Synods of bishops are long affairs, in which hundreds of speeches are given one after another, for up to six hours a day.
It can be tedious, and difficult work. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, Germany, and one of three president-delegates of the European Synod, confessed that “we bishops, dedicated to the magisterium and immersed in the mandate of preaching, almost tend to lose the attitude of listening. On the occasion of this synod, we feel the weight of listening.”
After the main speeches are given, participants break into smaller groups by language to continue discussions. Those discussions are then reported back to the entire assembly. What follows are quotations from some of those reports. The “language-group” sessions are the most freewheeling part of the synod, and therefore give a flavor of the matters discussed.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, reporting on one French working group: “The problem of transmission is not only of the Church: Our entire era is not capable of transmitting its spiritual, moral and cultural heritage (value of marriage and the family, meaning of good and evil, sense of duty, of honor, of truth) to the following generation. If the Church could transmit values the following generations, she would heal our entire era.”
Cardinal Danneels, again, on marriage: “Some present themselves to the Church [for marriage] without or almost without faith. Some priests are content with minimum of requirements, marriage being a right of all men and the sacrament being the only valid marriage for the baptized. Others are more rigorous. But all of them have a problem of conscience that is a type of ‘martyrium’ in their lives as ministers.”
Archbishop Benigno Luigi Papa of Taranto, Italy, reporting on one Italian working group: “Europe, the first continent to be evangelized, more than a merely geographical location, is a cultural and historical concept. It was born from the Christianization of the Germanic and Slav peoples and their fusion with the Mediterranean peoples. In the history of Europe, we must remember three divisions that we still show the wounds of: that of 1054 that separated the one faith between the Byzantine and Latin culture; the Reform movement that lacerated the Western Church; and the later separation of reason from Revelation that opposed science to faith. To these divisions, the self-laceration of the two world wars must be added. Europe, that was born and grew in possession of a common faith, today suffers because of the division of Christians.”
Bishop Bellino Ghirard of Rodez, France, reporting on another French group: “Considering the reality of Islam in Europe, the Church sometimes has no other alternative to proposing sincere dialogue and she must make every effort to start it up and continue it, without being naive but also without prejudice. She must demand respect for the freedom of the Christian communities living in countries with a Muslim majority.”
Bishop Juan María Uriarte Goiricelaya of Zamora, Spain, reporting on the Spanish language group: “The laity are called upon, by their state, to be active and responsible members in the life of the Christian community. The reason for this active participation is by no means the lack of priests. Formation is required to provide basic and specific training to the laity to undertake their ecclesial responsibilities. Priests, on their part, must avoid a double risk: they must not retain responsibilities that can be undertaken by the laity, and they must not abdicate their own responsibilities with the justification of a democratic attitude, blurring the different function each has in the Church. All the laity, by their vocation, are called upon to participate actively in public life. In order to respond correctly to this vocation a Christian formation is necessary, and in which the social doctrine of the Church must have a special place. Greater attention must be paid to the lay persons who take on important responsibilities in the field of culture, the economy or politics, people who are often subjected to more pressure and temptations than ordinary citizens.”
Father Heinz Wilhelm Steckling, superior general of the Missionary Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, reporting on the German language group: “This very synod is an expression of our concern for the spiritual unity of Europe. On our continent we wish to transmit once again the hope given to us by Jesus Christ. The effects of the domination of totalitarian ideologies, the consequences of world wars and of the civil wars, and finishing with the defeat of European institutions faced with the horror of the so-called ethnic cleansing, even today darken the hope of people in Europe.
These events represent a pressing appeal for the Church to promote a new culture of encounter. Even today, the peoples of Europe are suffering from the consequences of collectivism in the East and the social security ideas of the welfare state in the West. This is why we ask for new forms of solidarity and participation.”
Bishop Donal Brendan Murray of Limerick, Ireland, reporting on the English language group: “The decline of the sacrament of penance is a very disturbing phenomenon. One of the most fundamental difficulties is that there is insufficient awareness that what comes first in the process of reconciliation is the merciful forgiveness of God. The revised rite of penance has not been celebrated in a way that draws out its full richness. It is first of all, like all liturgy, praise and thanksgiving to God. The large numbers receiving the sacrament in places of pilgrimage is related to the atmosphere of worship and praise which these places provide. The loss of the sense of sin, to which many point, may, paradoxically, be related to ‘enormous remorse.’ The problem may be that people are overwhelmed by a sense of helpless guilt which they do not understand and cannot express.”