Sunday, October 28, 2018

Last day of the Synod

Today was a day I can hardly believe finally came: the final day of the Synod of Bishops 2018, concluded by a beautiful mass in Saint Peter's Basilica. As I sat there in the chairs reserved for concelebrants, I could hardly believe it was over.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The day began with getting to, in and through Saint Peter's in the first place. The other masses we had celebrated during the month were outdoors, so it was relatively easy. But because this mass was indoors, there was a lot more security and crowd control. Instead of vesting in the basilica itself, we were directed to the grand corridor that opens at the Bronze Door and leads up to the Secretariat of State. Here I am at the midway point of the corridor, looking down at the assembled members of the Synod:

The Bronze Door is at the end. Turn around, and you can see how the corridor continues to slope upward:

This is the corridor that visiting dignitaries would normally walk to the to the Secretariat of State, or the Pope. It was designed to be as impressive as possible, and I have to tell you, it works.

The Mass itself was absolutely beautiful. Vatican News has the video posted on YouTube, which I gladly share with you here:

The homily of the Pope was delivered in Italian. Obviously there were no translation headsets for us, but after a month in Rome I found I was able to follow along pretty well. An English edition was published after, which I share with you here:

The account we have just heard is the last of those that the evangelist Mark relates about the itinerant ministry of Jesus, who is about to enter Jerusalem to die and to rise. Bartimaeus is thus the last of those who follow Jesus along the way: from a beggar along the road to Jericho, he becomes a disciple who walks alongside the others on the way to Jerusalem. We too have walked alongside one another; we have been a “synod”. This Gospel seals three fundamental steps on the journey of faith
First, let us consider Bartimaeus. His name means “son of Timaeus”. That is how the Gospel describes him: “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus” (Mk 10:46). Yet, oddly, his father is nowhere to be found. Bartimaeus lies alone on the roadside, far from home and fatherless. He is not loved, but abandoned. He is blind and no one listens to him; when he tried to speak, everyone told him to keep quiet. Jesus hears his plea. When he goes to him, he lets him speak. It was not hard to guess what Bartimaeus wanted: clearly, a blind person wants to see or regain his sight. But Jesus takes his time; he takes time to listen. This is the first step in helping the journey of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listening before speaking. 
Instead, many of those with Jesus ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet (cf. v. 48). For such disciples, a person in need was a nuisance along the way, an obstacle unexpected and unforeseen. They preferred their own timetable above that of the Master, their own talking over listening to others. They were following Jesus, but they had their own plans in mind. This is a risk constantly to guard against. Yet, for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge. How important it is for us to listen to life! The children of the heavenly Father are concerned with their brothers and sisters, not with useless chatter, but with the needs of their neighbours. They listen patiently and lovingly, just as God does to us and to our prayers, however repetitive they may be. God never grows tired; he is always happy when we seek him. May we too ask for the grace of a heart that listens. I would like to say to the young people, in the name of all of us adults: forgive us if often we have not listened to you, if, instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears. As Christ’s Church, we want to listen to you with love, certain of two things: that your lives are precious in God’s eyes, because God is young and loves young people, and that your lives are precious in our eyes too, and indeed necessary for moving forward. 
After listening, a second step on the journey of faith is to be a neighbour. Let us look at Jesus: he does not delegate someone from the “large crowd” following him, but goes personally to meet Bartimaeus. He asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). What do you want… – Jesus is completely taken up with Bartimaeus; he does not try to sidestep him. …me to do – not simply to speak, but to do something. …for you – not according to my own preconceived ideas, but for you, in your particular situation. That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.
