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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Personal pilgrimage day

Today is Sunday, the Lord's day and a day of rest. Halleluia! It's been an intense couple of days. So I took it easy, soaking in grace. 

I did do one little personal project, though: a small pilgrimage to the church of San Lazzaro ai Lebbrosi:


I had mentioned my desire to do this pilgrimage to a few Romans earlier in the week, and none of them had heard of it. I was starting to wonder if it really existed, but sure enough I was able to find a Wikipedia page describing it (Italian only), as well as a few tourist sites mentioning it. So I located it in my maps app, and headed out.

The path to get there was not terribly difficult to follow, to be honest, and it helped to have signs like this pop up along the way:


After about 20-25 minutes of walking I found myself in a narrow alley, face to face with the church. Unfortunately, it was closed! I feared it might be the case, as none of the websites I had checked gave the opening hours. I did find this on the door:


D'oh! I had missed it by just a couple of hours. And with no telephone number indicated, I had (and still have) no idea how to book a special appointment to visit. I guess it will have to wait until I get to Rome next. But at least the spiritual purpose of the pilgrimage was accomplished, and that was the most important thing.

Some of you may be wondering why I wanted to visit a church that is clearly more on the obscure end of the spectrum. Well, in a previous post I wrote about the Order of Saint Lazarus, of which I am a member. I figured there must be a church dedicated to Saint Lazarus here in Rome, because all those ancient saints seem to get a shrine of some sort here. I was right -- this church dated from the 12th century, not long after the Order was founded! So I will definitely return to get some pictures from the inside to share with my friends back home.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Reporting in! part III

This morning was our last general congregation of the Synod to discuss the Instrumentum laboris. Once again, the various rapporteurs were given 10 minutes each to present their report to the assembled members of the Synod. Here I am with another one of the rapporteurs, for the group Anglicus D:


In case you are saying to yourself, "Boy that looks a lot like Bishop Robert Barron", there is a reason for that: it *is* Bishop Robert Barron. He was the first of the English-group rapporteurs to give a report. As it happens, I was scheduled to go last -- not just from the English groups, but from all of them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, our report this time departed from the usual approach by proposing an overall "paradigm of action", which was Jesus himself. The key insight that motivated this approach was that Jesus was a young man when he undertook his ministry. Following the insight from the Byzantine tradition, that growth in holiness means learning to incarnate attributes of Jesus in our lives, we approached the various "action items" not as objectives, but as means of living that incarnational principle. This was our first major recommendation, a "mega-modus" if you will.

Our other two major suggestions were related to the first. Our group would like to see the whole Church get involved in a follow-up process to the Synod. The dynamism we have experienced is a blessing to be shared, and that is what we are hoping for, for our countries, dioceses, parishes and families.

You can read the various small group reports here. Mine was Anglicus C, and I have reproduced it below.


Relatio – Circulus Anglicus C

Moderator: Em.mo Card. COUTTS Joseph
Relator: S.E. Mons. DOWD Thomas

Preliminary comments

In looking at Part III, we saw that it was supposed to be a phase for "choosing", but we saw very little in the way of concrete suggestions for action.

Another weakness is that it flits between an inclusive approach that emphasizes that youth are part of the Church, and an approach that seems to wonder what the Church can do for youth. The approaches are inconsistent.

Another point is that part II was supposed to help us interpret the data of part I, but we are not really seeing an easy application of that principle to the text of part III.

How to move forward?

A brainstorming session led us to recognize three "major modi" that need to be the foundation of any individual action items.

  • Ultimately, Jesus himself, in his person and life, is our overall "paradigm for action". All individual action items need to connect to Him.
  • While we provide suggestions, particular churches will have to identify the concrete action items to follow based on their circumstances. We suggest that episcopal conferences be strongly invited to take up the results of the Synod and engage in a similar process of reflection in their own milieus, even including non-bishops in the deliberations, as this Synod has done.
  • This Synod and its resulting document not the end of a process, but a beginning. We have felt a special anointing in the Synod, a renewed "flame". As episcopal conferences take up the next stage of reflection, we suggest that they in turn do so in a way that encourages regional groups, dioceses, parishes and families to undertake a discernment process in turn, so that the "flame" spreads.

We brainstormed many other action items, but rather than propose them as modi they can be found here as examples of how our modus #1 ("Jesus as a paradigm for action") can be implemented in a concrete way.

