Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"The Patriarchs Aren't Registering"

Among the rookies at this Synod of Bishops is the US bench's #2, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson... who's substituting his usual "Monday Memo" with a daily blog chronicling the experience:
I found my seat -- section II, row G, seat 14 -- right in the center of the hall.
The guidelines for the Synod are most interesting. They state that delegates are expected to be at every session no matter what. If you want to be excused, you need to see the General Secretary and you have to state your excuse. (I think we might have to introduce that note for our priest and vicariate gatherings.) The message was clear: presence matters.

We visited the chapel, a small but beautiful space, where Eucharistic Adoration will be available during the day throughout the Synod. Along the walls of the chapel are Stations of the Cross -- exquisitely done in mother of pearl -- that were a gift to Pope John Paul II from Yasser Arafat....

I enjoyed hearing a bishop from St. Lucia and bishops from Australia arguing about cricket and who has the best teams. Not one mention of the baseball playoffs and who might get to the World Series. Life differs in the diverse cultures of the Church!...

Bishop Michael Ernest Putney of Townsville in Australia talked with me about the importance of preparing our lectors to proclaim the Word effectively. He told me about a young man who was an actor who proclaimed the Word so eloquently at Mass that people listened more attentively than usual. People thought his eloquence was because of his acting ability, but in talking with him afterward, the young man said that in preparing himself to proclaim God's Word as a lector that he fasts. That is what made his proclamation so engaging. He was living the Word he read....

As Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet made his presentation (fulltext), I was impressed to see the Pope reading the Latin text of the presentation and attentively underlining passages that struck him.

The hope of this Synod is pastoral: that we will find new strategies -- simple and practical -- to encourage deeper reading of the Scriptures and for bringing the Scriptures into a more central place in the life of the Church. Cardinal Ouellet's remarks concluded the morning.

[Synod Secretary-General] Archbishop [Nikola] Etrovic [sic] laid down the ground rules for the Synod and introduced the translation and voting technology. As sometimes happens with technology, there was some confusion and a few missteps as we tried to figure out how to make the digital voting pads work. The Pope seemed amused at the unpredictability of the technology.
A lock to become USCCB president in two years' time if the body's unwavering tradition holds, the vegan prelate is in rarefied company from the States: the conference's current chief, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, is present for his fifth of the meetings, Aula vet Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington's back for his third (and, in a first, penning a daily digest of his own), and as the whirlwind year since his elevation draws to a close, Cardinal Dan DiNardo of Galveston-Houston likewise finds himself attending his first Synod. But don't expect a blog from DiNardo -- whatever free time he gets is likely to be spent securing that long-awaited auxiliary or two for the folks back home.

Likewise chronicling the month is the Canadian cleric the Synod directory refers to as the "Director Exsecutivus Retis Televisifici Catholici 'Salt and Light'" -- the head of the TO-based TV network, Basilian Fr Tom Rosica, a Scripturalist by training who's serving as the press attaché for the English-speaking media... and also reports on this morning's votepad hiccups:
The malfunctions gave way to much humor in the assembly as the audience was told several times by some unseen voice booming through the sound system: “Those on the left (sinistra) are not voting properly.” Or, “the patriarchs are not registering.”

Even the Pope seemed to enjoy the humorous moments as he watched his brother bishops from throughout the entire world attempt to use the “new technology” that wasn’t delivering!

What has been rather amazing and edifying over the first two days of the assembly is the punctuality of the synod fathers in entering and beginning the sessions, and an almost universal respect for the five-minute time period allotted to each talk. At this morning’s sessions, 23 bishops delivered their synodal addresses with only a handful going over their time limit by a few seconds. When the microphone is turned off promptly at the five-minute deadline, there were no major crises in the assembly, but rather some smiles on the faces of the participants.

Just as during the famous coffee breaks of the Second Vatican Council, there is a time of fraternity, discovery and exchange of ideas and business cards during the synod's pauses. If there was ever a time of ecclesial networking, it is synodal coffee breaks on the first floor of the Paul VI Hall in Vatican City.

You find yourself in line for coffee and Italian pastry surrounded by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, the prior of the Taizé Community in France, the cardinal secretary of state, the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, African sisters who have been teaching Scripture in seminaries for years, women experts who have been invited to the synod by the Pope, and the heads of virtually every Vatican congregation and dicastery.

There certainly is equality in this part of the Vatican. And while we are carrying on downstairs at the half-hour coffee break, the Pope is taking his break upstairs in a room just off the synod chambers, where each day, he receives a different group of people present at the synod, thus being able to spend a bit more quality time with the world gathered at this major happening in the life and mission of the Church.
In his latest major "get," Rosica recently sat down for a lengthy chat with B16's "Vice-Pope" -- the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB... who, for the record, explicitly repudiated the term "Vice-Pope" in the course of the conversation... and now, you're all in luck: the webstream just went up. (Fret not -- there are subtitles.)

Also for your perusal, tucked away in the quiet corner of the Vatican website is the twice-daily Synod Bulletin, featuring summaries of all the interventions and a tick-tock of the sessions; in his intervention at the close of today's sitting, for one, Kicanas suggested that 2009 be "focused... on preaching" in the global church following the current observance of the Pauline Year.

On a final note, given the Aula's location atop the atrium of the Paul VI Hall, where the Vatican's first set of solar panels was recently installed, it's safe to call the current assembly the church's first "Green" Synod. At least in the modern era -- gatherings of the sort have, after all, been taking place for quite some time.

PHOTO: Reuters