Faith passes through life. When faith is concerned purely with doctrinal formulae, it risks speaking only to the head without touching the heart. And when it is concerned with activity alone, it risks turning into mere moralizing and social work. Faith, instead, is life: it is living in the love of God who has changed our lives. We cannot choose between doctrine and activism. We are called to carry out God’s work in God’s own way: in closeness, by cleaving to him, in communion with one another, alongside our brothers and sisters. Closeness: that is the secret to communicating the heart of the faith, and not a secondary aspect. 
Being a neighbour means bringing the newness of God into the lives of our brothers and sisters. It serves as an antidote to the temptation of easy answers and fast fixes. Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not “one of us”, those whom God ardently seeks. A temptation so often found in the Scriptures will always be there: the temptation to wash our hands. That is what the crowd does in today’s Gospel. It is what Cain did with Abel, and Pilate with Jesus: they washed their hands. But we want to imitate Jesus and, like him, to dirty our hands. He is the way (cf. Jn 14:6), who stopped on the road for Bartimaeus. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5), who bent down to help a blind man. Let us realize that the Lord has dirtied his hands for each one of us. Let us look at the cross, start from there and remember that God became my neighbour in sin and death. He became my neighbour: it all starts from there. And when, out of love of him, we too become neighbours, we become bringers of new life. Not teachers of everyone, not specialists in the sacred, but witnesses of the love that saves. 
The third step is to bear witness. Let us consider the disciples who, at Jesus’ request, called out to Bartimaeus. They do not approach a beggar with a coin to shut him up, or to dispense advice. They go in Jesus’ name. Indeed, they say only three words to him, and all three are words of Jesus: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you” (v. 49). Everywhere else in the Gospel, Jesus alone says, “Take heart”, for he alone “heartens” those who heed him. In the Gospel, Jesus alone says, “Get up”, and heals in spirit and body. Jesus alone calls, transforming the lives of those who follow him, helping raise up the fallen, bringing God’s light to the darkness of life. So many children, so many young people, like Bartimaeus, are looking for light in their lives. They are looking for true love. And like Bartimaeus who in the midst of that large crowd called out to Jesus alone, they too seek life, but often find only empty promises and few people who really care.
It is not Christian to expect that our brothers and sisters who are seekers should have to knock on our doors; we ought to go out to them, bringing not ourselves but Jesus. He sends us, like those disciples, to encourage others and to raise them up in his name. He sends us forth to say to each person: “God is asking you to let yourself be loved by him”. How often, instead of this liberating message of salvation, have we brought ourselves, our own “recipes” and “labels” into the Church! How often, instead of making the Lord’s words our own, have we peddled our own ideas as his word! How often do people feel the weight of our institutions more than the friendly presence of Jesus! In these cases, we act more like an NGO, a state-controlled agency, and not the community of the saved who dwell in the joy of the Lord. 
To listen, to be a neighbour, to bear witness. The journey of faith in today’s Gospel ends in a beautiful and surprising way when Jesus says “Go; your faith has made you well” (v. 52). Yet Bartimaeus had made no profession of faith or done any good work; he had only begged for mercy. To feel oneself in need of salvation is the beginning of faith. It is the direct path to encountering Jesus. The faith that saved Bartimaeus did not have to do with his having clear ideas about God, but in his seeking him and longing to encounter him. Faith has to do with encounter, not theory. In encounter, Jesus passes by; in encounter, the heart of the Church beats. Then, not our preaching, but our witness of life will prove effective. 
To all of you who have taken part in this “journey together”, I say “thank you” for your witness. We have worked in communion, with frankness and the desire to serve God’s people. May the Lord bless our steps, so that we can listen to young people, be their neighbours, and bear witness before them to Jesus, the joy of our lives.

