New documentary on Synod of Bishops premieres Sept. 22

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It’s not often that outsiders are allowed into the engine room of the Vatican. Sure, each day thousands of people march along the prescribed tourist routes that take them around St. Peter’s Square and into the Basilica and museums. But how many get a chance to see, and speak to, and share meals with the people on the inside who run the show? That’s a rare opportunity and typically only happens discreetly when the visitors are family members or close friends. It’s even rarer when there’s a major event taking place, like a conclave or a synod of bishops.

At this time last year, I was getting ready for one of those rare experiences. The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization was coming up in October and I was going to see it all up close from the inside. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what kind of access we would get, or how the bishops and the Vatican staff would treat us. This was, after all, the first time anyone from the outside was allowed on the inside.

In return for the “backstage pass,” we agreed with the office of the Synod of Bishops to produce a full-length documentary on the event. I knew right away this was going to be a difficult commitment to keep. A powerful and provocative documentary can only happen when there are powerful and provocative images to capture. And I wasn’t convinced that a room filled with four hundred people (262 of them bishops) speaking one after the other for five minutes each was the most exhilarating script for a feature film. In any case, the sheer novelty of our access proved to be all the inspiration we needed.Fotor090994256

The other “X factor” for me was the fact that the bishops were going to be talking about the New Evangelization. It didn’t take a Vatican insider to sense the heaviness hanging over the Vatican at the time. It was almost like the institutional church was in a mud-bog. The hopes of so many people, Catholics and non-Catholics, were hinged on the notion that something new, joyful and inspirational would come out of this!

Well, little did any of us know that a major shake up was coming four months later. On the night of February 28th, after the doors of Castel Gandalfo closed and the Swiss Guards left the side of Pope Benedict XVI, I had the chance to speak to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington and the Relator General (or moderator) of the October 2012 Synod. The mood was dark, everyone in Vatican City was sad. I asked the Cardinal how he felt, and to my surprise he said, “You know Sebastian, I have so much hope! What Pope Benedict has taught us with this gesture is that we can and should do things differently!”

That for me is the essence of the New Evangelization. And that’s what we’ve tried to communicate with our latest documentary Go and Teach: Inside the Synod on the New Evangelization. Through in depth interviews with cardinals, bishops, delegates and journalists, we tell the story of what happened on the inside: of how humility and joy became prerequisites for evangelization; of how the implementation of the Second Vatican Council must continue; of how recapturing the personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the only real answer to our complex global reality.

The Synod, the Year of Faith, and the Council: What’s Happening? Pt.2


Near the end of last year I wrote about the attitude of openness and adaptation to the modern world which permeated the ecclesiology of John XXIII and Paul VI, and found concrete expression at Vatican II and in the creation of the permanent Synod of Bishops. (Read it here) From there we now jump forward fifty years to get our bearings in the current context of the discussion: The Synod on the New Evangelization.  While the work of the Synod assembly is over, the final product has yet to arrive in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation written by the Pope (which may take up to two years).  And it will be necessary in the third and final instalment of these essays to look forward, as far as possible, not only to the Exhortation but beyond, to follow the line of thinking of the Bishops who participated in the Synod and infer where we might be headed over the next fifty years.  Chesterton said that “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision.”  From my experience of the Synod I propose that we have enough information about the vision to reflect on the progress being made.

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The Synod, the Year of Faith, and the Council: What’s Happening? Pt.1

Sebastian Gomes attended the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in Rome this past October as a correspondent for Salt + Light.  In this first of three articles, he discusses the change in mentality at Vatican II to one of openness and adaptation.

During the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transformation of the Christian Faith, news came that Giovanni Battista Montini, better known as Pope Paul VI, could be beatified in the near future.  He was very much what we might call a “Vatican II” bishop, first in Milan and later as pope; in that, he adopted wholeheartedly one of the principle attitudes of many churchmen at the time – that the Church must be open, dialogue with, and even adapt (as much as possible) to the modern world.  So, on September 15, 1965 Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in words echoing the approach of his predecessor, John XXIII: [Read more...]

Inside the Synod: final propositions

The members of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization have recommend the creation of church body to promote religious freedom. The recommendation was one of the propositions Synod members would present to Pope Benedict XVI.

The Synod concluded on Sunday with a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica. On Saturday Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the relator general for the synod, held a press conference at which he outlined the final propositions.

While the recommendations touch on every aspect of church life, Synod members singled out the parish as being of particular importance because it is “primary presence of the church in neighborhoods, the place and instrument of Christian life, which is able to offer opportunities for dialogue.” To ensure that parishes continue to be places where faithful can have a personal encounter with Christ, parishes should offer ways for parishioners to grow in their faith, and reach out the community in which they are located, the Synod Fathers said.

