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.
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.
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.