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It seems that the Synod of Bishops has become the first curial body to undergo Pope Francis’ expected and announced reforms. Following the appointment of its new General Secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri in September, Pope Francis fairly soon afterwards announced the first major assembly of the Synod: an Extraordinary General Assembly titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
Scheduled to take place from 5 to 19 November of next year, the assembly is styled ‘extraordinary’ to signify the pressing urgency that Pope Francis attaches to the subject. Unlike the general assemblies, there will be no process of selecting participating clergy: the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Churches, the heads of the Curia offices in Rome and three members of religious institutes are the designated participants by canon law. The participants from continental northwestern Europe will therefore be Wim Cardinal Eijk from the Netherlands, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard from Belgium, Bishop Anders Arborelius from Scandinavia, and whoever the future president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be.
Today, Pope Francis selected the Relator General and the Special Secretary for the Extraordinary Assembly, which is only the third such gathering since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965. The Relator General opens the assembly and gathers the conclusions and results for the final message and ultimately the Post-Synodal Exhortation that Pope Francis will write. This task will be performed by Péter Cardinal Erdö, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The Special Secretary, who records the proceedings of the Synod, is Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (pictured) of Chieti-Vasto. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
With the next assembly on the horizon we are still expecting the final act of the previous one. The Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith closed in October of last year and the assumption then was that Pope Benedict XVI would publish its Post-Synodal Exhortation some time in 2014. Now that he has retired, and Pope Francis has begun his papacy, it will be the latter’s task to publish it. In June, he told the General Secretariat of the Synod that he would be writing much of the document in August and that it would be ready for publication before the end of the Year of Faith, on 24 November of this year.
Just before the weekend, Archbishop Salvatore ‘Rino’ Fisichella delivered the closing remarks at Proclaim 2012, a three-day conference hosted by the bishops of Australia in Sydney. The text, which is available in my Dutch translation here, is not only full of enticing sound bytes, but also serves as an excellent primer for the upcoming Year of Faith and the new evangelisation. Not coincidentally, Archbishop Fisichella runs the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
There are several focal points in the talk, but the first, and most important one, is Jesus Christ being at the heart of the new evangelisation. His resurrection, and our proclamation of it, are what the whole thing is about.
“[W]e are called to renew the proclamation of Jesus Christ, of the mystery of his death and resurrection to stimulate people once more to have faith in him by means of conversion of life. If our eyes were still capable of seeing into the depths of the events which mark the lives of our contemporaries, it would be easy to show how much this message still holds a place of special importance. Therefore, we need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people’s existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith.”
Without divulging the entire contents of the text which you should just go and read for yourself, there is one remark which can be a good suggestion for catechesis:
“Central to the Year of Faith will be a focus upon the Profession of Faith. This will serve to return the Profession of Faith to its prominent place as the daily prayer of every Christian. To facilitate this, we have produced an edition of the Nicene Creed, which is the most familiar symbol to Christians due to its frequent usage within the context of Sunday Mass.”
The Creed, or Profession of Faith, is something we profess in every Mass we attend. But, as with all things we hear and say often, there is a risk of it losing its impact and meaning for us. Let’s dive into the Creed and analyse it step by step, line by line, word by word even, if need be. Just a suggestion for the Year of Faith.
While Saturday is certainly the big day, the ‘Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals’ is in actuality a four-day event starting tomorrow morning. As a prelude to the creation of the new princes of the Church, the Holy Father has invited them, and the entire College of Cardinals, to spend the day in reflection and prayer. And the topic of that reflection and prayer will be the new evangelisation. The website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht informs us that Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, will be looking ahead to the Year of Faith as part of the day’s main subject.
Red Saturday will start at 10:30 Roman time with the liturgical celebration during which the new cardinals will receive their zucchetto, biretta, cardinal’s ring and the bull by which they’ll be assigned a title church or deaconry. In the afternoon, the new cardinals will be receiving well-wishers at various locations, with Cardinal Eijk being given a spot in the Paul VI Hall.
