For Red Hat 2, Pope Francis looks even further beyond the expected

Well, at least I guessed one new cardinal right… With Pope Francis, it turns out that it is exceedingly difficult to see who he wants to see as new cardinals. Today, he appointed 20 new cardinals, the majority of whom will come from places few people will be familiar with, let alone associated with the red hat. In his first consistory he appointed only one cardinal who was not an archbishop, but this time around there are four. This consistory class is perhaps even more peripheral than the previous one, in the good and Franciscan sense of the word. And one of the new cardinals hails from Germany, and has links to Belgium and Luxembourg.

Some interesting facts that appear with a glance at the list of names. But who are the new cardinals? First, a list of those who are below 80 and can thus participate in a future conclave and will hold offices in the Curia:

  • mambertiArchbishop Dominique François Joseph Mamberti: Appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and President of the Supreme Court of the Vatican City State. This office is traditionally held by a cardinal. Cardinal-designate Mamberti was born in Marrakech, Morocco, but has French nationality. He was a priest of the Diocese of Ajaccio, and has a diplomatic career behind him as Apostolic Nuncio in Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, followed by six years as Secretary for the Relations with States (something like the foreign secretary of the Holy See).
  • macario do nascimento clementePatriarch Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente: Also a recent appointment and a traditional cardinalatial see, Patriarch Manuel has been the archbishop of Lisbon in Portugal since May of 2013. Before that he was an auxiliary bishop of Lisbon from 1999 to 2007, and Bishop of Porto from 2007 to 2013. He is a prolific author and early adopter of social media in Portugal.
  • souraphiel20Church1[1]Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel: The Archdiocese of Addis Abeba, which is part of the Ethiopic Rite of the Catholic Church, gets his second cardinal in this 66-year-old Lazarist bishop. Archbishop Souraphiel has been archbishop of the Ethiopian capital since 1999. Before that he was Provincial Superior of his order from 1990 to 1994, Vicar Apostolic of Jimma-Bonga from 1994 to 1997 ad Apostolic Administrator of Addis Abeba from 1997 to 1999. He is also the Chancellor of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
  • JohnDewArchbishop John Atcherley Dew: The archbishop of Wellington in New Zealand stands in a tradition of cardinals: his three immediate predecessors were all cardinals as well. Archbishop Dew was Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington from 1995 to 2004, Coadjutor Archbishop of the same see from 2004 to 2005 and ultimately Archbishop.
  • menichelliArchbishop Edoardo Menichelli: The archbishop of Ancona-Osimo since 2004 is not the first cardinal from this see, but he is the first in 110 years. Before this, he was Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto between 1994 and 2004.

 