At the conclusion of the mass, a special letter was read to the young people of the world (and particularly of the Church):
We the Synod Fathers now address you, young people of the world, with a word of hope, trust and consolation. In these days, we have gathered together to hear the voice of Jesus, “the eternally young Christ”, and to recognize in Him your many voices, your shouts of exultation, your cries, and your moments of silence.
We are familiar with your inner searching, the joys and hopes, the pain and anguish that make up your longings. Now we want you to hear a word from us: we wish to be sharers in your joy, so that your expectations may come to life. We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history.
Our weaknesses should not deter you; our frailties and sins must not be an obstacle for your trust. The Church is your mother; she does not abandon you; she is ready to accompany you on new roads, on higher paths where the winds of the Spirit blow stronger – sweeping away the mists of indifference, superficiality and discouragement.
When the world that God so loved, that He gave us His only Son, Jesus, is focused on material things, on short-term successes, on pleasures, and when the world crushes the weakest, you must help it to rise up again and to turn its gaze towards love, beauty, truth and justice once more. 
For a month, we have walked together with some of you and with many others who have been united to us through prayer and affection. We wish to continue the journey now in every part of the earth where the Lord Jesus sends us as missionary disciples. 
The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm. Be sure to make the most fragile people, the poor and those wounded by life your travelling companions. 
You are the present; be a brighter future.

One fun detail of the reading of the letter was the sound effects that accompanied it. Simply put, it was a stormy day in Rome, and thunder was crashing outside and even inside the Basilica. You can't hear it in the video, but you can see the occasion reaction on the face of congregants during the reading of the letter.

That night was one of celebration. The Canadian bishops went out to a local restaurant in the Borgo Pio, to share food and friendship. We had all lived something remarkable, and it was our chance to share before we went our separate ways.  How good it is when brothers live in unity!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Drum roll... again!

Today was the day we received the final draft of the Synod document. We were to have it read to us in the morning, and then proceed to voting on it in the afternoon.

Now you may be thinking, "Read to us? You mean they didn't give you paper copies?" Actually, they did, but those copies were merely in Italian. Provisions had apparently not been made to have the draft translated into English, so instead it was read to us with simultaneous translation being offered in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. We had to pay close attention, and I had my red pen and yellow highlighter ready to make notes on my copy. I also had my personal annotated copy of the initial draft ready, so as to be able to make comparisons.

Wow, the reading was long. The document had 167 numbered paragraphs, and some of those had sub-paragraphs, so it took a while. We only had time to cover parts I and II of the draft in the morning session, and that session was 3.5 hours long! We were told that we would simply have to read the rest of the document ourselves, at home. Obviously, many of us were not happy with that, as not everyone knew Italian. For myself, I can read Italian, but with the help of a dictionary and obviously much more slowly. There was not way this was going to fly.

We took a break for lunch, and the Canadian bishops were invited to a delicious lunch at the home of Cardinal Ouellet.

The mood was upbeat: in general, we were pretty happy with the document so far. Was it perfect? No. But it was clear that the undersecretaries responsible for the drafting of the document had been listening. Personally, all my proposals for amendment had found their way into the document. Others felt the same.

We were asked to return to the Synod hall for 4:00 pm instead of the usual 4:30 pm, because of the anticipated length of the voting procedure. The vote was paragraph by paragraph. Again, we used our voting handsets. We knew the device was activated when our name appeared on the screen.

We would then enter our vote, using either the "placet" or "non placet" buttons. Our vote would then appear on the screen.

After that, we would press the green "confirmo" button to lock in the vote, or press the red button to correct it in case we accidentally pressed the wrong one.

The vote would close after about a minute, and the results would appear on the large overhead display in the Synod hall.

We proceeded this way for parts I and II, which had been read out earlier in the morning. As for part III, however, it was clear that the word had gone to the secretariat that it was not acceptable to ask us to vote on a text that many of us did not understand. So after that first set of votes, part III was read out, with translation once again. It took a long time, but this was the most important part of the document, and I am glad it was done. I am convinced that not doing it would have potentially cast a shadow over the process and over the meaning of the subsequent votes. Once the reading was done, we proceeded to the final votes.

