Synod of Bishops – Day One

“The fact […] that each Synodal assembly begins with prayer is no mere formality. Rather, it is evidence of our awareness that the initiative is always God’s. We may implore it, but the Church can only cooperate with God.”

United in prayer with 256 of the Synod fathers, Pope Benedict XVI launched the first working day of the Synod of Bishops this morning. In a seemingly unscripted address. the Holy Father spoke about the important fact of God’s reality and about charity being the visible form of the confession of our faith.

Today’s first Synodus Episcoporum Bulletin has a summary of the pope’s words, as well as full texts of the other main addresses: the greeting by President-Delegate Cardinal John Tong Hon; the report by the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishop, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic; and the Relatio ante disceptationem by the Relator General, Cardinal Donald Wuerl (pictured).

In the afternoon, the fathers met once more for the second general congregation. Five prelates gave reports on the need for new evangelisation in their respective continents: Cardinal Péter Erdö for Europe, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo for Africa, Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes for the Americas, Cardinal Oswald Gracias for Asia and Archbishop John Atcherley Dew for Oceania. Cardinal Erdö’s words especially had a very serious undertone, which may be summarised in his first point: “Europe must be evangelized. It needs it.”

Following these reports, which outlined a background to the new evangelisation, why it is needed and how it is and will be implemented in the various parts of the world, three prelates presented further interventions. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón and Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko offered some extra points for discussion and reflection.

The texts of the Synod are steadily coming out, and as this blogger hasn’t got the time or space to discuss them all, I can only suggest you read (some of) them yourself. For today, I would say that Cardinal Wuerl’s words are most significant.

“The Church exists to evangelise” – The Synod begins

“The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific “branches” developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life.”

Started at nine this morning, the Synod’s second day is indeed a full one. The first general congregation, or meeting, will take place, during which one of the delegate presidents will open the proceedings and the secretary general of the Synod, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, will give an initial report. The first topics will then be discussed. In the late afternoon and early evening, in the second general congregation, there will be reports per continent and further debate.

Photo credit: Bishop of various traditions at the opening Mass of the Synod, Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press / AP