluriform and rapidly evolving, and we ourselves are swimming in it.
There is an irony here because the Synod and the new evangelisation are explicitly attempting to address the questions of faith in the historically Christian countries of Europe and North America. I may of course not be hearing things correctly. But it seems to me that there is some more listening still to do to the real questions the Bishops from North America and Europe are bringing. It is to these questions that the Synod will need to apply its wisdom in the small group stages.
Later this afternoon, the Fraternal Delegates will be invited to speak for four minutes each. I hope to post what I plan to say later this evening.