In the end, every single paragraph met the 2/3 threshold needed for a vote to pass. A few were unanimous in favour, while a many had only 1 or 2 against. It actually became a bit of a joke: who was the one synod father who was consistently voting against everything? Of course, it might not have been one person throughout, but it got funny when we saw that someone had actually voted against a paragraph extolling the Virgin Mary. Maybe his control was broken or he didn't know how to use it properly. I'm hoping the Blessed Mother didn't take it personally! :-)

If you are interested, you can see the final document and the results of the voting on the Vatican web site (in Italian). Some of the votes were closer than others, and I'll see if I can share my interpretation of those votes in a future blog post.

As for the members of the Synod, we burst into applause then the final votes were tallied. By then it was almost 8:00 pm (afternoon sessions normally ended at 7:15 pm), but while we were tired we knew something important had happened. There were a few speeches, including one by Cardinal Sako (who had presided at the afternoon voting session), and then the Holy Father spoke.

He had been silent for much of the Synod, just listening to the various interventions. We were eager to hear what he had to say, and his words put everything we were living in perspective:
I too must say thank you, to you all. To Cardinal Baldisseri, to Msgr. Fabene, to the delegate presidents, to the Rapporteur, to the special secretaries – I said that they “left their skin” in the preparatory document; now I think they leave to us their bones, as they have lost everything! Thanks also to the experts: we have seen how one can pass from a martyr text to a martyr commission, that of the redaction, which has worked with great effort and great patience. Thank you. Thank you all, auditors, and among the auditors, the young people in particular, who brought their music into the Hall – “music” is the diplomatic word for noise, but that is how it is… Thank you. 
There are two little things that are close to my heart. First: to reiterate once more that the Synod is not a Parliament. It is a protected space for the Holy Spirit to act. For this reason, the information that is given is general and it is not the most particular things, the names, the way of saying things, with which the Holy Spirit works in us. And this was a protected space. Let's not forget this: it was the Spirit who worked here. Second thing, that the result of the Synod is not a document, I said it at the beginning. We have plenty of documents. I do not know if this document will have any external effect, I do not know. But I certainly know that it must have an effect in us, it must work in us. We have drawn up the document, the commission; we studied it, we approved it. Now the Spirit gives us the document so that it may work in our heart. We are the recipients of the document, not the people outside. May this document work; and we must pray with the document, study it, ask for light ... It is for us mainly, the document. Yes, it will help many others, but the first recipients are us: it is the Spirit Who has done all this, and returns to us. Please do not forget it. 
And a third thing: I think of our Mother, the Holy Mother Church. The last three numbers on holiness [in the document] show what the Church is: our Mother is Holy, but we children are sinners. We are all sinners. Let us not forget that expression of the Fathers, the “casta meretrix”, the holy Church, the Holy Mother with sinful children. And because of our sins, the Great Accuser always takes advantage, as the first chapter of Job says: he goes around, he goes around the Earth looking for someone to accuse. At this moment he is accusing us strongly, and this accusation also becomes persecution; today’s President [Patriarch Sako] is able to say so: his people [the Church in Iraq] are persecuted, as are so many others of the East or in other places. And it also becomes another type of persecution: continuous accusations to soil the Church. But the Church must not be soiled; her children yes, we are all soiled, but the Mother is not. And this is why it is time to defend the Mother; and the Mother is defended from the Great Accuser with prayer and penance. This is why I asked, in this month that ends in a few days, to pray the Rosary, to pray to Saint Michael the Archangel, to pray to Our Lady to always cover the Mother Church. Let us continue to do so. It is a difficult moment, because the accuser, attacking us, attacks the Mother, but the Mother is not to be touched. I wanted to say this from the heart at the end of the Synod.
And now, the Holy Spirit gives this document to all of us, to me to, to reflect on what it means to us. Thank you so much to everyone, thank you all!

With that, we headed home, tired, hungry but full of joy.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Election day! + the youth say thanks

No, this post is not regarding Brazil or the USA. This post is about the process we undertook to elect the members of the continuing Synod council, and the celebration afterwards.