On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will be concelebrating a Mass with the new cardinals, starting at 9:30. On behalf of the new cardinals, Cardinal Filoni will address the pope.
On Monday, then, the pope will once more meet with the new cardinals to address them and their families, friends and other pilgrims.
The texts of the various addresses and homilies will be available in due time on the Vatican website.
In the Netherlands, the consistory and the Sunday Mass may be watched live via the homepage of the RKK.
Lastly, then, one can only guess at what must be going through the head of Archbishop Eijk as he is no doubt in Rome by now. Whatever thoughts and feelings he may have, they are sure to be tempered by a touch of Dutch level-headedness, as indicated by his reply to a reporter asking about his chances of becoming pope:
“The chance of that is by now less than one percent, what with an increasing number of cardinals from new Church provinces. But well, let’s first become cardinal and then we’ll see.”
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and Bishop Jean Kockerols have sent a letter to the faithful, both clergy and laity, of the Vicariate of Brussels about the Metropolis 2012 project I wrote about earlier.
After an introduction about the context of the project, the ordinary and the auxiliary bishops outline the five points that the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation has outlined when it selected prelates of twelve major European cities to spearhead its first major endeavour.
Here they are, with the specific plans that the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels has:
The importance of the proclamation of the Word of God. The continuous reading of the Gospel of Mark falls under this point.
The grace of conversion. Four well-known Christians will be giving witness of their conversion. This will take place on every Sunday during Lent, and will be followed by Vespers.
The (re)discovery of Gods mercy. A ‘day of encounter and reconciliation’ will be organised on the Saturday before Palm Sunday in fifteen inner-city churches, located in busy places.
Catechesis by the bishop in service of the proclamation of the faith. Both bishops will be hosting catechesis meetings, the details of which were mentioned in a previous blog post.
Service and engagement to others, inspired by the faith. On 18 March, a great Lenten meal will be organised for all Christians. The Latin American community of Brussels has been asked to organise this.
These points, given these specific hands and feet in Brussels, can perhaps be considered the main focal points of the entire Pontifical Council. The realisation in other cities are undoubtedly different, but it may be a good starting point, like I said earlier, that gives momentum to the new evangelisation.
Photo credit: RTL.fr
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (the CCEE in its official abbreviation), has held a plenary assembly in Tirana, Albania, from 29 September to 2 October. The reason for their assembly was to discuss the new evangelisation so desired by the Holy Father.
A full account of their resolutions is available here, but I want to highlight the section that directly speaks about the new evangelisation (emphasis mine):
The 41st CCEE Plenary Assembly was held in Tirana on the theme of the New Evangelisation. Preparation for this meeting included a major survey: each Bishops’ Conference had responded to a questionnaire, a summary of which was presented to the participants.
From this it emerged that the New Evangelisation is a major concern for European bishops, and that consequently all kinds of work has already taken place: diocesan synods and reflection at the level of Bishops’ Conferences, the publication of documents (in almost every country), and many practical projects.
Evangelisation is the manifestation of the Church’s life and vitality. It should not be understood simply as a pastoral activity, but as the manifestation of its very nature and mission. The New Evangelisation is not only aimed at Christians who have strayed from the faith, but at all. It seeks to proclaim Christ, true God and true man, crucified to bear every human grief, raised from the dead that we might have life. Through their baptism, all believers are called to take part in the New Evangelisation: families; young people who are generally the most open to being missionaries; but also parishes, the movements, and new communities. Places of catechesis and Catholic schools must also be and become ever more places of evangelisation. Finally, the sacraments are the privileged place of establishing this New Evangelisation. There is also question of seeking new ways to evangelise, such as, for example, new technology, the internet, and social networking sites. But all this is only possible if, following the example of the Christians of the Acts of the Apostles, we open ourselves up in a new way to the Holy Spirit: “There will be no new evangelisation without a new Pentecost!”.