  • nguyen van nhonArchbishop Pierre Nguyễn Văn Nhơn: Sure to have an influence on the relations between the Holy See and Vietnam, the appointment of the Archbishop of Hanoi gives the Vietnamese capital its fourth cardinal and Vietnam as a whole its second. Before his appointment as archbishop of Hanoi, Archbishop Nguyễn (Pierre is his Christian first name, Văn Nhơn his Vietnamese, which comes after the family name) was Coadjutor Bishop of Đà Lat from 1991 to 1994, Bishop of the same diocese from 1994 to 2010, and Coadjutor Archbishop of Hanoi in 2010.
  • suárez indaArchbishop Alberto Suárez Inda: The first Archbishop of Morelia in Mexico to be made a cardinal, Archbishop Suárez Inda has held the office since 1995. Before that he was Bishop of Tacámbaro since 1985. Morelia, west of Mexico City, is an area marked by drug violence, which may be an indication for why Pope Francis chose to make the bishop there a cardinal.
  • maung boArchbishop Charles Maung Bo: The Catholics in Myanmar are slowly winning more freedom, and see this recognised by the Archbishop of Yangon being made a cardinal, the first in the country’s  history. Archbishop Bo has been Archbishop of Yangon since 2003. Before that, he was Bishop of Lashio from 1990 to 1996 and Bishop of Pathein from 1996 to 2003.
  • kriengsakArchbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij: Neighbouring Myanmar, Thailand also gets a cardinal, its second one. Arcbishop Kriengsak Kovithavanij was Bishop of Nakhon Sawan from 2007 to 2009, after which he was made Archbishop of Bangkok.
  • montenegroArchbishop Francesco Montenegro: In an apparently clear reference to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the Archdiocese of Agrigento in Sicily gets its first cardinal since the 17th century. The archdiocese includes the island of Lampedusa, where many refugees from Africa first arrive. Archbishop Montenegro was Auxiliary Bishop of Messina-Lipari-Santa Lucia del Mela between 2000 and 2008, before coming to Agrigento.
  • sturla berhouetArchbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet: The Archbishop of Montevideo was appointed by Pope Francis in February of last year and will be the second cardinal of the Uruguayan capital. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Montevideo between 2011 and 2014. It is said that one Fr. Jorge Bergoglio was involved in protecting Sturla Berhouet from the dictatorship in Uruguay.
  • blazquezperezricardoArchbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez: The first Archbishop of Valladolid to be made a cardinal in almost a century, Archbishop Blázquez Perez  is the current President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago do Compostela from 1988 to 1992, Bishop of Palencia from 1992 to 1995, Bishop of Bilbao from 1995 to 2010, and Archbishop of Valladolid since then.
  • lacunza maestrojuanBishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán: Only the third bishop and first cardinal from the Diocese of David in Panama. He will also be the first Panamanian cardinal. His diocese is located in the west of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica. In all senses a peripheral appointment, except for the fact that Bishop Lacunza Maestrojuán is the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Panama. Before coming to David, he was Auxiliary Bishop of Panama from 1985 to 1994, and Bishop of Chitré from 1994 to 1999.
  • gomes furtadoBishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado: From the island nation of Cape Verde, off the western African coast and closely connected to former coloniser Portugal, comes this bishop, the first cardinal in the country’s history. Cape Verde is largely Catholic, and Bishop Gomes Furtado is the Bishop of Santiago de Cabo Verde, the oldest of the nations two dioceses.
  • Bishop MafiBishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi: In the Pacific lies the island nation of Tonga, home to some 16,000 Catholics in one diocese. That diocese’s bishop is now being made the nation’s first cardinal. He is the President of the largest bishops’ conference in the world by territory, that of the Pacific, which covers almost all populated islands of the southern Pacific. Bishop Mafi was Coadjutor Bishop of Tonga from 2007 to 2008, and Bishop since 2008.

In addition to these cardinals, Pope Francis has also named five non-electors, cardinals over the age of 80 who are created in recognition of their work. They are:

  • pimiento rodriguezArchbishop José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez: Archbishop emeritus of Manizales in Colombia. He is the first cardinal to come from Manizales and the fourth living Colombian cardinal overall. He participated in all session of the Second Vatican Council. An Auxiliary Bishop of Pasto from 1955 to 1959, Bishop of Monteriá from 1959 to 1964, Bishop of Garzón from 1964 to 1975, and Archbishop of Manizales from 1975 to 1996.
  • De-MagistrisArchbishop Luigi de Magistris: Pro-Penitentiary of the Apostolic Signatura from 2001 to 2003, after having been Regent of the same tribunal since 1979.

 

  • rauberArchbishop Karl-Josef Rauber: The German retired diplomat whose last position, from 2003 to 2009, was that of Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg. Archbishop Rauber was involved with preliminary investigations into the succession of Cardinal Danneels as archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and was almost called to explain to the Belgian government what Pope Benedict XVI meant with his comments about condom use in Africa to combat AIDS. Before coming to Belgium and Luxembourg, Archbishop Rauber was Nuncio in Uganda, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, Moldova and Hungary. He is currently residing in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, where he is active in administring the sacrament of Confirmation.
  • villalbaArchbishop Luis Héctor Villalba: From Pope Francis’ native Argentina comes this retired Archbishop of Tucumán, which has never before had a cardinal. He was an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires from 1984 to 1991 (before Pope Francis was archbishop there), Bishop of San Martín from 1991 to 1999 and Archbishop of Tucumán from 1999 to 2011.
  • Bishop Julio Duarte Langa:  Only the second native son of Mozambique to be made a cardinal, he was bishop of Xai-Xai from 1976 to 2004.