One nice thing about today was that we had the morning off. This was beneficial for me as I had a telephone meeting with Montreal the day before that, due to time zone differences, had me up past midnight. It gave me a chance to go through a large amount of emails and other paperwork so that I am not too far behind when I get back to Canada.

The afternoon session was to start at 4:30 pm as usual, but I decided to go early, taking my time. A massive steel gate restricts entry into the Vatican City zone, so every day we've had to pass a security check to get to the Paul VI hall. The post is manned by two Swiss Guards (easy to spot even if distant, thanks to the colourful clothes).

Paul VI hall is the white building in the background in the middle-left. When you get there, two other Swiss Guards are at the main door:

Don't let the fancy pants fool you, those guys are trained soldiers. They are partnered with the Vatican City Gendarmes, one of whom is in plain clothes just to the left (the guy in a tie).

As I was early, I decided to take some extra time of quiet prayer in the small synod chapel. This is located on the main floor entrance to the synod hall, just before entering.

Humble but lovely.

The purpose of our session today was not to discuss further the synod text, as we had not received the final draft yet. Instead, it was to elect the members of the next Synod Council. This is a body of bishops which assists the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops in the follow-up of previous Synods as well as in the preparation of future ones. It meets between Synods for that purpose.

Representation was determined by geographic region: 1 for the Eastern Catholic Churches, 3 for Africa, 3 for Latin America, 2 for North America, 3 for Europe, 3 for Asia, and 1 for Oceania. Only diocesan bishops from these regions were eligible to be elected, but all bishops could vote.

The election took some time because to be elected a candidate needs 50%+1 of the votes. To speed things up we use electronic voting controls:

Given that the votes tend to split quite widely, a first ballot is taken that mainly determines if there is a consensus around a particular candidate or set of candidates. Once we know who the front runners are, we do a second ballot. If no one is elected, only the top two candidates are retained, and a third ballot is taken. Of course, with only two candidates one of them must get 50%+1... unless there is a tie. In the event of a tie, the winner is the person most senior in age.

Given this process, you can imagine it took some time. There were 16 positions to elect. If each took 3 ballots, we had to vote up to 48 times... waiting for the results of each ballot each time... Yeah, it took a while.

There were a few surprises. The African bloc had clearly done some meetings beforehand, because none of the elections went to a third ballot, and one candidate actually got an absolute majority on the first ballot! Also, those elected were by language group: one English, one French, and one Portuguese. It was pretty clear they came into the election having done some consensus work in advance.

The other elections went pretty much according to procedure. For one bloc, one potential candidate (who clearly had been approached beforehand to see if he's accept to be elected) made a public plea not to be elected. For another bloc, a lot of votes concentrated around a candidate who had not been present at the Synod at all! And for a third bloc, there was an actual tie result, so that the vote went to the older of the two candidates. Kind of ironic coming from a Synod on youth, but them's the rules.

After the election, we were all invited to a special event organized by the youth "auditors" at the Synod. The purpose was the them to say thanks to the Holy Father and to the members of the Synod for the chance to have participated in this historic occasion. The were was music, singing, dancing, and poetry reading.

Note the grand piano in the background. The person singing a song from his homeland is Vincent, from Nigeria. He was in my small group. He is being accompanied on guitar and drum (too many red hats in the way to see the instruments, but you can see the other two young people in the photo as well).

After it was all over I headed back to the residence. I could not resist this one last shot of Saint Peter at night:

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Interview with Crux

I was interviewed by John Allen and Ines San Martin of Crux on Monday. It lasted about half an hour and covered a wide range of topics, some related to the Synod and some outside. You can read the article on the Crux website.

One of the challenges of article writing is finding an engaging title for the article. You want to capture the attention of people to get them to read more. Often a title is not even written by the author of the article (although I do not know what Crux does in that regard).

