This session of the Synod began, as have those in this first week of our gathering, with Morning Prayer. Pope Benedict XVI presided.
Archbishop Paul K. Bakyenga, Archbishop of Mbarara in Uganda, gave this morning’s reflection. He talked of the Ugandan Martyrs who gave their lives for Christ in the late 19th century, only 20 years after evangelization began in their country.
As I have listened during the Synod to bishops from countries where Catholics are still experiencing persecution, discrimination and suffering, I have come to a new realization of the heroic efforts that some followers of Christ must make in our times to live their faith.
We can take for granted the freedom of religion we enjoy. Although concerns continue to arise even in our own country about freedom of conscience and protection of religious beliefs and convictions, we have much to be thankful for.
Also at today’s session, Bishop Antons Justs, Bishop of Jelgava in Latvia, spoke of the martyrs of the 20th century. It made me think of the ecumenical service at which Pope John Paul II presided in the Jubilee Year at the Coliseum to commemorate those who died under the Nazis, the Communists and other repressive governments in many parts of the world in the 20th century.
I could imagine the emotion that must have been felt at that service. Clearly, there was emotion present in the Synod Hall as Bishop Justs related the suffering in Latvia where priests were arrested for distributing Bibles. In the Soviet era, no holy books – no Bibles, no catechisms – could be used. The Soviets believed that if there were no printed Word of God there would be no religion.
But, the people learned passages of Scripture and the catechism by heart. A strong oral tradition of reciting key texts grew up in Latvia and is still present today. Today’s Latvians are people of faith who stand on the shoulders of parents and grandparents who gave their lives for the faith. The bishops applauded in response to the witness of Bishop Justs.
Several other bishops today commented how the suffering of the faithful has led to growth for their local Churches. Suffering has become a new grace for the Church.
Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., Archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar, spoke of how he struggles to preach the Gospel in the face of heavy government restrictions. He described a poor Church with no institutions. Even so, the Word of God inspires service and charity to those who suffer.
Bishop Miguel Angel Sebastian Martinez, M.C.C.I, Bishop of Lai in Chad, shared that his people have only recently been evangelized. Most are impoverished, even though the country has many resources. War has been going on for 30 years. Yet, the Word of God is the Word of peace. It is the Word that calls us to work for the defense of human rights.
One cannot help but feel inspired by the heroic example of people living out their faith in such dangerous and difficult situations in so many parts of the world. In such situations, the Word takes on special meaning. It offers hope.
I think of so many deacons and lay people in our Diocese who bring the Word to people in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons who need to hear a whisper of hope in an otherwise desperate lives. How important their work is within the Church!
In visits to some of the many prisons and detention facilities in our Diocese, I have met inmates who have committed terrible crimes who ask for a Bible so they can read God’s Word – so that they can know that despite their crimes and their punishments, God loves them. We need to grow the number of the deacons and laity who are bringing the Word to people who live in troubled situations and who hunger for the Word and delight when they receive it.
Another theme today was the importance of the parish in the life of Catholics.
We are blessed in our Diocese of Tucson to have 75 parish communities. People take pride in their parish. It is where they belong. Parish has a privileged place in the Church.
One of the priorities we have for our Diocese is to renew parish life. That theme of renewal is very present in the Synod.
Pastors and pastoral staffs need to consider how we can help people in our parishes encounter the Word more often in their lives, how we can help them learn more about the Bible and make the Word a regular part of their prayer. This is a challenge I hope our pastors and parish staffs will take up.
One of the things bishops often talk about in our U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is what difference, if any, do our documents make in the life of the Church. We put out many statements and documents, but it sometimes seem we do not often know the impact they have.
This afternoon, we spent a good deal of time learning about the results of a survey sent out to conferences of bishops around the world on the effectiveness of the post synodal document Sacramentum Caritatis that was written by Pope Benedict XVI after the Synod on the Eucharist. It was interesting to me to see that the Holy See seeks to know the impact of what it publishes.
Cardinal Angelo Schola of Venice, who had directed the last Synod, shared the results of the survey on how the document was received in the Churches throughout the world. The survey asked if the document is being used in publications, has it been translated into additional languages, is it being used in dioceses, conferences and among liturgical practitioners, has it lead to social initiatives in dioceses and how has it been received by other faiths and denominations.
While it has only been about a year since the document was published, the results of the survey were very positive. The Holy Father has referred to the document in 20 of his addresses. It has been translated into a number of languages. There seems to be use by dioceses and parishes, and it has been well received around the world.
Oftentimes, it seems that ecclesial documents just get put on the shelf. But, I have found that opportunities to discuss the documents with people in our Diocese has been rewarding. I have enjoyed holding sessions for priests and people of the Diocese on the two encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI and on the pastoral letters on immigration that have come out of our Arizona Catholic Conference.
And, those who have attended have seemed very appreciative of the opportunity to reflect on the statements. I hope to have more of these opportunities.