From the Synod — October 25, 2008

The Synod Fathers gathered in the Aula for the last time today. We have come to know the place well and, even more, the people who have shared this wonderful experience. Over the three weeks, we have come to know each other and we have become friends.

The final reading of the propositions, now 55 of them, took place. This has always been a part of the Synod process, the public reading in Latin of the final text. While long and somewhat tedious, this official reading makes the final work of the Synod a matter of record.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Relator General, and Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Special Secretary, alternated the reading of the propositions as the Synod Fathers read along either in Latin or Italian. Amendments, of which there were a number, were marked in italics so one could easily see what had been modified by the amendment process.

Having finished the reading of the text, the Synod Fathers were asked to mark each proposition with placet or non placet and to sign the final page of the text. This stands as the official ballot.

In order for the assembly to know the result of the voting, the Synod Fathers also had a chance to vote on each proposition electronically. Here the options were placet, non placet, or abstention.

The wonder of technology gave us an immediate response to the voting, showing the mind of the Synod Fathers on each proposition. The results were posted on each of the several screens in the front of the hall. The process was finished without a hitch.

After the electronic voting, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General, read the name of each Synod Father, who responded, “Adsum” and handed his signed booklet of propositions, marked with his vote, to one of the assistants, who then brought it to the front and placed it in a large wooden case. These written ballots become part of the archives of the Synod.

It was a moving experience to hear my name read and to give my final approval or disapproval to what had evolved through the Synod process. It was kind of like voting in our upcoming elections. You realize the weight of your decisions, the importance of putting in writing, or recording in some way, your voice, your input, your say.

The Church relishes symbol and ritual, so important in our faith tradition. This ritual in having the votes brought forward was striking and powerful.

Another tradition of the Synod is the presentation of a special gift from the Holy Father to each of the Synod Fathers. In keeping with the Synod theme, each participant was given a replica of the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, handwritten in Greek around the year 200 and a true relic. It includes the oldest existing copy of the Lord’s Prayer found in Luke 11, 1-4. This was discovered in Egypt in 1952. All of us were deeply grateful to receive this gift, having spent three weeks mulling over the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.

The last event of the day was a pranzo (lunch) with the Holy Father on the first floor of the Synod Hall. We received a table assignment according to language group. I was delighted to be with some of the members of our small group, since we had come to know one another quite well.

Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of the Archdiocese of Jos in Nigeria was at my table. He knows the priests in our diocese from Nigeria and was a contemporary of some of them. His diocese is very near Makurdi, from which so many of our Nigerian priests in Tucson have come.

Bishop Jabulani Nxumalo, O.M.I., of South Africa, Bishop Liu Chen-Chung of Taiwan, Agnes Lam of Hong Kong, Sister Mary Jerome Obiorah, I.H.M., of Nigeria, Sister Clare Millea, an American who is Superior General of her community, Father Godfrey Igwebuike Onah, professor of Philosphy at the Urbaniana, and Father Fio Mascarenhas, S.J., president of the Catholic Biblical Institute in Mumbai, India, were also at table 8. The company was wonderful and the food delicious. Yes, they did remember to have a vegetarian dinner for me, for which I was grateful.

We had a great view of the Pope’s head table. He offered some final words of gratitude to all who attended and joked with the Secretary General for having us work on Saturdays and, for us relators, even on a Sunday.

The final Mass of the Synod with the Holy Father will take place tomorrow at St. Peter’s Basilica. I am not sure if the Pope arranged it, but we get to set the clocks back one hour tonight, so we will get an hour extra rest on our last day. (Actually, people in many parts of the world set their clocks back one hour this early Sunday morning: 1 a.m. in Europe, 2 a.m. in the U.S., as part of the annual cycle of Daylight Saving Time. But not Arizona!)

I have enjoyed the opportunity of sharing my first time experience of a Synod. I hope it has been helpful to you in getting a sense of the atmosphere and of how we went about our work.

I look forward to coming home.

As we concluded our session on Friday, the Synod Fathers approved our “Message to the People of God of the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.”

The Message is beautifully written, outlining the major themes and recommendations of the Synod. I encourage you to read it here.

The conclusion of the Message communicates so well the Spirit that moved among us at the Synod:

“Then I heard the voice I had heard from heaven speaking to me again. ‛Go’, it said, ‛and take that open scroll from the hand of the angel standing on sea and land’. I went to the angel and asked him to give me the small scroll, and he said, ‛Take it and eat it; it will turn your stomach sour, but it will taste as sweet as honey’. So I took it out of the angel’s hand, and I ate it and it tasted sweet as honey, but when I had eaten it my stomach turned sour” (Rev 10:8-11).

Brothers and sisters of the whole world, let us receive this invitation; let us approach the table of the word of God, so as to be nourished and live “not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4). Sacred Scripture – as affirmed by a great figure of the Christian culture – “has provided passages of consolation and of warning for all conditions” (B. Pascal, Pensées, no. 532 ed. Brunschvicg).

The word of God, in fact, is “sweeter than honey, that drips from the comb” (Ps 19:10), “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105), but is also: “like fire, says the Lord, like a hammer shattering a rock” (Jer 23:29). It is like the rain that irrigates the earth, fertilizes it and makes it spring forth, and in doing this he makes the aridity of our spiritual deserts flourish (cf. Is 55:10-11). But it is also: “something alive and active: it cuts more incisively than any two-edged sword: it can seek out the place where soul is divided from spirit, or joints from marrow; it can pass judgment on secret emotions and thoughts” (Heb 4:12).

Our gaze is turned lovingly towards all those engaged in study, catechists and the other servants of the word of God to express our most intense and cordial gratitude for their precious and important ministry. We also address our persecuted brothers and sisters or those who are put to death because of the word of God and because of the witness they render to the Lord Jesus (cf. Rev 6:9): as witnesses and martyrs they tell us of “the power of the word” (Rm 1:16), origin of their faith, of their hope and of their love for God and for men.

Let us now remain silent, to hear the word of God with effectiveness and let us maintain this silence after hearing, so that it may continue to dwell in us, to live in us, and to speak to us. Let it resonate at the beginning of our day so that God has the first word and let it echo in us in the evening so that God has the last word.

Dear brothers and sisters, “All those who are with me send their greetings. Greetings to those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all!” (Tt 3:15).


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