Anyway, the title originally said "Canadian prelate says synod is about bringing youth to Christ, not church". Crux has since amended it take out the last two words (thank you!) but to some it might have sounded like I don't think we should bring people to the Church, or that the Church and Christ are somehow opposed. I hope people will realise I certainly don't think that way, but one of the advantages of blogs is I have the chance to complete the article with my own words.

To put this in context, at one point Ines San Martin introduced a question by saying that the purpose of the Synod is to "bring the Church to young people and to bring young people to the Church". I jumped in to correct her, saying that the purpose of the Synod is to bring *Christ* to young people and vice versa.

To be clear, in my thinking these are not mutually exclusive elements. In my experience, when people discover Christ they desire to join a community of believers journeying as disciples of Christ. In other words, bringing people to Christ will tend to lead them to the Church. My own growth in faith included a personal encounter with Jesus at one point (in the Eucharist, in my case), and my spiritual life has been defined by that encounter ever since. I love Christ as Lord and as friend, I love him in his glory and in his humility, I love him in his Eucharistic Body and in his Mystical Body, i.e. the Church.

Unfortunately, I have also learned that simply leading people to the Church does not always lead them to Christ. The Church's job is not to announce itself, but to announce the Lord. In my experience, though, sometimes we aren't even introducing them to the Church so much as we are introducing them to a behavioural pattern that churchgoers should follow. Again, one does not exclude the other, but it is as though we are trying to socialize them into Christianity (i.e. "ecclesialize them") rather than bringing them to faith in the living Jesus. That process is just not enough.

As a bishop I have met many people who see young people as a "problem" because they don't follow "the rules". I get that they don't, but neither did hardly anyone when Jesus came to Earth -- he came to seek and save the lost! I find this attitude of the "problem of the young people" as sometimes a deflection from the fact that mere attempts to merely socialize people into faith have failed. It is easier to be socialized into behaviours than to truly be transformed day by day by the Holy Spirit. It is also far more fragile, especially as a broader society becomes more indifferent, or even hostile, to our faith community.

Of course, there are other, gentler-sounding attempts to "address the problem". I have heard some people say that what we need is for Mass to have better music, for example, to "attract the youth" back to Church. I am sorry, but the field of youth ministry is littered with the relics of past attempts to find the right gimmick to "bring people back". I am not saying we should be satisfied with poor music, but just that the entire line of thinking that finding the right gimmick is going to actually work is, in my opinion, very misguided. We need to bring things back to basics: proclaim the saving work of Christ; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them so that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit; send those disciples forth as apostles; and persevere until Jesus comes again in glory, growing in personal holiness along the way.

As a founder of a movement dedicated to the evangelization of young adults, I know that many young adults don't follow "the rules", but I also know that many have never really been introduced to Jesus as Lord and friend. Once they catch that flame, however, they are more than eager to ask questions and even start the process of conversion of life that includes the behaviours proper to disciples of the Lord. And they discover the Church as a community alive in the Spirit, joined by their brothers and sisters (and even their bishops) who are on the same journey.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Debating the draft document

As I wrote in a previous post, we received the draft of the final document in a very short session of the general assembly of the Synod, so that we would have the rest of the day to read it. Today was the day dedicated to discussion of that draft. And believe me, we took the whole day.

As synod members we are asked to maintain confidentiality regarding the internal proceedings of the Synod, and so this blog post will be necessarily brief. Let me just say that, in general, there was a strong sense of appreciation for the work that had been accomplished, accompanied by a substantial engagement with the text for the sake of improving its contents. I, for example, submitted a couple of amendments suggesting wording changes to parts of the text that seemed to forget the ecumenical dimension of the life of the Church today. I also hope we can avoid certain ambiguous wording that seemed to imply that being "young" necessarily meant being "adolescent". We cannot forget that young adults are, well, adults.

