Times are changing but the Gospel remains
On Monday morning, 8 October , in the Vatican's Synod Hall, in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI, the First General Congregation of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convened. Present at the Congregation, presided by Tong Hon and begun with the recitation of Mid-Morning Prayer,were 256 Synodal Fathers. The following is a translation of the report given in Latin by the General Secretary Archbishop Nikola Eterović. Trnaslations courtesy of the Synod Office.
Most Holy Father
Your Eminences and Excellencies, Synod Fathers
Dear Brothers and Sisters
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:19, 20). The Risen Christ’s words at the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew initiate the period of the Church’s mission. After receiving the Holy Spirit, who guides into all the truth (cf Jn 16:13), the disciples, who “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14), leave the Cenacle to proclaim “everywhere” (Mk 16:20) and in every tongue, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Risen Lord’s command is equally applicable to us, who are gathered in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to reflect on the topic: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. It concerns the Good News proclaimed by the Apostles and entrusted to the Church, namely, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5). The Gospel remains the same; changes occur only in the human, religious, cultural and social settings in which this Word of Salvation is to be lived and transmitted to others. The indispensable condition for this urgent missionary work is faith, the measure of apostolic dynamism. Conscious that the Lord could also reprove us as being men of little faith (òλιγόπιστοι) (cf. Mt 8:26), let us pray as did the apostles, “Increase our faith!” (πρόσθες ήμιν πίστιν) (Lk 17:5). We make our prayer in a particularly intensive way during the synod, especially during the four Eucharistic celebrations presided over by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Besides the opening liturgy yesterday, he will preside at the Mass of Canonization of seven Blesseds on Sunday, 21 October and the Closing Eucharist on Sunday, 28 October. The Eucharist on 11 October has a special significance. The Bishop of Rome will preside at the solemn concelebration initiating the Year of Faith. Undoubtedly, this event will have a very positive influence on our synodal proceedings, considering the fact that the faith and its transmission are part of the synod topic, which will be thoroughly examined in the context of the new evangelization. In the name of all synod fathers and participants of the synodal assembly, I express heartfelt gratitude to Your Holiness for proclaiming the Year of Faith commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Entrusting ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit who the Risen Lord, present in our midst, gives “not by measure” (Jn 3:34), we have unwavering trust that the Year of Faith will bring abundant spiritual gifts to the Holy Church of God, Our Mother.
Most Holy Father, I wish to thank you, above all, for having convoked this synodal assembly, the 5th in your 8-year Pontificate. This high number indicates your esteem for the Synod of Bishops as the privileged expression of communion among the bishops as members of the Episcopal College, and their unity with you, as Head of this College. In fact, under your wise guidance, two Ordinary General Assemblies on the Eucharist and the Word of God have taken place in the years 2005 and 2008, respectively, as well as the two Special Assemblies for Africa in 2009 and the Middle East in 2010.
I am happy to greet you, the 262 synod fathers, who have come from the 5 continents: 50 from Africa, 63 from America, 39 from Asia, 103 from Europe and 7 from Oceania; representatives of the 13 synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the 114 episcopal conferences and the Union of Superiors General. I also cordially greet you the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, close collaborators of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th Successor of St. Peter in the See of Rome. The majority of the synod fathers taking part in the Ordinary General Assembly have been elected, namely 182, of which 172 have been elected by episcopal conferences and 10 by the Union of Superiors General. In the remaining number, 3 were designated by the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris; 37 participate ex officio, and 40 others were appointed by the Holy Father. Among these are: 6 patriarchs, 49 cardinals, 3 major archbishops (of which one is a cardinal), 71 archbishops, 120 bishops and 14 priests. As for the offices they hold, 10 are heads of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, 32 are presidents of episcopal conferences, 26 are heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, 211 ordinaries and 11 auxiliary bishops.
A special greeting to the fraternal delegates, representatives of Churches and ecclesial communities who share with Catholics a concern for the evangelization of our brothers and sisters in the world today.
During the synod, we will have an opportunity to greet 3 special guests, who have accepted the invitation of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to take part in the synodal proceedings.