It seems that Pope Francis’ focus when it comes to cardinals is on the local situation: he does not feel limited by tradition, but appoints cardinals where he thinks they’ll do good. Of course, the contribution they can make to the Roman Curia is also an important factor, but that body in itself does not warrant the creation of cardinals except where necessary.

In this list, several appointment seem to support this: The archbishops of Hanoi, Yangon, Morelia and Agrigento all come from areas where the Church is in some situation of struggle or confronted with pressing social needs, such as drug violence in Morelia and the Mediterranean refugee crisis for Agrigento.

And the list of new cardinals is highly representative of the world Church: Africa, Asia, Latin America and even Oceania set the tone, with Europa represented with two Italians, and no North Americans on the list.

With the new cardinals, the total College of Cardinals will number 228, with 125 electors among them. That slightly exceeds the maximum of 120 set by Blessed Pope Paul VI, but that is the Pope’s prerogative. Barring any deaths, the limit of 120 will be reached again in February of 2016.

The upcoming consistory will include both the youngest and one of the oldest cardinals: Bishop Soane Mafi of Tonga is 53, more than 2 years younger than Cardinal Thottunkal, who is the youngest now; Archbishop José Pimiento Rodriguez is 95 and there are only two cardinals older than he is: Giovanni Canestri and Loris Capovilla.

Titles and deaconries

Of the twenty new cardinals, there will be one Cardinal-Deacon (Mamberti), while the rest will be Cardinal-Priests. As ever, the Pope si free to create new titles and deaconries for new cardinals, but in practice most will be given churches that are currently vacant. Among the deaconries there are 11 vacancies, while there are only 5 vacancies among the cardinal title churches. So we will undoubtedly see new title churches being created or cardinal deaconries being elevated to title churches. Anything’s possible, but still, some guesses:

  • San Antonio in Campo Marzo was the title of Cardinal Policarpo, the previous Patriarch of Lisbon, so the title may be given to his successor, Patriarch Macário do Nascimento Clemente.
  • San Marco has been the title of the Patriarchs of Venice since 1933, so it will probably remain vacant for now.
  • Santa Maria in Vallicella has previously been held by two cardinals from Oceania, so it is possible that this tradition will continue and it is given to Archbishop Dew of Bishop Mafi.
  • San Girolamo della Carità is a deaconry that may be elevated to a title church and given to Archbishop Villalba, as it was previously also held by an Argentinean, the recently deceased Cardinal Mejía.
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Musical chairs in the Curia – some thoughts about the latest changes

There’s much to say about Pope Francis’ most recent Curia reshuffle, and a lot has already been said. But, whether you think the changes are good or bad, they are most certainly interesting.

Cardinal-BurkeThe most visible change is of course the transfer of Raymond Cardinal Burke from the Apostolic Signatura to the Order of Malta. Many see this as a demotion, and in a way that is understandable. As Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura his influence on what the Church does with marriage annulments and other difficult legal issues was great. Now he is the Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, a body which offers medical and emergency aid to people all over the world, boasting about 20,000 medical personnel and 80,000 volunteers to make a major difference in disaster areas and for refugees and the sick. The Order retains a level of independence from the time when it was sovereign over Rhodes and later Malta. It has the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations and issues its own passports. Cardinal Burke has become the Patron of this order and as such does not lead it (that is the duty of the Grand Master of the Order), but is responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and its relations with the Holy See.