There was one area of substantial debate around ecclesiology. I did my licentiate in theology in this area, and so when the final document is approved and released I will probably write a further blog post on the subject. The debate arose as a bit of a surprise for me, as it wasn't really part of our initial discussions over the past couple of weeks (at least not as I remember), but heck, what's a Synod without a few surprises? Maybe we'll have another Synod about it further down the road. If so, I'm game!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Drum roll please!

Today was a partial day at the Synod. We still had to get dressed up in our fancy outfits for the general congregation meeting, but the purpose was to receive the first draft of the final document of the Synod. Drum roll please!

The morning began with a presentation by the two Undersecretaries who did the actual writing of the document. Clearly, it was a herculean task. They had to take a (very imperfect) Instrumentum laboris, and then apply the various modi (amendments) suggested by the small groups as well as they key points that had been raised in the final reports of those small groups. They also had to do so as servants of the drafting commission, i.e. it couldn't be just those two guys writing whatever they wanted.

Amazingly, they not only managed to produce a draft text, but they even had a Powerpoint presentation to introduce the text to us. While PP presentation can be gimmicky, if they are well done they can help engage the audience much better than a dry reading of a long, long text document. This one was well done: we all will still have to do our own individual reading, but the Powerpoint at least gave us a sense of how the document was structured and where it was going.

The document was distributed just before our morning coffee break, and we were told we had the rest of the day off to do our personal reading. Unfortunately the document was only distributed in Italian, making it tough for many members of the Synod to do the detailed reading that needs to be done. Even a machine translation would have helped. We were also asked to maintain the confidential status of the document, so I will not be publishing it here. But during the coffee break (which was more of a coffee "farewell", given we had the rest of the day off), I had a chance to chat with many of the synod members, and the general mood was that the secretariat clearly had been paying attention not just to the modi papers voted on in small groups, but to the overall set of reports, interventions, and even mood of the assembly. In other words, they had acted as servants, not masters, even in their task of providing leadership.

Given we got home early it gave a few of us a chance to visit with the Redemptorist community in Rome. Their Superior General, Father Michael Brehl, was a member of my small group, and so I was happy to be able to see their "home base" in Rome. I particularly enjoyed visiting their main church, with its famous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help:

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us!

Monday, October 22, 2018

The categories of people at the Synod

Today was a day off for most of the members of the Synod, as the drafting commission was working hard to prepare the initial draft of the final document for our eventual consideration. My day included mass, another interview with a couple of journalists, and a very pleasant lunch meeting with the young "auditors" from our small group, along with our "expert":

In case you were wondering what an "auditor" or "expert" was, these are elements of Synod-speak for certain classes of people who are involved in the Synod. It breaks down this way:

  • The General Secretariat: this is a group of people who are assisting the Pope in leading the Synod. They provide the administrative support in the background to keep the process moving forward.
  • The Synod Fathers: these are the bishops (and some priests, and a couple of religious brothers) who are actual members of the Synod and who have the right to vote and make written proposals. I am in this category.
  • The Auditors: these people are not members of the Synod per se but who attend all the meetings of the general assembly and the small groups. They each have a chance to make a presentation in the general assembly and participate actively in the small group meetings. In the case of our Synod, most of them are young people or represent areas of youth ministry in their home countries (in some cases, they are both). Some religious sisters are also in this category.
  • The Fraternal delegates: these are members of non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities that are invited to participate much as auditors do. In my small group, we had an Anglican bishop from Kenya join us.
  • The Experts: these are people who assist the Synod with their particular area of expertise. They are often academics, but are not limited to that category. 

While these different categories exist, my experience of the Synod has been that the various distinctions do not mean divisions. Good grief, the Pope himself joins us for the coffee break, chatting with all and everyone sooner or later. These categories are important, as having people know their particular roles helps set the ground rules for the smooth functioning of the entire synodal process. But more important is the genuine listening to each other that occurs, because no institutional subdivision of people can claim to possess the Holy Spirit better than others.