I am happy to greet 45 experts and 49 men and women auditors, who have been chosen among many experts and persons involved in evangelization and human promotion, cognizant that their personal testimony and respective communities will notably enrich our synod work.
I extend a cordial greeting to the liaisons with the press, the assistants, the translators and technical personnel and, in particular, the collaborators of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, to whom I am grateful for their generous and dedicated contribution in preparing this synodal assembly.
This presentation is divided into 4 parts:
I. The Activities between the XII and XIII Ordinary General Assemblies
II. The Preparation of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly
III. The Activities of the General Secretariat
I. The Activities between the XII and XIII Ordinary General Assemblies
The XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place from 5 to 26 October 2008 on the topic The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. At the conclusion of this synodal gathering, the XII Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was formed of 15 members. In accordance with the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, the synod fathers elected 12 members and the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI appointed 3 bishops to complete the foreseen number. The XII Ordinary Council had two principal tasks, namely, to bring to completion the conclusions of the XII Synodal Assembly on the Word of God and to prepare for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly.
To fulfill this task, the Ordinary Council held 7 meetings in Rome. The first meeting took place on 25 October 2008, as the synodal assembly was drawing to a close, thereby permitting the members of the Council better to know each other and to establish a calendar of future activities. During 2009, the Ordinary Council met three times, 20 - 21 January, 3 - 4 June and 24 - 25 September. The Ordinary Council held one meeting in 2012, 8 - 9 June; one in 2011, 22 - 23 November; and one in 2012, 16 February. In accord with the members of the Ordinary Council, the General Secretariat exchanged information and documentation by e-mail, with the intention of reducing as much as possible any inconvenience caused by the absence of bishops from their dioceses, because of repeated trips to Rome and the General Secretariat.
The principal purpose of the first two meetings of the XII Ordinary Council was to reflect on the rich documentation of the Synod on the Word of God. The members of the Ordinary Council concentrated, in a particular way, on examining the 55 Proposals which the synod fathers had approved, for the most part, by a two-thirds majority vote. The first proposal asked the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to consider “offering a document on the mystery of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church and also in light of the Year dedicated to St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, on the bimillennium of his birth”.
The Supreme Pontiff graciously accepted the request of the synod fathers. As in the past, the Holy Father was assisted in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by the members of the XII Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, with the assistance of skilled experts. At the meeting in January, 2009, the members agreed on an outline of the document and made many detailed suggestions. In the month of June, they examined the first draft of the Apostolic Exhortation. Numerous observations sought to highlight the richness of the discussion at the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in light of the Church’s Magisterium, particularly the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers of the Church and the Teachings of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. After incorporating these initial observations, the text was sent by e-mail to the members of the Ordinary Council for further suggestions, which were later integrated in the final text. On 7 July 2009, the General Secretary forwarded the document to the Supreme Pontiff who made notable changes according to his proper charism as the Universal Pastor of the Church. During an audience granted to the General Secretary on 13 June 2009, the Holy Father accepted the proposal of the Ordinary Council and chose the very meaningful title of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation — Verbum Domini. The Bishop of Rome signed the document on 30 September 2010, the Memorial of St. Jerome, the Great Lover of Sacred Scripture. It was published on 11 November 2010, the same day on which it was presented in the Holy See Press Office by the following: His Eminence, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and General Rapporteur of the XII Ordinary General Assembly; His Eminence, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and President of the Commission for the Message of the Synod; His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops and Rev. Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation was originally published in 8 languages. Subsequently, translations were done in other languages.
On 30 May 2009, the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops sent the Relatio circa labores peractos of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the President of the Union of Superiors General. This document summarized the preparation and proceedings of the synodal assembly, and, among other things, included the following statistics: 253 synod fathers participated at the synodal assembly of 2009, of which 183 were elected, 38 were ex officio members and 32 were by papal appointment. As for continents, 51 synod fathers came from Africa; 62 from America; 41 from Asia; 90 from Europe; and 9 from Oceania. There were 23 General Congregations and 8 sessions of the small groups. The synod fathers approved the text of the Nuntius to the People of God by acclamation and the 55 Proposals by a great majority.
