From the Synod – October 21, 2008

Over the last two days, the relators of the small groups, of which I am one, worked to bring the various propositions recommended by our respective language groups into a unified set of propositions that today were presented to the Synod Fathers.

Seeing how hard we had to work to unify some 200 propositions into a manageable number for consideration, I can understand even more directly the challenges of working in our global society that is made up of so many languages, cultures, perspectives and experiences. We certainly experienced those challenges!

As we met the challenges during the course of our work, I thought how important it is in our country’s schools that we encourage our young people to learn multiple languages. That has not always been encouraged. At times, it has even been discouraged. To live and work in our global society and economy, our young people will need to become more fluent in diverse languages. Developing such fluency has not been as important to us in the U.S. as it has been in other countries.

(My family on both sides is Lebanese. My mom spoke Arabic, but it was not customary for Arab families in the U.S. when I was growing up to teach their children the language. Our parents wanted us to fit in, to know the language of our country. Hence, I only learned a few phrases in Arabic and a few words – not repeatable in public – that I heard when my parents were upset with us. Now, I wish I had learned Arabic.)

Having separated the propositions into themes, our task as relators was to take the several propositions under each theme and consider ways to unify them without modifying the substantive thought of the proposition.

Some propositions are exhortatory, some express gratitude, some offer suggested actions, some seek clarification. These propositions are the fruit of the Synod’s work and contain what the Synod Fathers consider crucial and that needs to be acted upon.

The Synod officials then took those modified propositions and translated them into Italian, and then from the Italian translated them into Latin for today’s formal presentation.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Relator General, and Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Special Secretary, read the propositions in Latin to the Synod Fathers. The Holy Father was present and listened attentively to the many propositions that made it through the editing process.

Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, is quite a linguist. He never uses the translation device to listen to what is being said. He is conversant in each of the six languages of the Synod (Spanish, French, German, Italian, English and Latin).

Now, the Synod Fathers will spend some time over the next two days modifying and amending the propositions. There is still much work to be done before they are in their final form.

We heard today from the last of the auditors who are women and men religious and laywomen and men. The Holy Father was attentive to their presentations, taking notes and indicating his interest in hearing their perspectives.

I wonder how many corporate executives take the time to listen to their managers or advisors with the intensity that characterizes how the Holy Father has listened to the vast number of speakers at this Synod.

One of the oft-repeated themes of this Synod has been the need to recover the gift of listening. Pope Benedict has modeled that for us in a marvelous way.

Today, also, we elected those who will serve on the Synod Commission whose task it is to collaborate with the Holy Father in writing the Post-Synodal Exhortation and to explore with him the subject for the next Synod.

Three representatives from each continent are elected. For America, they are Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Cardinal Oscar A. Rodriquez Maradiaga and Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I. Cardinal George has had the opportunity to do this at previous Synods, so he will be very helpful to this part of the process.

Clearly, the Holy Father will be assisted by a very talented group of Synod Fathers as he formulates his exhortation.


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