Placing Jesus at the centre

Following upon the principle that Christ "reveals man (homo) to himself", we use Jesus himself as our hermeneutic for this third part.
  1. Jesus is the protagonist of our salvation. He in turn invites us into a personal relationship with him. We accept him as Lord (Biblical image: John 13), and this opens us up to receiving the Holy Spirit. He in turns calls us his friends. (Biblical image: John 15.)
  2. The kerygma must be announced in such a way that the work Christ accomplished is understood so as to also understand the greatness of the invitation he makes us. The Gospel must be proclaimed not as a burden but as a call to the fullness of freedom, joy and peace. The conversion that comes from this initial call is continuous: we want to keep our eyes fixed on Christ to avoid sinking beneath the waves (Biblical image: Peter walking on water).
    • Kerygmatic proclamation should be welcoming, even (and especially) to those who might feel excluded -- communities themselves should demonstrate warmth, friendliness, places of relationship
    • Expressing the more difficult teachings (e.g. around sexuality) not just as rules but showing the values underpinning those teachings.
    • Kerygmatic catechesis, based on "start from the questions" concept
    • Religious leaders should be specially formed in building bridges and forming relationships
  3. For many people, the personal relationship with Christ is mediated through the Church. Scandals and pastoral attitudes and approaches that lead to a counter-witness need to purified. The Church can and must reform so that it is truly a safe and trustworthy environment.
    • We need tools of good governance in our institutions to make them be (and seen as) trustworthy.
    • We must be visibly proactive in dealing with these scandals (and future ones)
  4. Jesus is our model. With the Holy Spirit, we are called to incarnate his attributes in our life of discipleship. This is the principle behind the call to holiness. This "process of incarnation" is necessarily gradual, and requires spiritual formation and accompaniment.
    • Training in spiritual direction, making it available, keeping in mind spiritual guides should be icons of the living Christ
  5. Christ was young when he accomplished his mission on earth. He needed to "grow in wisdom" over the course of his life (Luke 2:52). This is not some sort of defect in the incarnation, but a demonstration that "growing in wisdom" is actually a blessed part of being human. Accompanying young people is not about "getting more ministers". It is a sacred task, part of the ongoing process of incarnating Christ in the Church. As a corollary, we must avoid confusing physical age with maturity. Christ was young but not immature. (Biblical image: we can think of Paul and Timothy here.)
    • Draw up a formation road map, highlighting ways we can nurture the blossoming of youth in leadership, and the development of qualities. The aim should be to inculcate virtues, habits, skills and qualities that will enhance their intellectual, human, spiritual and affective maturity
    • Youth should be given opportunities to lead based on actual maturity and ability, not stereotyped maturity based on age alone
  6. Considered spiritually, the most perfect encounter with Jesus is in the Eucharist. It calls us to continuous conversion of our lives, both individually and as a community. It is also a “divine service”, in that that Christ is coming to serve, heal and strengthen us. This is a form of mystagogia -- on an ongoing basis, we are being "initiated" more deeply into the mystery of Christ and discover the fullness of life.
    • A call to improve the actual celebration (ars celebrandi) especially in preaching and music, so that the participants feel the action of Christ in the liturgy -- a bigger dose of joy!
    • We should not forget the disabled in our liturgies -- being sure they are included shows forth the unity of the Body of Christ!
  7. The grace of the Eucharist extends beyond the end of the celebration. As he did with his disciples when he sent them out two by two, Jesus sends us on mission (Luke 10:1-11). The transition from recipients of pastoral care to collaborators in pastoral care is part of the process of maturation. We do not need to wait for young people to magically “be ready” to join the “grown-ups” before they start being active. They possess the Holy Spirit, and engaging in mission - with accompaniment from a partner in mission - is part of the growth process.
    • Training needs to be given to accompaniers, and those being accompanied need to be trained in it as part of their training.
    • Use of volunteer years as formation opportunities
  8. Part of "incarnating Christ" is the acceptance of the cross. He took it up, and he specifically called us to "take up our cross and follow him" (Mark 8:34). The word "martyr" originally means "witness".  As disciples who are sent we must "witness" in part by the renunciation of self we are called to (i.e. to carry our cross), even if it doesn't lead to the martyrdom of blood (or even if it does).
    • The use of testimonies is a powerful part of proclamation and formation.
  9. The mission to which Jesus sends us is expressed in our specific vocation. Living our vocation will always involve some level of self-renunciation, as otherwise we are trying to keep "all vocational doors open". This renunciation is part of growth in maturity (Biblical image: the call of Jeremiah).
    • Making sure we present a complete picture of vocation, which does not discount specifically religious vocations but which does not discount other vocations either
    • Help people discover their talents, give them platforms to use them
    • Help to foster hope for the married vocation (cf Amoris laetitia)
    • Connect vocation to the notion of work, as that is where many are looking for their vocation
  10. We recognize that Jesus identifies himself with the poorest and most vulnerable (Biblical image: Matthew 25). Therefore, our service is not just a form of "Christian humanitarianism", it is service to Christ himself. And many of those who are poor and vulnerable (with whom Christ identifies most strongly) are themselves young people.
    • Care for creation
    • Service to migrants, refugees, IDP
    • Human trafficking
    • Service on the political scene, for justice and peace
    • Counselling to those who are wounded
    • Care for the sick, incarcerated persons
    • Assistance to families in difficult circumstances, young pregnancies and single mothers
    • Education -- expanding access (e.g. via financial support)
  11. This "incarnating of Christ" must also be lived by intermediate communities such as small groups, religious communities, movements, parishes, dioceses, episcopal conferences, and so on. We cannot consider just the individual or universal levels of the Church -- the levels in between are often where this "incarnation" really happens.
    • Networking -- inside and outside the church
    • Giving ourselves institutional tools to live and work as one body:
      • Presence of youth in pastoral councils/forums (parish, diocesan, episcopal conference)
      • Youth councils/hubs
      • Dicastery for youth that would coordinate youth-related themes that are found already in dicasteries but not in a networked way.
      • All discussion bodies to be trained in methods of discernment, not just decision making
    • Working ecumenically
    • Our intermediate church bodies could use a Year for Youth to help them along in this process of conversion.
    • Spiritual leaders in the Church need to be formed in this new approach to youth formation, inclusion and leadership
    • The place of women in leadership: is it currently allowing women to make their fullest possible contribution of service as members of the body?
    • Multiculturalism, diversity in the church
    • Regional Youth Days with international participation