II. The Preparation for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly
The collegial nature of the Synod of Bishops is also demonstrated in arriving at the topic of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly. In fact, two consultations were done. Before the conclusion of the XII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the synod fathers were invited to suggest topics which, in their opinion, could possibly be examined during the XIII Synodal Assembly. Though the responses were numerous and diverse, a significant number of them even then showed a certain preference for the topic of transmitting the faith.
At the beginning of 2009, following a papal audience on 9 January, His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, wrote to the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the President of the Union of Superiors General, requesting them to indicate three possible topics, which, in their opinion, could possibly become the subject of synodal discussion. According to the norms of the synod, the proposed topics were to fulfill three conditions: 1) be of interest to the universal Church; 2) respond to a present pastoral need; and 3) be able realistically to be thoroughly examined in a Synod of Bishops. The responses were to arrive at the General Secretariat by 1 June 2009, so as to be examined by the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat in its meeting on 3 - 4 June.
At this meeting, the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops examined the numerous proposals coming from these groups with which the General Secretariat maintains official relations. After a thorough examination, three topics were formulated, which His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, General Secretary, submitted to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for his kind consideration. In a papal audience on 13 June 2009, the Supreme Pontiff expressed his preference for the first of the three proposals, which was most frequently cited by the episcopates, namely, The Transmission of the Faith through Education and Christian Initiation. The other two proposals, cited less frequently by the episcopates, concerned the parish as the community of communities and the anthropological challenges in our times. During this audience, the Holy Father also decided that the XIII Synodal Assembly would take place in the month of October (2 - 23) of 2011. Both decisions were changed for the following reasons.
As for the topic, in an audience granted to the General Secretary on 7 September 2009, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, shared his intention of instituting a Council for the New Evangelization. For a greater coordination in his reflection, the Holy Father felt it opportune to combine the topic of the transmission of the faith with that of the new evangelization. In both cases, he encouraged the members of the Ordinary Council to consider the matter at their meeting on 24 - 25 September 2009, while they continued their work on drafting the Lineamenta for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. I duly referred the matter to the members of the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, who welcomed the suggestions of the Holy Father, and after deep reflection, reformulated the synodal topic in the following manner: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. In an audience given to the General Secretary on 3 July 2010, the Supreme Pontiff approved the topic of the synodal assembly. As noted, with the Apostolic Letter motu proprio Ubicumque et semper (21 September 2010), the Supreme Pontiff established the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
As for the date, ceding to the request of the Bishops of the Middle East, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, after having consulted with his closest collaborators, announced the convocation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, on 19 September 2009, during the meeting with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris. This synodal assembly, which took place in October, 2010, resulted in the postponement of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops by one year. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI himself wanted to announce the topic of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly, on 24 October 2010, during the solemn Eucharistic celebration in Saint Peter Basilica, at the conclusion of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, indicating as well that it would be held in October, 2012.
Therefore, the topic of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops represents the results of a broad consultation process of the world episcopate and the pastoral concern of the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor of the Church. He wishes to place the reflection on the transmission of the Christian faith within the context of the new evangelization, emphasizing their complementarity: the new evangelization has as its goal the transmission of the Christian faith; the transmission of the Christian faith is, in turn, done in a religious, cultural and social setting which requires a new evangelization, “new in its ardour, its methods and its expressions”.(JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the XIX Assembly of C.E.L.AM., (Port au Prince, Haiti, 9 March 1983), 3: AAS 75 I (1983) 778.)
The Preparation of the Lineamenta
Preparation for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly began after the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI established the topic for synodal discussion, before the publication of its official formulation. The XII Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat met twice to study the text of the Lineamenta. At its meeting on 24-25 September 2009, the members, with the assistance of some experts, agreed on the outline of the Lineamenta, taking into consideration the observations of the bishops in their suggesting possible synodal topics and the existing pastoral and social situations where the particular Churches live and work in today’s world. They repeatedly made references to the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the successive pronouncements of the Church’s magisterium, in particular that of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
At the meeting of 8 - 9 June 2010, the members of the Ordinary Council examined the draft of the Lineamenta which treated the topic of the new evangelization and the transmission of the faith, even though the definitive topic had not yet been made public. After an in-depth discussion, various modifications were done to improve the text and, at the same time, members indicated certain aspects which required further development. The General Secretariat, with the assistance of some experts, sought to incorporate these observations. Once the topic of the synod was made public, the General Secretariat sent the text of the Lineamenta by e-mail to each member of the Ordinary Council for his approval or possible comments to improve the text. The few observations which were submitted were then incorporated into the text, which was translated into the various languages.