There have been Patrons of the Order of Malta only since 1961, and all were cardinals who ended their career in the Church in this position. Cardinal Burke is 66, and many say that his career should be far from over, so this position seems hardly fitting for him. So has Pope Francis promoted Cardinal Burke away because he was an obstacle? The simple answer is that we don’t know, because neither the Pope nor the cardinal have made statements about it. Cardinal Burke did announce that his transfer was coming up (which is unusual in itself), but that is about as far as it goes. However, there are plenty of grounds to make assumptions, and many have done so. I don’t want to that, because, quite frankly, it doesn’t interest me to do so and I think that assumptions and gossip do more bad than good.

Cardinal Burke has been quite present in the media before, during and after the Synod, and he has been a consistent defender of the Catholic faith. It is sad that many don’t hear him because, in my opinion, his communication skills are less than optimal. Too often have there been statements which just begged to be misunderstood, such as when he said that there are faithful who feel as if the Church is sailing without a rudder. Many have seen this as outright criticism of Pope Francis, something that Cardinal Burke has denied. And a reading of his words support this, but that’s not what the audience hears. Subsequent corrections rarely reach their target. That has been a major problem for Cardinal Burke in recent months. It’s not that his words are wrong or his intentions are bad, on the contrary: he deserves to be heard, for what he says is valuable and wise. But communication is difficult, especially via the media. It is never objective, and people for images of people. Cardinal Burke, sadly, has generally become to be seen as a mean old traditionalist who hates mercy and doesn’t understand people. Fro what I gather from certain people who personally know the cardinal, that is far removed from the truth.

This, at least, gives a bit of a bad taste to his transfer, but it’s not all bad. When we heard from Cardinal Burke, it was rarely because of his function at the Signatura. And as Patron of the Order of Malta he is as free as ever to speak, explain and comment, even when his focus is on the charity work of the Order and the spiritual needs of its members.

***

tn_giobbe_gifMuch has been made about the fact that Cardinal Burke is very young to be named Patron of the Order of Malta. But is that really true? When we look back at previous Patrons, we see that 66-year-old Cardinal Burke is only slightly on the young side. Below I list his predecessors since the position was created in 1961, and their age upon their appointment:

  • Cardinal Paolo Giobbe, Patron from 1961 to 1969, aged 81 (pictured at right)
  • Cardinal Giacomo Violardo, Patron from 1969 to 1978, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paul-Pierre Philippe, Patron from 1978 to 1984, aged 73
  • Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Patron from 1984 to 1993, aged 71
  • Cardinal Pio Laghi, Patron from 1993 to 2009, aged 71
  • Cardinal Paolo Sardi, patron from 2010 to 2014, aged 76

So yes, Cardinal Burke is the youngest Patron to date, but the difference in age between him and the three next youngest is only five years. And even when we look at the number of previous assignments and offices held, Cardinal Burke does not stand out. He has held six previous offices, which is more than Cardinals Sardi, Philippe and Violardo. Only Cardinals Laghi and Baggio have held significantly more positions before being made Patron of the Order of Malta.

So, according to the numbers, Cardinal Burke stands out only slightly when it comes to age. The patronage of the Order of Malta has a reputation as being an end station with little importance. The members of the Order will perhaps conclude otherwise, and there is always the example of Cardinal Baggio, who combined it with the office of Chamberlain of the Church…

***

But the other two appointments that make up this round of Curia changes are also worth the attention as they raise their own questions and conclusions.

mambertiReplacing Cardinal Burke as Prefect of the Supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (and also as President of the Supreme Court of the Vatican City State) is Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. The Morocco-born French archbishop is a career diplomat, which makes his new appointment somewhat unexpected. As a diplomat, Archbishop Mamberti was Apostolic Nuncio to the ‘difficult’ countries Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia before being called to Rome in 2006 to become the second man at the Secretariat of State, the Secretary for Relations with States, often described as the Vatican ‘foreign affairs minister’. In recent years he has been especially concerned with the plight of Christians and other persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Archbishop Mamberti is titular archbishop of Sagone, and may well be a future cardinal. What the experienced diplomat will bring to the ecclesiastical courts remains to be seen, but a wide outlook influenced by various cultures and societies across the globe seems to be one aspect.

gallagherIn the final act of this curial musical chairs, the new Secretary for the Relations with States comes from England by way of Australia. Archbishop Paul Gallagher is the first Anglophone foreign minister and although he is also fluent in Italian, French and Spanish, his being a native English speaker should be a boon to the international outlook of the Secretariat of State and the Holy See.