Friday, October 19, 2018

Final day of small groups

Today was a serious work day, particularly for those of us who have the role of Rapporteur. Originally, the Synod schedule required us to get our "rapporteur reports" in by Saturday a little after noon. This would have given us time to have our meetings today, prepare the text of the various amendments we wanted to propose, vote on them Saturday morning, and use the rest of the morning to write up the report. But with the change in the schedule, the amendments and accompanying report was now due *tonight*. Which meant that we lost an entire evening and subsequent morning to do the paperwork.

So I was up early today, writing a skeleton for the report and reviewing my notes to see what elements of modi I could piece together already in advance of our group discussion. Again, part III was tough. I did not have a lot to go on, and I hoped that the meeting this morning would help us advance better.

As it turned out, it did. The group is absolutely fantastic, and all present realised the situation. Our discussions were more focussed, bringing forward practical ideas to address the situation(s) of youth in the Catholic Church today. Of course, one major problem: how to bring unity to all these various proposal? How to avoid our many ideas and amendments (36 in total by the end) seeming to be just a lot of darts being thrown at a dartboard?

I had the 4-hour break between the morning and afternoon sessions to come up with an idea. But as I was putting the pieces of the puzzle together, one thing emerged as an idea: Jesus himself. *He* is our ultimate paradigm for action. If we look at core elements of his life and ministry, all the other various ideas fell into place.

So rather than write 36 individual amendments, I wrote up my rapporteur report first, hooking the amendments onto the report. I then brought copies of the report to my small group, so we could discuss it together. I sensed the group was a bit taken aback by the unique approach, but once they saw it was an attempt to respect everyone's point of view while at the same time providing a unified approach in the compressed time frame we had, we just dove in. I made sure to let the people know I was not emotionally invested in the text, and that all critiques were welcome. Many improvements were suggested to the text, and then we voted. Approved!

As this was our last small group meeting together, we decided to have a group photo on the steps outside our meeting room:


I took the rest of the evening to polish up the report based on the critiques received. I left the Paul VI hall around 7:45 pm, meaning I had been working on this thing for 12 hours straight. In a word, I was pooped. I had a bit of adventure getting out, because it turns out the Swiss Guards had locked the gate into Vatican City. I had to go to the nearby gendarme post and find my way through an interior guard post to get into Saint Peter's square. Not a big deal, but just another part of the adventure.