Once the translation process ended, the General Secretariat occupied itself with the publication of the Lineamenta of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which bore the date, 2 February 2011, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The document was presented in the Holy See Press Office on 4 March 2011 by His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, General Secretary, and by Rev. Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. The Lineamenta were sent to the parties with which the General Secretariat maintains official communications. Furthermore, they were widely distributed, primarily by the customary means of communication of the Holy See and the Catholic Church. Under the designation “Synod of Bishops”, on the Holy See’s internet website, the text of the Lineamenta was made available in 8 languages: Latin, French, English, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and German, translations which were prepared by the General Secretariat. As in the past, the Lineamenta contained a series of questions, 72 in total, to facilitate reflection and in-depth discussion on the topic. In the Preface, the General Secretary requested that the interested parties respond by 1 November 2011, the Solemnity of All Saints, so that the Instrumentum laboris of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops could be drafted in timely fashion.
The Composition of the Instrumentum laboris
The General Secretariat received many responses, generally very detailed, which indicated great popular interest in the topic of the synodal assembly. Moreover, the responses recounted the pastoral activities which were already taking place in many particular Churches. At the same time, they underlined the necessity for renewed apostolic zeal in the work of evangelization, which would make it more receptive to the grace of the Holy Spirit, who inspires new ways of announcing the Good News to those near and far, above all, to the baptized who have distanced themselves from the Church.
The percentages of responses from institutions is 90.5%, which can be broken down in the following manner.
— Synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris: 84.6% (11 of 13 Churches responded)(No response was received from the following Churches sui iuris: the Major Archbishopric of the Syro-Malankars and the Ruthenian Metropolitan Church.);
— Episcopal conferences: 81.5 % (93 of 144 episcopal conferences responded);
— Dicasteries of the Roman Curia: 96.1 % (25 of 26 dicasteries responded)(The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See did not respond.);
— Union of Superiors General: 100%.
With regard to the episcopal conferences, an alphabetical order of the percentages, according to each continent, might prove of interest:
— Africa: 66.6% (24 of 36 episcopal conference responded)(Twelve episcopal conferences did not respond: Cameroon, Chad, The Republic of Congo, Gabon, The Gambia and Sierra Leone, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Indian Ocean, Central African Republic and Uganda.);
— America: 95.8% (23 of 24 episcopal conferences responded)(The Episcopal Conference of Haiti did not send a response.);
— Asia: 88.8% (16 of 18 episcopal conferences responded)(The Episcopal Conferences of Sri Lanka and East Timor did not respond.);
— Europe: 81.25% (26 of 32 episcopal conferences responded)(No response was received from the following episcopal conferences: Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Turkey and Ukraine.);
— Oceania: 100% (4 of 4 episcopal conferences responded).
Added to these responses were contributions from the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (C.C.E.E.) and the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt. The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops also received observations from various ecclesial institutions, for example, the International Union of Superiors General (U.I.S.G.). Some universities and centres of higher leaning also supplied observations, not to mention many individuals interested in the synod topic. The General Secretariat took all these responses and observations into account, together with the results of various meetings and articles published in specialized and popular magazines.
In the meeting on 22 - 23 November 2011, the members of the XII Ordinary Council, assisted by experts, thoroughly examined the responses to the Lineamenta and agreed on an outline for the Instrumentum laboris and made many suggestions for drafting the text.
In the meeting of 16 February 2012, the Ordinary Council examined the draft of the Instrumentum laboris. The work had to be limited to one day only, because, on 17 February, a majority of the members of the Ordinary Council participated in the consistory convoked by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. To facilitate the discussion, the General Secretariat had previously sent the text of the document to the Council members. They, therefore, were able to immediately enter into a lively discussion, thus providing many sound observations to improve the text. The Council members also gratefully noted the decision of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to call the Year of Faith. In drafting the Instrumentum laboris, they gave considerable attention to the Apostolic Letter published in moto proprio form, Porta fidei.