Archbishop Gallagher comes from Liverpool and was a priest of that archdiocese until joining the Holy See diplomatic service in 1984. He served in various countries, but his first posting as Apostolic Nuncio, to Burundi, saw him succeeding an assassinated predecessor and he himself was the target of a bombing in 2008. He escaped unscathed as he was abroad at the time. He was later Nuncio to Guatemala and most recently to Australia. He is the titular archbishop of Hodelm and will likely remain so, as the position of Secretary for the Relation with States is traditionally not a cardinalatial position.

Once again, these changes show that Pope Francis does not necessarily choose the obvious candidates for the post, but does attach much weight to diplomatic experience. We see that in the choice of Archbishops Mamberti and Gallagher, and even in the transfer of Cardinal Burke, which may well serve in giving him additional international experience.

Parolin takes the reins

Making the rounds in the rumour mill for a while now, it has been announced today: succeeding 78-year-old Cardinal Bertone as Secretary of State is 58-year-old Archbishop Pietro Parolin. Who is this new number two in the Vatican?

parolinPietro Parolin has been working in Rome for the better part of his priesthood, although his ‘official’ diplomatic career is relatively short. From 2002 to 2009 he was Undersecretary for the relations with States in the Secretariat of State, and since 2009 he has been the Apostolic Nuncio in Venezuela. With that function came the title of archbishop, and Parolin was consecrated as such by Pope Benedict XVI. He holds the titular see of Acquapendente.

The summary given here gives an indication of Parolin’s role and influence behind the scenes, even before he was named to the Secretariat in 2002. Pope Francis clearly chooses for experience, but whether the position of the Secretary of State will continue in much the same lines as it did under the last two papacies remains to be seen. The Franciscan reforms are still to gain their momentum, but whatever they will constitute, Archbishop Pietro Parolin will play his part in them.

The Secretary of State runs the entire apparatus of the political and diplomatic duties of the Holy See. He is Always a cardinal, and as Archbishop Parolin is not, he will officially be the Pro-Secretary of State until he is made a cardinal in Pope Francis’ first consistory.

Archbishop Parolin is the youngest Secretary of State since Eugenio Pacelli, the later Pope Pius XII, was appointed at the age of 53 in 1930.

Archbishop Parolin will officially take on his new duties on 15 October.

With this appointment, Pope Francis has also confirmed other members of the Secretariat of State in their functions. As some will recall, the Pope retained the members of the Curia in their functions for the time being after his election. Earlier, he confirmed the vicar-general of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and now he is joined by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Secretary for the Relations with States; Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs; and Msgr. Peter Wells, the Assessor for General Affairs.

Also confirmed was the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein. This should lay to rest the persistent rumours that the close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI somehow did not get along with the new pope, a sort of clash between the old and the new. Archbishop Gánswein of course said as much already during a visit to Germany, earlier in August.

From 2:15: “When I am with Pope Francis, I have to read in the Bayernischen Zeitung that the chemistry between him and me does not work, or that I have a culture shock because he is an Argentinean and I am not, because I come from a Benedictine background and he from a Jesuit background… All nonsense.”

More as it comes in.