I want to thank my group for being so amazing. It was a pleasure to work with all of them, and I know we have all grown from this experience. We come out of it having discovered new brothers (and sisters!) in Christ, around the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A bit of Canada in Rome

Today was another work day. In the morning we listened to the final interventions (i.e. 4-minute speeches) from the remaining synod members, in preparation for going into our final set of small group sessions. The four delegates representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to have a group photo taken on the terrace of the Paul VI Hall:


From left to right: me; Archbishop Luc Cyr (Sherbrooke); Bishop Lionel Gendron (Saint-Jean-Longueuil, President of the CCCB); and Bishop Stephen Jensen (Prince-George).

After lunch we came back to meet in our small group for discussions on the final part (part III) of the Instrumentum laboris. It was challenging, to say the least, not because of any internal dissension in the group, but because part III itself was hard to get a handle on. As well, a change in the overall synod calendar meant that we would have one less session for study and discussion. We spent a big chunk of our meeting just trying to figure out the direction we wanted to take as a group.

Fortunately, the evening offered an opportunity to relax. A van was waiting to pick up the Canadians, we take us to the official residence of the Ambassador of Canada to the Holy See. There, we were warmly received by M. Dennis Savoie and his wife Claudette. Along with a few guests who had already arrived, we were treated to a lovely meal together.


When the meal was over we went into the parlour of the residence to continue sharing friendship and even some music! Father Pierre Paul (seen in the photo in grey) is quite the pianist, and soon a group of us were singing along to pieces he was playing. It made the think that this is probably how people used to keep themselves entertained before television and smartphones. Not a bad way to live, at all.

Mr. and Mrs. Savoie are coming to the end of their time in Rome, as Mr. Savoie's term as ambassador will soon be up. It was a pleasure to be able to share this time with them. Many thanks for your hospitality and your service to Canada and the Holy See!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EWTN interview + I may have committed heresy

I was asked to be on EWTN last night, as part of their coverage of the Synod. The day's sessions ended at 7:15 pm, and I was expected at the EWTN studio for 7:30, so I hoofed it over there with little time to waste. Fortunately it was not far, just a little up the Via della Conciliazione (about halfway to the residence where I am staying). Even more fortunately, as I got to the imposing wooden door it opened to reveal a young woman who was heading out to try and find me! Divine providence strikes again!

Although I did get there on time there were a couple of guests ahead of me, so I had a chance to stand on the rooftop and catch of bit of evening breeze. The view overlooks Saint Peter's square, which is absolutely gorgeous at night. When it was my turn I sat down, had some makeup put on, and got miked. Here is what the studio set looked like:


Not a bad view in the background, eh? And that's not a fake backdrop, that's the real dome of Saint Peter's basilica.

The interview went well, it seemed to me. Here is the video as posted on Youtube by EWTN, so you can judge for yourself (I have queued it up to my interview):


As for the heresy I mentioned in the title of this post, it wasn't during the interview, but after. The interview started a little after 8 pm. After it was done I got de-miked, and then headed out of the building. By the time I got home, it was past supper time -- and I was hungry. I got out of my fancy bishop clothes, put on a T-shirt and some jeans, and headed out to a restaurant I knew I was familiar with:


Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Here I am in the heart of Italy, and yet I succumbed to a "Bic Mac attack". That being said, there really is nothing like a burger + fries to satiate a quick hunger. And one thing I've learned is that no matter where you go in the world, when it comes to McDonald's, you know what you are going to get.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

That time when the Pope and I shared a laugh

Today I had a chance to offer my "synod intervention". This is a speech each synod member is invited to present, with a maximum time of 4 minutes. We were asked to prepare ours well in advance (my first draft was finished in June), and then have them approved by the conference of bishops (which the Canadian conference did for mine in the last week of September). Upon arriving in Rome, we registered the text of our interventions with the synod secretariat, so they could arrange the order of the speakers and make sure our intervention would happen on a day when we were discussing parts of the Instrumentum laboris relevant to our personal topic.

Except... on the first day, the Pope told us that we should see our intervention as only a first draft. That we should allow ourselves to be influenced by the discussions going on, and possibly change our intervention. That we should feel free to let the Holy Spirit move.

I was delighted by this, not only because I believe in letting the Holy Spirit move, but because I found the intervention very hard to write. Simply put, the written word is not the same as an oral presentation -- the style and tone are often very different. Also, I had written my original intervention not knowing anything of the dynamics of a Synod, or even who my audience would really be. So I paid close attention to the Spirit, and to the other interventions.