To obtain final approval of the document, the General Secretariat again sent the text of the Instrumentum laboris, by e-mail, to the members of the Ordinary Council. Some members made further suggestions, which were incorporated to improve the text. The General Secretariat then proceeded to translate the document into 8 languages. The Instrumentum laboris, which carries the date, 27 May 2012, the Solemnity of Pentecost, was presented on 19 June 2012 in the Holy See Press Office by His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, General Secretary, and Rev. Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. The Instrumentum laboris received an ample distribution, also through the internet — under “Synod of Bishops”, on the Holy See’s website — and by means of many publications. The Italian version was published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The diffusion of the Instrumentum laboris provided many with the agenda of the synodal assembly, the positive undertakings of the particular Churches and some points which require greater reflection and development. The document on the new evangelization and the transmission of the faith — two very important subjects in the life and mission of the Church — is of particular interest to the synod fathers, who must refer to it in their interventions.
The Appointment of Those with Special Synodal Responsibilities
On 22 October 2011, in preparation for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI appointed as General Rapporteur, His Eminence, Cardinal Donald William Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (USA), and as Special Secrertary, His Excellency, Most Rev. Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop of Montpellier (France).
On 29 June 2012, His Holiness designated the three Presidents-Delegate: His Eminence, Cardinal John Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong (China); His Eminence, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara (Mexico); and His Eminence, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo).
III. The Activities of the General Secretariat
In the period from October, 2008 to the present, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was engaged in its routine activity, namely, to bring to conclusion the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and to make preparations for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly.
At the same time, at the request of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, the General Secretariat prepared two Special Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops: the Second Special Assembly for Africa and the Special Assembly for the Middle East. The former, which took place from 4 to 25 October 2009, had 244 synod fathers. The fruits of synodal discussion were gathered in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, which the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI wanted personally to present to the presidents of the episcopal conferences of Africa, during his Apostolic Visit to Cotonou, Benin, 20 November 2011.
The Special Assembly for the Middle East, held from 10 to 24 October 2012, saw the participation of 185 synod fathers, gathered around the Bishop of Rome, among whom were all the bishops of the Middle East. The results of the synod’s work were set forth in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. On 16 September 2012, His Holiness presented this document to representatives of the episcopate of the Middle East, to the patriarchs and to the presidents of the respective episcopal conferences, during his Apostolic Visit to Lebanon.
The General Secretariat was also involved in other activities which I shall briefly recount.
In addition to the activity of the Ordinary Council, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was involved in meetings for the Special Councils, especially those of Africa and the Middle East, by reason of the preparation of their respective special assemblies. In fact, in the period of time since the celebration of the XII Ordinary General Assembly, the Special Council for Africa met six times (27 - 28 November 2008; 23 - 24 January 2009; 19 March 2009; 19 - 20 January 2010; 27 - 28 April 2010; 19 - 20 November 2011).
The Council for the Middle East held nine meetings (21 - 22 September 2009; 24 - 25 November 2009; 23 - 24 April 2010; 4 - 6 June 2010; 20 - 21 January 2011; 30 - 31 March 2011; 17 - 18 May 2011; 6 - 7 July 2011; 14 - 16 September 2012).
Of the other Councils, the Special Council for America met with greater frequency, practically once every year: 18 - 19 November 2008; 17 - 18 November 2009; 16 - 17 November 2010; 27 - 28 October 2011.
The Special Council for Asia met on 11/12 December 2008 and the Special Council for Oceania on 9 December 2011.
Updating the Vademecum
The Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, approved by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, on 29 September 2006, focused attention on practices which have witnessed a certain development in recent synodal assemblies and have fostered greater collegiality in the proceedings of the synod. Permit me to point out some practical aspects which might be useful for the present synodal assembly.