Photo credit: Reuters

Synod of Bishops – Day Nine

Opening the thirteenth general congregation on Tuesday morning, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic read a special message from the 90-year-old bishop of Fengxiang in China, Msgr. Lucas Ly Jingfeng, who wrote:

“Most Reverend and Excellent Fathers of the XIII Assembly of the Synod,

I would like to congratulate you, who could participate at the Synod and give homage to the Sepulcher of Saint Peter. I am very sad that you could not listen to any of the voices of the Chinese Church. Wishing to share at least some words with you, and above all with our Pope Benedict XVI, I am sending this brief message. I would like to say that our Church in China, in particular the laity, has always maintained up to today piety, faithfulness, sincerity and devotion to the first Christians, even while undergoing fifty years of persecutions. I would also like to add that I pray intensely and constantly to God the Omnipotent so that our piety, our faithfulness, our sincerity and our devotion may turn around tepidness, unfaithfulness and the secularization that have arisen abroad because of an openness and freedom without reins. In the Year of the Faith, in your synodal discussions you can see how our faith in China could be maintained unfailingly until today. And as the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said: “Just as calamity generates prosperity, thus in weakness calamity hides itself”. In the Church outside of China, tepidity, unfaithfulness and secularization of the faithful has spread to much of the clergy. Instead, in the Chinese Church the laity is more pious than the clergy. Could not perhaps piety, faithfulness, sincerity and the devotion of the Christian laity shake up the external clergy? I was very moved by the lament by Pope Benedict XVI: “As we know, in vast areas of the earth faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the Church today. The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time” (Speech by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the participants of the plenary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, January 27th 2012). However, I believe that our faith as Chinese Christians could console the Pope. I will not mention politics, which is always transeunte.

Lucas LY”

A loving and heartfelt message from the Church in China.

Following this, interventions continued, by 22 Synod fathers and 7 auditors in the morning sessions. The first speaker was Telesphore Cardinal Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi in India, who pulled few punches in his call towards religious congregation to become missionary again:

“I would like to make a humble appeal to the religious orders to become missionary again! In the history of evangelization, all the religious orders led by the Holy Spirit have done outstanding and marvelous work. Can we say the same of the Religious Congregations today? Could it be that they have begun working like Multinationals, doing very good and necessary work to meet the material needs of humanity, but have forgotten that the primary purpose of their founding was to bring the kerygma, the Gospel, to a lost world? We must appreciate many Youth Groups and new Ecclesial Movements who are taking up the challenge. But, in my opinion this Synod must appeal to the Religious men and women to explicitly and directly take up the work of evangelization and transmission of faith in collaboration with the local bishops! I would also like to call upon the Sacred Congregation for Consecrated life to be pro active in promoting the sensus ecclesiae among all religious.”

Bishop Joseph Zziwa of Kiyinda-Mityana in Uganda called for the Church to fight for the return of religious education in schools, identifying the problem as follows:

“[I]n some countries, in recent years, catechesis or teaching religion has been sidelined or removed from the education system even in Catholic-founded Schools or institutions of learning. The situation is aggravated in public institutions where there are no programs of catechesis or Christian religious education at all for our Catholic students. Religious education is considered to be a private matter, to be attended to only in the church or at home.”

 This is certainly the situation in the west, not least here in the Netherlands.

A topic that some noted seemed to be missing from the Synod deliberations, was touched upon by  Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha, of Mariana in Brazil, when he said:

“As the liturgy is the special place where the presence of the Gospel is alive and therefore the privileged place for education in the faith, or rather “the permanent holy mystagogy of the Church”, this must appear in the very manner in which it is celebrated. The fascinating and contagious beauty of the mystery hidden in rites and symbols must be capable of being expressed in all its strength for the liturgy to truly evangelize. Therefore the new evangelization depends to a great extent on the capacity to make the liturgy the source of spiritual life. Probably our most demanding task and the greatest challenge is to succeed in ensuring that our liturgical celebrations are ever more beautiful and transparent in their divine beauty, source of new and renewing strength that brings joy and hope to the Christian, in order to live in Christ and in the love of the Lord.”

Without the liturgy, the earthly reflection of the divine worship of God, we are unable to know and relate to our heavenly Father, let alone let others come to know Him.