In the end, I decided to re-write my intervention completely. I wanted to speak on catechesis, and that had not changed, but I decided to adopt a less theoretical approach by using a concrete example to illustrate my point (what I've called in the past the "puzzle of faith"). I also decided to risk adding a bit of humour. And it worked! The assembly shared a good laugh, including the Pope!

My intervention was just before the coffee break in the morning, so I had a chance to chat with synod participants over a cappucino. I am pleased to report that not only did they remember the joke, they also remembered the point I was making. One even suggested that Bishop Robert Barron and I collaborate to further develop the point I was making, as Bishop Barron had also spoken about the importance of good catechesis (a fact I referenced in my speech).

Shortly before heading back up to the synod hall, a Cardinal I did not recognize approached me and began to speak of the Youcat catechism published by the Vatican, and he wondered what I thought of it. After all, it was a big seller throughout the world. I replied that, while I appreciated the Youcat and its question-and-answer format, its great weakness is that is does not have a narrative structure. He paused thoughtfully and said he agreed that indeed, it did not. We continued our exchange on the topic, and at one point I admitted that I did not know his name. He apologized for not having worn his nametag, and then said that he was Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna.



Wow. If there is one guy who knows about catechesis, it is him. He was the secretary of the commission that prepared the original version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the late 1980's and early 1990's. That catechism, sometimes called the CCC, is definitely one of the signature contributions to the exposition of the Catholic faith of the past 400+ years. I shared with him about the impact the catechism had on me when it first came out, when I was a young man still asking a lot of questions about my faith. He smiled and said that his time working on the CCC was one of the most significant experiences of his life.

When I get back to the synod hall we still had a few minutes before starting again. The Pope was back at his seat, so I went down just to say hello. He recognized me, shook my hand, broke into a big smile and said (slowly, in English), "If you want to be Pope... you can take it!"

LOL! People have not stopped teasing me since. My point was not to be funny, of course, but to use humour to get a message across. And I think it worked. Several people have asked me for a copy of my synod intervention, something I was not expecting, and an article was even written (in Italian, no less!) about it. So I am happy to share it here for those who are interested. See if you can spot the part that made the Pope laugh.



Putting together the puzzle of faith

My intervention is on the topic of catechesis. I once had a conversation with a young Mormon woman who was in the process of becoming Catholic through the RCIA. She was a catechumen, but she was dissatisfied with the catechesis she was receiving. "We are learning lots of facts, going line by line through the creed for example, but they are not showing us how the facts connect together." She was not criticizing the faith, but the way it was presented. She needed a methodology adapted to her, with some basic starting information to put the whole of the faith in context.

I replied that the Catholic faith was like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those very large puzzles with at least a thousand pieces. The first step is to turn over the pieces to see the image on each one. The individual images don't look like much, but as they are put together a greater picture emerges. To build the image, though, we start by looking for the corner and the edge pieces, so as to build the frame of the puzzle, and then fill it in as we see, over time, where particular pieces fit together. And we often use the picture on the box as a guide put putting those pieces together.

I was born in 1970, and my religious upbringing in the Catholic school system and in our parishes used a new approach to catechesis. I can say it was an abysmal failure. In many cases, it remained too academic, i.e. it just gave us pieces, and no overall picture. It also gave us no starting methodology to build the puzzle ourselves. And often, our catechists left out pieces or tried to introduce others that were foreign to the Catholic image, or refuse to turn some of them over so we could see the true image and not just a grey backside. Thank goodness I had parents well-versed in Catholic teaching, as I do not think the catechesis and Catholic education I had received at my parish and school would have been sufficient. I can see the results among my friends, many if not most of whom no longer practice or even believe.

Based on some previous interventions, it would seem my experience was not unique. We know that there must be more than just an intellectual component to being a disciple, but we must also realise that young people -- and not so young -- have real and often deep questions for which they seek answers. We have heard how a new form of catechesis should follow the questions of young people, as was mentioned by Bishop Barron in his comments on Part I. Of course, with such a huge puzzle -- and life itself generates many questions -- we need to know where to start. We need the corner and edge pieces of the puzzle that give us the framework -- four key questions, you might say -- and we need an overall picture to help guide us as we build that puzzle.