As in recent synodal assemblies, each synod father will have the opportunity to make a 5-minute presentation. A longer text of his presentation can also be submitted to the General Secretariat. Please keep in mind that a brief summary of the presentation, prepared by each synod father according to the indications in the Vademecum, will be published.
Four-minute presentations are foreseen for the fraternal delegates and the auditors. Given the high number of auditors, each can submit a text in writing to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops so that it can be given consideration in the general discussion on the synod topic. In any case, everything possible will be done so that even the auditors can speak during the General Congregations, both individually or, possibly, one designated by a group.
During the afternoon Congregation today, after the presentation of the General Relatorr, representatives from the 5 continents will make a presentation which seeks to give an overall view on the topic of the new evangelization and the transmission of the Christian faith in their respective continents. Each will have the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes.
At the end of the General Congregations in the afternoon, a period of open discussion is scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M. A synod father is to speak for no more than 3 minutes and possibly one other time only. The same rule applies during other periods of discussion in the synod hall, so as to encourage greater participation. Discussion by topic is also anticipated. The first, on 8 October, ought to be centered on the presentation of the General Relator, His Eminence, Cardinal Donald William Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (USA). The second, on 9 October, ought to focus on the reception of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, following a 30-minute presentation on the subject by His Eminence, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Similar discussion periods will follow the presentation of His Grace, Rowan Douglas Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England and of the Anglican Communion, which will take place on Wednesday, 10 October. The Archbishop will share an Anglican perspective on the challenge of the new evangelization and the transmission of the Christian faith. On 12 October 2012, Dr. Werner Arber, Professor of Microbiology in Biozentrum of the University of Basel (Switzerland) and President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will offer his observations on the relation between science and faith. Following his presentation, Dr. Arber will respond to questions from the synod fathers.
The first part of the synod proceedings is devoted to presentations by the synod father. To promote a certain order among the presentations by topic, each synod father who wishes to speak is asked to register in the General Secretariat, indicating the topic on which he intends to speak. It is highly recommended to make reference to the number or numbers in the Instrumentum laboris. Priority will be given to those who wish to speak on the first part of the Instrumentum laboris from numbers 1 to 40, which cover the Introduction and the subject of Jesus Christ, Good News of God to Humanity. Treatment of the second part will follow, numbers 41 to 89, Time for a New Evangelization. The third part then follows, numbers 90 to 128, Transmitting the Faith. The fourth part, numbers 129 to 169, includes the fourth chapter, Revivifying Pastoral Activity and the Conclusion. A more orderly approach, subject by subject, is to facilitate an in-depth development of the topic.
During this synodal assembly, electronic equipment will be employed in voting, not only to save time but to produce results in real time. However, considering the importance of the vote on the Propositiones and established custom, this vote will be done both in written form and electronically. As noted, the synod fathers, even those who cannot participate in the General Congregation when the electronic vote is taken, can vote on the Proposals in written form. Therefore, the official voting results are those done by the Commission for Voting, to be formed in due time, whose task is tabulating the voting results on paper.
During the synodal assembly, we have the joy of greeting three special guests: Brother Alois, Prior of Taizé (France), Rev. Lamar Vest, President of the American Bible Society (USA) and the newly appointed, Mr. Werner Arber, Professor of Microbiology in Biozentrum of the University of Basel (Switzerland) and President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1978.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is expected to participate at the Solemn Eucharistic Celebration on 11 October, over which the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will preside.
As previously mentioned, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England and of the Anglican Communion, His Grace, Rowan Douglas Williams, will make a presentation in the synod hall on 10 October.
In the calendar of activity of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly, various initiatives are planned at which the synod fathers are encouraged to participate as a group. In this regard, information will be provided in due time. In any case, all these events are intended to foster collegiality among the bishops themselves and between them and the Bishop of Rome, Head of the Episcopal College, and to reinforcing communion in the midst of the People of God, whose representatives are gathered in this synodal assembly. Synod fathers are free to participate in other events, outside those on the synod calendar.
The activity of the General Secretariat also included the following publications. In 2011, the volume La Parola di Dio nella vita e nella missione della Chiesa was published by the Lateran University Press under the auspices of the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. Gathering the rich documentation from the preparation and celebration of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, this book contains all the official texts of the synodal assembly, among which are the summaries of the presentations of the individual synod fathers, and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, the culmination of the synod’s proceedings. The index of persons provides a quick, profitable reference.
