The Synod’s Shepherd

An interview with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the general relator at the 12th Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. The cardinal speaks about the importance of reconnecting with the Bible — and the radical secularism back home in Quebec.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has one of the most important roles in the 12th Synod of Bishops on the Word of God, which ends Oct. 26 in Rome: general relator.

As well as introducing the instrumentum laboris (preparatory document) to the synod participants, his duty is to help the synod move towards its pastoral goal: to better receive the word of God so the faithful can better live out the faith.

In an Oct. 10 interview, almost halfway through the three weeks of deliberations, he commented on how the synod was progressing and the challenges of radical secularism he is facing back home in Quebec.

What have been the most interesting and beneficial aspects of this synod?

I think the coming together of bishops from all over the world — that’s an experience of Catholicity, listening together to the word of God and sharing. It is really very uplifting.

And ecumenically, we have a good delegation of other churches and communities, and they are very happy with the theme that has been chosen for this synod.

How will these discussions help in a practical sense in communicating the word of God?

I think it will help foster more reading of the Bible, more meditation and prayer with the Bible, and also I think it will give a sense that the Bible is in the liturgy.

The word of God is dialogue with God; God is giving us his word in order to help us talk to him, and to have the language to talk with him. The liturgy is the heart of this dialogue with God.

I think we will also have a new sense of the unity of the word and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and so many other aspects. There will be more translations in local languages.

Has anything unexpected happened so far that has been a pleasant surprise perhaps?

This morning, for example, we heard an extraordinary testimony of a bishop from Latvia about the martyrdom of people in the East who have given their lives for the word of God. It was very moving — one of the great moments of the synod.

You recently wrote in the Italian journal Vita e Pensiero an article on radical secularism in Quebec and the very harmful effects it is having on society there. How much has your experience there helped you see more clearly how the Church should re-evangelize radically secularized Western society?

There is a debate about the place of religion in public life, and so it was part of this debate — a reaction against a decision of the state to give a course on religious culture in all schools, even private Catholic schools. So I challenged this initiative.

I think it will be harmful for the faithful and that it is violating the rights of parents. So we’ve learned from this that we have to fight a little more for our faith, and especially, we have to reshape our catechetical program.

We have to preach Jesus Christ more and the personal encounter with him. It is vital for society and for Western culture in general.

We have, maybe, insisted too much on moral aspects in the past and not enough on Jesus Christ, which is the heart of our religion. I think the proposition of Christ is my main conclusion, and morals should flow from a personal encounter with him.

So this is taking place also in many dioceses of Quebec: There is a catechetical renewal and an insistence on family life.

I think if we want to rebuild a Christian culture of life we have to start from the family, to reshape the family, to help families to grow, survive and develop, and to have the right to educate their children.

It could be said that your experience in the struggle against radical secularism in Quebec and your important role in this synod is providential. Do you think that’s the case?

We have experience in Quebec over these last decades of a very radical secularization. At the same time, we are learning from this experience.

We also have values from the past that we can reshape, and I hope also we have the values gained from re-evangelization, because we have very deep Christian roots, and we have an extraordinary story of holiness.

We realized some weeks ago, at the International Eucharistic Congress, that 12,000 pilgrims came from all over the world, and there was extraordinary enthusiasm even in the city: at the procession and the final Mass.

People are discovering that they have lost a reference to their own identity. Now there is a Eucharistic youth movement that is growing. You also have new communities that are developing and are better accepted. So I think there is hope for the future but, as I said before, we need really to re-center on the personal encounter with Jesus Christ and on small groups that share the word of God.

Also being committed is important. The sense of social justice has always been strong in Quebec, and I think we can continue this trend in our culture, but better rooted in our Christian heritage.

How much is knowing the Bible key to reviving the faith in secular culture?

The Bible is the foundation of Western culture. The Pope [on his recent visit in] Paris reminded intellectuals that the very root of European culture is the search for God, the search for God that has been nourished by the gift of the word of God. So this is the heart of Western culture.

If we want to retrieve some hope, to give some meaning to our youth, we need to reconnect with the Bible, with the word of God, which is more than the Bible, because the Word of God is basically Jesus Christ himself. The Bible is the written testimony given to Jesus Christ, but in the Church. The life of the Church, the preaching in the Church — that’s Tradition and that is also giving to the world the word of God.

We’re not yet halfway through this synod, but what do you think is the most important thing you personally will take away from it?

Personally I believe, after sharing for three weeks very intensively the word of God among bishops, it will give an extraordinary enthusiasm and a renewed sense of mission and a new means and new fervor to communicate and to challenge some values or counter values in the world and bring to people more broadly the word of God.

Lastly, how important was the address given by Rabbi Cohen, in your opinion?

I think it was an extraordinary gesture on the part of the Catholic Church to invite a rabbi to this assembly. It was a sign of recognition on our part of our “elder brothers,” as we say, and also, it was giving us a sense that when it comes to the Jewish people and Scripture, they are an important partner in the history of the world, and we should build a better future together.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.