The Holy Father has invited us to speak boldly. In that case, let me say that if I was Pope -- I know I'm not, and rest assured, you Holiness, I am not after your job -- but if I was, I'd write an encyclical on the 4 basic questions I believe constitute the corners and edges that anchor the puzzle. These questions are:

  • Who is God?
  • If God is good, why is there evil in he world?
  • If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it?
  • If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?

It is my conviction that these questions haunt the heart of every person, religious or not, and that the Christian faith can give a complete answer to those questions. God is love, the tragedy of sin, the drama and beauty of salvation history, and the call to vocation. In other words, start with the answers to those questions, and every other question falls into place. The picture on the box is revealed. It does not exempt us from building the puzzle ourselves, as no two people will notice the same patterns in exactly the same order, as our life experiences are different. But we'll know where to start and how to finish, and if we make a mistake we can more easily correct it without confusion.

It is my hope that this Synod will propose a renewal of catechesis that includes an approach respectful of individual questions but which also helps guide young people on their journey of "building the puzzle".

Thank you for your attention.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reporting in! part II

Today was the conclusion of our discussion on Part II of the Instrumentum Laboris. I was up early, as our small group met in the morning to finalize the various modi we wanted to present as suggestions to the committee that will be writing the draft of the final document. It was a lot of preparation, but the meeting went super well, and we were done within the first hour. That gave me a chance to write my second "rapporteur report", which needed to be handed in by 12:30 pm.

We got back to the main synod hall by 4:30 pm, and soon thereafter we start the process once again of verbally presenting the written reports to the members of the Synod. Again, I had this duty, but this time I was much more comfortable with the task. Part of the challenge, mind you, was orally presenting a report that I knew would later be shared in print with the world. The oral word and the written word constitute two very different literary genres, so I adapted my written presentation with a few side comments (and even a few jokes). The synod members seemed pleased, and more importantly, they seemed to "get it". That was the most important part of the presentation for me, as I wanted to make sure I was faithfully communicating the consensus of our group to the broader audience.

One original element of our presentation is that we had a diagram to illustrate how certain different vocations relate to each other. While the Vatican Press Office did publish the presentation (along with several others) they left out the diagram! So that you can see the whole thing as it was presented, feel free to keep reading below.

I'll admit that I was pretty wired after the presentation. I don't mind speaking in public but obviously I want to be true to our small group, so I want to get it right. Of course, there are remedies for stress, including exercise, and here in Rome, gelato! A brother bishop and I headed out for some "limone et pistacchio", my two favorites in one cup... mmmm good!



Moderator: Em.mo Card. COUTTS Joseph
Relator: S.E. Mons. DOWD Thomas


Preliminary comment

In looking at Part II, our group looked to the overall structure in #3 to inform our work. We saw that part I looked at the concrete situation of youth today, while part II was meant to cause us to reflect on how to interpret that data (while part III will be the phase where we examine concrete suggestions for action).

Our goal as a group, therefore, was to develop a hermeneutical model (i.e. an interpretive framework) for that evaluation of part I, which will then help us eventually offer suggestions for concrete pastoral action (that will be done in part III).

Our various modi should be considered as concrete applications of the overall approach to this part as well as to the specific hermeneutical approaches appropriate to each chapter. To avoid presenting them as individual modi, we have also prepared a separate document with suggestions for clarification of terminology, editorial suggestions, etc.

Chapter 1

A Christian interpretive framework must be rooted in a Christian worldview, which is essentially rooted in Scripture. With its many examples from Scripture, we saw the essential function of Chapter 1 as an attempt to provide concrete Biblical reference points for this overall hermeneutic.

Among the Biblical examples the Instrumentum laboris provided, we saw certain ones as out of place:

#77: Joshua succeeds Moses, but then he leads an army of conquest
#81: The call of Samuel is actually a poor example of the dynamics of a young person seeking his vocation.
#83: The prayer of Solomon is beautiful, but his later life is not an example for young people!
#83: The Esther example is also full of violence and trickery.

We think the call of Jeremiah (#78) as a core hermeneutical key in Chapter 1. It should be retained. The encounter between Jesus and the rich young man is also important.

To these we would add Paul's relationship with Timothy. He advises him to “let no one despise your youth” -- Timothy has real responsibility in the Church, given to him by a gift of the Holy Spirit but also by the laying on of hands, and is also being guided by his “elder friend” Paul.

With regards to the process of accompanying, we also see the sending of the disciples two by two (Luke 10:1-11). Jesus accompanies them, and then entrusts them with real responsibility -- but with them accompanying each other. He also listens to them when they return, and prays for them.