The choice of Albania, land of martyrs, was particularly significant for the discussion of the theme of the new evangelisation. It was an opportunity for all bishops present to recall the missionary witness borne by the Albanian Church, and also by all the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches under communist regimes.
Mgr Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, addressed the meeting. He pointed out that many Europeans today no longer know anything about Christianity, and that while the word “crisis” was currently being much used, this should also be seen as an opportunity for growth. According to him, “the New Evangelisation is an opportunity given to us to read and interpret the current historical moment in order that the Church’s work might become extraordinary. In other words, we are called to live, in an extraordinary way, the ordinary event in the life of the Church, which is evangelisation.” He concluded by recalling the initiatives of the “Missions Metropoli”, which will take place in 12 major European cities during next Lent.
Well, it’s good that virtually all bishops’ conferences are taking the topic seriously. But, discussion is one thing. The new evangelisation still needs to be transformed into reality to a large extent. The 12 Missions Metropoli that Archbishop Fisichella mentioned can play an important role in the first step towards that realisation, but it’s not the end of it. Not even the end of the beginning, I think. There is still much work to do, both on the level of the CCEE, as on the level of individual conferences. But “all believers are called to take part in the New Evangelisation”, which means that this can’t be left to the bishops in their conferences. Now, we must all do it; we must all evangelise, reclaim the continent for Christ, Who is its foundation.
The next major meeting about the new evangelisation will be the Plenary Assembly of the worldwide Synod of Bishops in 2012.
While meeting, the members of the Council also elected a new presidency. Péter Cardinal Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, was re-elected as chairman, while Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, and Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemyśl were chosen as vice-chairmen. All three men also chair their respective bishops’ conferences of Hungary, Italy and Poland.
“In 1926 – when in Maarn the first St. Theresia church arose – the Netherlands was still a country that that produced many missionaries. Now we have become a mission country ourselves. All the more do we need Christians, especially priests, deacons and religious, who manage to touch many with the Gospel of Christ through the love of Christ in their hearts.”
The concluding words from the homily that Bishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary of Utrecht, gave on Saturday for seminarians, pastoral workers, staff and members of the prayer group of Ariëns Institute. This follows upon similar words from Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent, given in an interview last week. He said that “Flanders is mission territory, indeed”.
In Tirana, Albania, members of the European Bishops’ Conferences, among them our own Archbishop Wim Eijk, have been meeting with each other and Archbishop Fisichella, head of the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, to speak about this very issue. I suspect we’ll continue to see this topic appear time and again for the foreseeable future. It certainly seems to be a spear point of this pontificate.
In the past two days, Pope Benedict XVI released enlightening comments on two different, but related topics. The first was an address to the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation at their very first plenary meeting. In it, the Holy Father mainly discusses the need for new forms of proclamation of the Gospel. He describes the environment, “in which the developments of secularization have left heavy traces even in countries with a Christian tradition”, where this new proclamation will take place, and further concludes that the “mission has not changed, just as the enthusiasm and the courage that moved the Apostles and the first disciples must not change. The Holy Spirit who pushed them to open the doors of the Cenacle, making them into evangelizers (cf. Acts 2:1-4), is the same Spirit that moves the Church today in a renewed proclamation of hope to the men of our time.”
Apart from drafting a framework for the new Pontifical Council to work in, the pope’s address has also much to tell us lay faithful. After all, we all have our duty to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation he brought in our world. Worth a read. My Dutch translation is here.
The second set of comments relate to sacred music and may be found in a letter from the pope to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, grand chancellor of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music. in this letter, Pope Benedict again underlines both the purpose of sacred music as well as the criteria to which is should keep. He mentions the recent tendency to dismiss these criteria as elements from a past that should be forgotten, and opposes that with a question: “Who is the authentic subject of the liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. Not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, it is first of all the action of God through the Church, which has her history, her rich tradition and her creativity.”
These comments are firmly related to the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council, a seeming paradox for those who claim the aforementioned tendency to dismiss the past was somehow mandated by the Council.
Read my translation here.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile