Synod of Bishops – Day Six

With the Saturday sessions, presided by Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (pictured), the Synod of Bishops wrapped up its first week. As usual, there were interventions, 24 by Synod fathers and one by a fraternal delegate.

The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, made an important point about catechesis and youth:

“[T]he majority of young people, once their Christian initiation is complete, lose their relationship with the Church, the faith, God. There are multiple causes for this: however, I believe that in a not insignificant number of cases the faith is not supported by a catechesis that is friendly towards reason, able to offer a true anthropological instruction and able to legitimize the plausibility of the Christian choice. It is necessary to relaunch the CCC, giving greater space to its content in order to avoid reduction to a “do-it-yourself” faith; the fides quae is often missing from our catechesis.”

Other topics discussed were the personal experiences in the social pastoral field of several countries, but also, once more, the use of mass media in the new evangelisation.

Cardinal George Alencherry had interesting things to say about the lives and ministries of priests in recent decades:

“During the 50 years after Vatican II, the renewal of the Church has been multifaceted and highly productive. At the same time the lives and ministry of priests and men and women of consecrated life have become more functional than spiritual and ecclesial. It would seem that the present-day formation of priests and the religious personnel tends to make them functionaries for different offices in the Church, rather than missionaries inflamed by the love of Christ. Even in places of ad gentes missions of the Church, functioning through institutions have made the priests and the religious lose the impelling force and strength of the Gospel to which they are committed by their vocation. Secularization has impacted the lives of individual Christians and also of ecclesial communities. New Evangelization demands a thorough renewal of the lives of individual Christians and the reevaluation of the structures of the Church to empower them with the dynamism of the Gospel values of truth, justice, love, peace and harmony.”

Bishop António Da Rocha Couto (pictured), of Lamego in Portugal, asked himself, his fellow Synod fathers, and in extension all of us,

“Yes, we need proclaimers of the Gospel who are without gold, silver, copper, bags, two tunics… Yes, it is of conversion that I speak, and I ask myself this question: why did the Saints fight so hard, and with so much joy, to be poor and meek, while we work so hard to be rich and important?”

Bishop Berislav Grgic, prelate of Tromsø in Norway, painted the following picture of the Church in Scandinavia:

“The Catholic Church in the Northern Lands – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – is a very small minority and therefore has neither the advantages nor the disadvantages that the Catholic Church often comes across in traditional and prevalently Catholic regions. Despite its limited relevance, numeric as well as social, our Church is nonetheless a growing Church. New churches are built or bought, new parishes are instituted, non-Latin rites are added, there is a relatively high number of adult conversions and baptisms, there are vocations to priesthood and to religious life, the number of baptisms is much higher than the number of deaths and number of those who abandon the Church, and attendance at Sunday Mass is relatively high.
In certain sectors of society there is great interest for the faith and spirituality, by non-believers who are searching for the truth as well as by Christians committed to other religions who wish to deepen and enrich religious life. It is also interesting to see that during the past years a relatively high number of contemplative orders have opened their own convents.
The transmission of the faith, often however, is made difficult because of the vast distances. Our priests must travel far – sometimes up to 2,000 km per month – to visit our faithful who live in distant places and celebrate Mass. This is very tiring during the winter months.”

The fraternal delegate who also intervened was Dr. Geoffrey Tunnicliffe, general secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance. He spoke about ‘holistic evangelism,’ evangelisation which lies at the heart of the person and which is radically committed to worl evangelisation.

Following the interventions, the composition of the Commission for Information, supplying media and interested parties with information about the Synod, was announced. The Commission is chaired by Archbishop Claudio Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, with Archbishop Ján Babjak, of Prešov of the Catholics of the Byzantine Rite in Slovakia, serving as vice president. The other regular members of the Commission are:

Archbishop John Onaiyekan, of Abuja, Nigeria
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus
Bishop Manuel Macário do Nascimento Clemente, of Porto, Portugal
Archbishop José Gómez, of Los Angeles, United States
Archbishop Francis Kovithavanij, of Bangkok, Thailand

There are two members ex officio: Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, the Synod’s general secretary, and Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.

Lastly, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, serves as secretary ex officio.

In the afternoon the interventions continued, this time by 15 Synod fathers. Father Heinrich Walter, Superior General of the Schönstatt Fathers, spoke about the role of the family in the renewal of the Church in the west:

“The family remains the foundation for learning the faith. The family means seeing one’s home as the house of God. Children, with their parents, follow the lengthy path in learning the faith. The vitality of a community is connected to these homes. Families are not only the privileged location for evangelization, but inasmuch as they are laity they are also agents of evangelization.”

Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner (pictured), auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, raised an interesting point. He said, “New evangelization should take youths into consideration as ‘new agents’ of evangelization: the young who evangelize the young.” Rather than seeing young people strictly as ‘consumers’ of catechesis and education, it should be possible to turn some of them also into educators themselves. That would mean a different focus on the sort of catechesis presented to young people. Not only would they need to be able to learn, but also to teach by example and certainly also through being catechists themselves.

After 66 years, a new bishop

The cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pinsk

Vacant sees, dioceses without a bishop, are not unheard of. At any given time, the worldwide Church has a few dozen of these, as bishops are transferred or pass away and a successor is not yet selected. These vacancies usually last from several months to some two years in exceptional cases. The Diocese of Pinsk, in Belarus, has a different story, though. It has been without a bishop of its own for almost exactly 66 years…

Belarus is often regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe, and a country whose government looks back fondly on its Soviet history. Not surprisingly, the Church is looked upon with suspicion at best, although she has been allowed to maintain her ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the form of three dioceses and an archdiocese. Of these, Pinsk covers the entire southern third of the nation.

Established in 1925, Pinsk was led by two bishops in succession: Bishop Zygmunt Łoziński from 1925 to 1932, and Bishop Kazimierz Bukraba from 1932 to 1946. But then that episode ended, coinciding with the aftermath of World War II and the Soviet Union’s incorporation of formerly Polish territory into Belarus. Just like in other Communist countries, the Church had a hard time, especially when it comes to the free appointment of bishops and priests. As in other dioceses, apostolic administrators were appointed. For Pinsk, these were Bishop Wladyslaw Jedruszuk, auxiliary bishop of Pinsk from the time of Bishop Bukraba, from 1967 to 1991; Cardinal Kazimierz Świątek, the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, from 1991 to 2011; and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, Cardinal Świątek’s successor as archbishop of Minks-Mohilev, from June 2011 to today.

As the last of Belarus’ dioceses, Pinsk now once more has its own bishop. He is Msgr. Antoni Dziemianko, 52 years old, and until today Minsk-Mohilev’s auxiliary bishop. The bishop, who incidentally has the same motto in his coat of arms as our own Cardinal Simonis – Ut Unum Sint -, was ordained to the priesthood in 1980. In 1998, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Grodno, also in Belarus, with the titular see of Lesvi – a see once held by the late Cardinal Sánchez of the Philippines. In 2004, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, of which he was the apostolic administrator from June of 2006 to September 2007, upon the retirement of Cardinal Świątek. He continued his duties as auxiliary bishop until his appointment as ordinary of Pinsk today.

Although a vacancy of 66 years is extraordinary, it is, sadly, by no means unique. There are eight jurisdictions, in China, North Korea, Greece, Ukraine and Romania, which have been vacant for longer. The record holder is the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki in Greece, which has been vacant since Bishop Allesandro Guidati became archbishop of Naxos-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos in 1929…

Photo credit: [1] Rostisław Wygranenko