With regards to the fear that some feel when they are facing their call, we would add the passage of Peter walking on water. He is called by Christ to come and walk, and he does. He only begins to sink when he takes his eyes off Jesus, but Jesus rescues him.

Other Biblical examples will be found in other modi.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 provides an overview of different vocations, beginning with the very broad (“the mystery of vocation that illuminates creation”) to vocations very specific to the Church (ordained ministry, consecrated life). We saw the description of the various types of vocations as “pearls on a string”, each description having its own value, but being even more valuable when properly related to each other.

We would therefore propose a restructuring of the presentation of chapter 2 (“vocations in the light of faith”) to better illustrate the relationships between the various layers of vocation. One could call this a “vocational pyramid”.

The base layer: Being loved for love's sake

Our group saw this basic dimension of human existence as important to highlight. It is alluded to in #88 when reference is made to vocation being characteristic of all creation. In short, there are people -- especially the weakest and most vulnerable -- whose vocation might not be to action, but to a more passive reception of the love of others. This is a great gift to the overall community, and we thought of Jean Vanier as a modern prophet to demonstrates that those with intellectual handicaps are not to be thought of as human failures -- they are gifts that help all develop their humanity by calling us to a love that is greater than efficiency.

The call to holiness

The next layer in the vocational “pyramid” is the call to holiness, which by its very nature is universal. However, we recognized that the expression “call to holiness” can conjure images that obscure this universal meaning. For example, we felt that in many people's minds, the “call to holiness” sounds like a mere “call to piety” or worse, a call to mere pious practices.
In order to express this concept more completely and in plain language that can speak to young people, we felt that any explanation of this universal call could use applications such as:
  • The call to holiness is ultimately a call to happiness and joy, not an external imposition
  • The call to holiness means a call to become the best possible version of oneself
  • The call to holiness includes a call to find one's best possible path in life -- it includes one's internal call, but also how to respond to the concrete situations of life around us
  • Drawing on an insight from the Eastern church, the call to holiness is about incarnating attributes of God in our life, e.g. joy, mercy, justice, care for creation, etc.
The greatest sign of holiness is, of course, charity (agape). We propose that the story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was attracted to all particular vocations (even priesthood) but found the unity of all of them in love as a wonderful illustration of this principal.

For the next two layers, we wanted to distinguish “vocations of being” (calls to particular states of life) from “vocations of doing” (calls to a particular profession, career, apostolate, etc.).
The “vocations of being”

The discussions of ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage, and the single life led us to contemplate how these states of life are related to each other. We used this model as a visual aid:
The states of celibate and married life are mutually exclusive, so they do not touch. Each can be a “state of life” vocation unto itself. However, it is possible for them to be combined with states which touch them.

  • For example, a Latin-rite diocesan priest is generally both “clergy” and “celibate”, while a permanent deacon is often both "clergy" and "married". A lay religious would be "
  • The vocation of a religious priest includes three callings: “clergy”, “consecrated life”, and “celibate”.
  • The existence of third orders, as well as new forms of consecrated life, often allow married persons to participate in a charism of consecration. If lived by a married cleric, it is also a way to combine three “states of life”.

The “vocations of doing”

In our discussions it became clear that, for many young people, a key aspect of discernment is the attempt to find an answer to a very practical question: “What am I going to do with my life?” Many would prefer a profession that gives them meaning and responds to their talents rather than one which merely provided sustenance.

We recognized that for many people (and for many past generations) the idea of “fulfillment” was not found in work. Work was/is a matter of survival, not of career choice, and meaning/fulfillment was generally found in family life outside of the actual job. Still, this distinction is emerging more and more, and must be addressed.

Our general consensus is that finding ones “vocation of doing” generally means following one's talents. We recognized that in some cases what appears to be a secular career is actually a deeper calling (for example, even in the secular world being a teacher is often described as a “calling” rather than a mere job or career). Saint Paul takes the image of the Body of Christ, in which each member has a specific part to play, and then expands it into lists of specific “roles” that can serve as guidelines for finding the specific calling (see 1 Cor 12 and Eph 4).

Chapter 3

Our group found chapter 3 of part II to be very wordy. Keeping in mind that the purpose of Part II is to provide an “interpretive framework” or “hermeneutic of vocation”, our group analyzed chapter 3 to see what key concepts it provided within all the verbiage.

