From the Synod – October 11, 2008

The first presenter today was Bishop Joseph Vo Duc Minh, Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Nha Trang in Viet Nam. As he talked about his people and his country, I could not help but think of our Vietnamese parish in Tucson, Our Lady of La Vang. The people of this community mirror the faith Bishop Minh reflected upon in his presentation. They have suffered much. They have lived the Cross. Many came to the U.S. as refugees, fleeing for their lives and the lives of their children. Amid all their suffering, they have remained steadfast in the faith. 
 
Whenever I visit Our Lady of La Vang, I am inspired by the deep devotion of the people. They have a rich faith borne out of suffering. Despite their sorrows, they are a joyful people whose fiestas are always marked by music, fireworks, lots of food, dragon dances and colorful outfits. Our Diocese is so blessed with our Vietnamese Catholic Community. I am sure this is true of many dioceses throughout the U.S.
 
Over the past year, our Diocesan Pastoral Council and I have been hosting listening sessions for parents and grandparents to learn about their concerns and what they hope the Church might do better to assist them in raising their families. 
 
The prominent concern raised again and again by those attending was our young people. How are we going to hand on the faith to the young? That issue preoccupies parents. 
 
This question surfaced today at the Synod as several bishops and the new prior of the ecumenical Taize Community, Brother Alois, offered comments on how the Word of God can become embraced and lived by the young. 
 
They reflected on how the young can be engaged with Christ, as were the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like the young today, the two disciples were disillusioned, confused, lost. On the road in company with one another, they met the risen Christ who opened up the Word for them — and their lives were changed. Evangelization of the young must begin with life in common. 
 
I see this in some of our Diocese’s strongest youth groups, especially Life Teen and Arco Iris, in which the young gather together, form community and are enriched by the Word of God. I saw this when Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga came to our Diocese and gathered our young people. He spoke to them about the Word of God. I saw their excitement and felt their energy to respond to God’s call to use their gifts in the service of others. 
 
Brother Alois outlined how our parishes might create a special opportunity to invite the young to encounter the Word: make the place of prayer more welcoming and simple; begin with a simple text from Scripture easily understood by the young; give the young people 10 minutes of silence to reflect on the text; sing a passage from Sacred Scripture that might accompany the young through the day; have a priest available for confession; make available time for them to talk and share with a trusted adult; and highlight simple symbols that can take on great meaning, for example, holding up a cross and inviting the young people to come forward and put their head on the cross as if unburdening themselves and sharing their struggles with the Lord who suffered. 
 
I marvel at the dedicated work of our youth and young adult ministers who work so hard to introduce young people to Christ. Perhaps Brother Alois’ suggestions could be helpful in bringing these young people into touch with God’s Word. 
 
I was struck by the comments I heard in two other interventions today. 
 
A bishop from Zambia told of some rural communities in his diocese where there are small rural communities in which Mass can only be celebrated once every three months. The shortage of priests means that communities do not regularly have the opportunity to share in the Eucharist, so they are formed and fed primarily by the Word of God. Yet, such celebrations are incomplete without the Eucharist. 
 
As you know, one of our primary goals in the Diocese is to pray and work for vocations. We are a burgeoning diocese, and we have a need to start new parishes. But, those parishes will need priests to celebrate Mass and offer the sacraments. While I am delighted that we had four ordinations this year and we have eleven seminarians studying to serve as priests, we need to keep praying for more vocations, as do so many dioceses throughout the world. Fostering vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life is one of the five priorities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
The other comment that struck me was the reflection on the importance of the role of the catechist. In many countries, the most significant ministry is that of the catechist. They hold rural communities together in the absence of a priest. They hand on the faith to the people. 
 
Likewise, in our own Diocese, catechists play a critical part in communicating the faith to others. The encouragement for them is that they become immersed in the Word of God by making the reading of the Bible a daily part of their lives. Faith Formation and Sacramental Practice are our primary focus this year in the Diocese, and they are one of the five priority areas of our Bishops’ Conference. Perhaps we can consider how we can introduce the many catechists in our parishes to God’s Word and invite them to Lectio Divina, the practice of praying the Scriptures so often mentioned at the Synod. 
 
The first week at the Synod has held many blessings for me, foremost of which has been meeting bishops from all over the world. Listening to their experiences, learning about the pastoral challenges they face in their dioceses and hearing their zeal for the Word of God has been inspiring. I look forward to a day of rest. 

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