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, of Jakarta in Indonesia, shares a personal anecdote to illustrate that evangelisation is sometimes as simple as leading by example:

“I would like to share with you a simple experience I had during my visit to a parish where I met a local catechist. I asked him, “How many catechumens do you have?” I was surprised to hear that he had more than ninety catechumens. It was quite a lot. I asked him further, “Have you ever asked your catechumens why they wish to be baptized into the Catholic Church?” He answered, “Many of them said that they were touched by the way Catholics pray during public events such as wedding feasts or funeral services”. The prayers are so touching to their hearts, because in those occasions the invocations and benedictions are delivered in their vernacular mother tongue so that they readily understand the content, whereas before they usually heard prayers recited in a foreign language, as Muslims pray in Arabic.”

One of the auditors, experts in various fields, who offered an intervention, was Mikhail Fateev of a St. Petersburg, Russia, television channel. He pointed at that, i the necessary ecumenical outreach in Russia people are less interested in meeting ‘fellow Christians’ than ‘Catholic Christians’:

“[I]n search for unity we should not reject or forget our Catholic identity. The people are more ready to speak with us as exactly with the Catholics, not as with “common Christians”. We could see this after a meeting organized by the lay Catholics in one of the largest bookstores of Saint Petersburg. The event attracted much interest in media. So we decided to start a series of public meetings and discussions on Catholic Church, its faith and traditions. We, Catholics, went out to meet the people and were met with a great interest!”

Something to keep in mind in our own ecumenical efforts: our own identity is the first step towards commonality.

At the start of the afternoon session, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone spoke and announced a delegation to Syria to express the Holy See’s solidarity with the Syrian people, their spiritual closeness to the Christians there, and to encourage an agreement to resolve the ongoing civil war. The delegation is set to leave for Damascus next week, and will consist of Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (Archbishop of Kinshasa), Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran (President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue), Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis (Military Ordinar of Colombia), Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang (Bishop of Phat Diem), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti (Secretary for Relations with States) and Msgr. Alberto Ortega (official of the Secretariat of State).

Nine interventions followed in the course of the fourteenth general congregation, including one by Bishop Everard de Jong (pictured, far left), the single Dutch delegate to the Synod. He spoke about the importance of prayer, especially to the Holy Spirit, in the new evangelisation. “It was Pentecost that started the first evangelization, and we need a new Pentecost,” he said, suggesting also that the Holy Father introduce Benedictine prayers at the end of Mass, as was standard in the past, or perhaps a constant novena to the Holy Spirit.

“We do not only have to present the gospel and the catechism, but have to promote the spiritual exercises, in which we confront people with the Jesus of the gospels and the Church, and help them to compare the influence of His Spirit in their lives with the outcomes of a more hedonistic way of life (cfr. Ga. 5:29-23). Thus they will be led to the knowledge and recognition of the objective truth of their human nature, its deepest desires, and God in their conscience. In this way they will discover St. Peter and his successors, and the church (Cf. Bl. John Henry Card. Newman (1801-1890). This means we should give priests and religious a better spiritual formation, in order to be spiritual directors, to be real spiritual fathers and mothers.”

Bishop de Jong also spoke about family and life:

“Families are essential in the transmission of the gospel. In this context our society does not know sin anymore. Still, sin has its influence on the openness to the gospel-message. Pornography, sexuality outside marriage of man and woman, contraception, abortion, will close the heart. Who, indeed, can say yes to God, the giver of life in abundance, if he or she, consciously or unconsciously, says no to human life? This means that the Church should courageously promote the gospel of life, including the theology of the body, natural family planning, and at the same time announce the very merciful God.”

After the interventions from the Synod fathers, six fraternal delegates and one special guest also offered their thoughts, among them Brother Alois, the prior of Taizé, who spoke about the need for communion as a fruitful basis for hope and faith.

Photo credit: [2] Wilson Dias/ABr, [4] Lidy Peters/RKK