We want to highlight the following insights/concepts which we feel should be retained:
  • Discernment, in plain language, is the process of finding your best path in life, according to the internal gifts/talents one has, as well as the external environment/opportunities one lives in.
  • Following one's “emotions” seems too superficial as a criteria of finding one's vocation. What we really should be looking to do is find and follow one's deepest desire, one's truest joys, one's inner peace.
  • True discernment recognizes that a vocation is an invitation, not an imposition. It does not include the idea that if you've missed your “only” calling you've somehow missed the boat. All genuine vocations possess true good and God can bless them regardless of our specific choice of vocation.
  • Following one's vocation does include an ascetic component, in that finally making a choice can mean renouncing other choices. People who want to keep all their options open can never really discern.
 Chapter 4

Our group found chapter 4 of part II to be very important. We recognize that accompaniment can come in many forms. Keeping in mind that the purpose of Part II is to provide an “interpretive framework” or “hermeneutic of vocation”, we sought to discern what are the elements of “true” accompaniment.
  • As a first point, we wanted to highlight that true accompaniment respects that the discernment being made does not belong to the mentor, but to the person being accompanied. Manipulation can never be part of a true accompaniment. Members of our group, unfortunately, shared stories of this form of pseudo-accompaniment, some of which even seemed well-meaning (as opposed to predatory) but which was still inappropriate.
  • With this in mind, we appreciated the emphasis in the document on the respect for the freedom and conscience of the person being accompanied. We would like these concepts to be more fully developed (see our modi related to this point).
  • Accompaniment should be done in a climate of friendliness, trust and warmth. However, it should not be so friendly that objectivity is lost. The Irish notion of anim cara (“soul friend”) is a good image here. The mentor should also be free to offer "fraternal correction" when necessary, without losing the respect for freedom and conscience as mentioned before.
  • We contributed a modus suggesting that the relationship between “spiritual” and “psychological” accompaniment be more completely addressed so as to show the unity between them while at the same time respecting the specific contributions of each.
  • The role of the community in accompaniment is very important, in that a “calling” is often initiated and verified in the context of a community. It is not just the individual doing an individual discernment.
  • It is important to emphasize that mentors should pray for those they are accompanying. They must carry them in their heart before God.
Concluding observations

Our group wanted to highlight the centrality of the Eucharist in the process of discernment.
  • The Eucharist is not just the offering of the consecrated species, but includes the offering of oneself to the Father. This is a fundamentally vocational dimension to the Eucharist.
  • The Eucharist is what gathers the community that does the discerning alongside the young person.
  • In the Emmaus story, it is in the Eucharist that the “eyes of the disciples are opened”.
  • Many people do the prayerful element of their discernment in the context of the Eucharist.

A modus has been offered in this regard.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seven new saints

Today was a day of great joy in Rome, and in the Church as a whole. Seven new saints were canonized in one ceremony, including Pope Paul VI (my first Pope when I was growing up) and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. A very powerful film was made about +Romero in 1989 starring Raul Julia. If you get a chance to see it, you should.

The bishops first gathered in the basilica itself for vesting and general getting ready:


Once all was set, we headed out to the upper level of the steps, as the mass was to take place outside. It was a gorgeous day! Banners were hung off the balconies of Saint Peter's showing the images of the seven saints to be canonized. I could only get 6 in the frame of my camera at once, so here are two pictures of the banners so you can see all 7 images:



I had never been to a canonization mass before, so I was not too sure what to expect. As it turns out, it was pretty much like any other mass, with a few additions. We began with the sign of the cross as usual, and then we began the ritual of canonization. After the singing of the Veni Creator Spiritus, the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints came forward and made a formal request asking the Pope to canonize the seven candidates. A brief biography was ready for each, and the Pope declared that their enrollment among the saints and that the Christian faithful could venerate each as such. We sang the Gloria, and the Pope ordered that Apostolic letters be drafted for each saint corresponding to the declaration that had just been made. The mass then proceeded as usual.

Except, of course, it was not a usual mass! The ritual was pretty much the same (with the nice touch of the 7 new saints being mentioned at the appropriate spot in Eucharistic Prayer III), but the size of the event was huge. Since seeing is believing, I made this little video at the end to give you a sense of scale:


After mass was over we hopped a small shuttle bus that let 3 of the Canadian bishops off close to the Canadian College in Rome, where a reception and lunch was hosted for the bishops of the Synod by the rector and residents of the college. It was a nice conclusion to the morning's events.