Assisted by his collaborators, the General Secretary also oversaw, in conjunction with the same publisher, the volume Il Vescovo Servitore del Vangelo di Gesù Cristo per la speranza del mondo, resulting from the work of the X Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place from 30 September to 27 October 2001. This publication by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops completes the series of Ordinary and Extraordinary General Assemblies and provides an abundance of synodal documentation, not only for the Pastors and those engaged in study but for all interested persons.
Thanks to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the General Secretariat supported the publication of the Volume, entitled La Chiesa in Africa a servizio della riconciliazione, della giustizia e della pace, by the Urbaniana University Press, Vatican City, 2012, which gathers the results of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, celebrated in Rome from 4 to 25 October 2010.
Jesus Christ, the First and the Great Evangelizer
The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, the topic of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, makes us turn to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of all evangelization. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, wishing to recapitulate the work of the III Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (27 September - 26 October 1974) on the topic of Evangelization in the Modern World, wrote: “During the Synod, the bishops very frequently referred to this truth: Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer; he was so through and through: to perfection and to the point of the sacrifice of His earthly life.” (EN, 7). We too, united in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly, in continuity with our predecessors, wish to begin anew with Jesus Christ, “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:13), in reflecting on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
In this regard, the catacombs of Priscilla has a fresco of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, which is very rich in theological content. The Lord, after leaving the 99, returns with a sheep on his back, who was lost but now is found. The image is an artistic representation of the parable of the lost sheep (cf. Lk 15:1-7; Mt 18:12-14). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, does what God had promised in the Old Testament: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice” (Ez 34:16). In a particular way, one can perceive in the icon the joy of the Shepherd in bringing the lost sheep back to the fold, thus reflecting the words from St. Matthew the Evangelist: “He rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray” (Mt 18:13).
Two sheep graze peacefully around the Good Shepherd. They are the faithful sheep, who remained with the Lord. They know their shepherd (cf. Jn 10:14) who calls each of them by name (cf. Jn 10:3). They are flanked by two green trees, on whose branches are perched two doves who carry in their beaks two olive branches. The image also recalls another biblical reference on the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven which “is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Lk 13:19; cf. Mk 4:31; Mt 13:31). Furthermore, the olive branches refer to the experience of Noah who knew the flood had ended, when the dove returned to the ark carrying “in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf” (Gn 8:11). With his coming, Jesus the Good Shepherd begins the salvation of the world. Through his sacrifice on the cross, he brings harmony and peace: He is “our peace” (Eph 2:14).
The image of Jesus the Good Shepherd — including the one in the catacombs of Priscilla — is an example of the inculturation of the Christian message in Greco-Roman culture. To the citizens of the Roman empire, the painting recalled Hermas — so-called Hermes Kriophoros — who carries a ram on his shoulders and leads the flock. A timely invitation can be seen in this symbol, namely, to present the enduring Gospel of Jesus Christ in the cultures of men and women today, which, in their time, ought to be purified and elevated by the Good News of the Lord Jesus, the One and only Saviour of the world (cf. Acts 4:12).
Among the sheep which the Good Shepherd brought into the fold, are distinguished saints and, in particular, great evangelizers, like St. Peter as well as St. Paul, who in a special manner is associated with the other apostles. As in the Cenacle, a special place is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church, the Star of the New Evangelization. On Thursday, 4 October, at Loreto, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI implored her maternal protection on the synodal proceedings and the Year of Faith. Among the great ranks of the beatified and the saints who have followed their example during the history of the Church, we dutifully remember in a special manner Blessed Pope John Paul II who worked untiringly during his pontificate to foster the new evangelization and who, from heaven, will not neglect to follow our work. During this synodal assembly, the number of saints will increase by another seven, who will be canonized by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI on 21 October. We entrust the work of the synodal assembly to their intercession and to that of Saints John of Avila and St. Hildegard of Bingen, the new doctors of the Church, so that our work might bring to fruition the words of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16).
Thank you for listening.