Among the 57 propositions Synod Fathers will present to Pope Benedict are:

- each diocese should establish a permanent place where the sacrament of reconciliation are available all the time

- episcopal conferences should look into creating a permanent council for the New Evangelization

- pastoral care should be given to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, the children of divorced parents, and those who have been left by their spouse.

- the church should “be vigilant in caring for and promoting the quality of art that is permitted in sacred spaces” because of the role that art can play in leading people into prayer and closer to God.

- a department of New Evangelization should be established at Catholic universities

The full list of propositions by the Synod Fathers is available on the Vatican website



Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service


Photo of the Day – Friends along the Synodal Journey

Fr. Thomas Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Relator General of the Synod at the end of the Synodal Journey – October 28, 2012.

Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at the conclusion of the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments at the end of the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Download the full resolution photos:
Cardinal Wuerl (top),  Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (middle)Archbishop Arthur Roche (bottom)

Photos courtesy of Fr. Nickolas Becker, OSB.

“Let us put away, then, let us put away all blindness to the truth…”

The full text of Pope Beendict XVI’s homily at the Mass concluding the XIII Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization.

Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The miracle of the healing of blind Bartimaeus comes at a significant point in the structure of Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is situated at the end of the section on the “journey to Jerusalem”, that is, Jesus’ last pilgrimage to the Holy City, for the Passover, in which he knows that his passion, death and resurrection await him. In order to ascend to Jerusalem from the Jordan valley, Jesus passes through Jericho, and the meeting with Bartimaeus occurs as he leaves the city – in the evangelist’s words, “as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude” (10:46). This is the multitude that soon afterwards would acclaim Jesus as Messiah on his entry into Jerusalem. Sitting and begging by the side of the road was Bartimaeus, whose name means “son of Timaeus”, as the evangelist tells us. The whole of Mark’s Gospel is a journey of faith, which develops gradually under Jesus’ tutelage. The disciples are the first actors on this journey of discovery, but there are also other characters who play an important role, and Bartimaeus is one of them. His is the last miraculous healing that Jesus performs before his passion, and it is no accident that it should be that of a blind person, someone whose eyes have lost the light. We know from other texts too that the state of blindness has great significance in the Gospels. It represents man who needs God’s light, the light of faith, if he is to know reality truly and to walk the path of life. It is essential to acknowledge one’s blindness, one’s need for this light, otherwise one could remain blind for ever (cf. Jn 9:39-41).

Bartimaeus, then, at that strategic point of Mark’s account, is presented as a model. He was not blind from birth, but he lost his sight. He represents man who has lost the light and knows it, but has not lost hope: he knows how to seize the opportunity to encounter Jesus and he entrusts himself to him for healing. Indeed, when he hears that the Master is passing along the road, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47), and he repeats it even louder (v. 48). And when Jesus calls him and asks what he wants from him, he replies: “Master, let me receive my sight!” (v. 51). Bartimaeus represents man aware of his pain and crying out to the Lord, confident of being healed. His simple and sincere plea is exemplary, and indeed – like that of the publican in the Temple: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13) – it has found its way into the tradition of Christian prayer. In the encounter with Christ, lived with faith, Bartimaeus regains the light he had lost, and with it the fullness of his dignity: he gets back onto his feet and resumes the journey, which from that moment has a guide, Jesus, and a path, the same that Jesus is travelling. The evangelist tells us nothing more about Bartimaeus, but in him he shows us what discipleship is: following Jesus “along the way” (v. 52), in the light of faith.

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What a day at the Synod!

Fr. Thomas Rosica, Cardinal-Designate Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and Salt and Light’s Sebastian Gomes at the Synod on the New Evangelization shortly after Tagle was named Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI at his General Audience on October 24, 2012.  To see more of the new Cardinal-to-be, view our special WITNESS interview with him from last June.

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Full resolution photos: Fr. Thomas Rosica, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, and Sebastian Gomes, or Fr. Thomas Rosica and Cardinal Elect Luis Antonio Tagle.

Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring, Rome Bureau

Inside the Synod – Wednesday, Oct. 24

On today’s edition of Inside the Synod we speak to Toronto’s own Sr. Gil Goulding and take you into the Vatican Gardens.

Cheridan and Sebastian receive Holy Communion from the Holy Father

Photo courtesy of Servizio Fotografico of l’Osservatore Romano

Cheridan Sanders and Sebastian Gomes receiving communion from Pope Benedict XVI at the Mass celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the beginning of the Year of Faith – October 11, 2012

Cheridan Sanders and Sebastian Gomes are the hosts of Salt + Light’s new series The Church AliveThe same day they attended this mass, Salt + Light premiered this new TV series on its network and online via YouTube.

Sacrosanctum Concilium #2
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council
December 4, 1963

For the liturgy, “through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,” most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek. While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ, at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.

Download the full, high-resolution photos: Cheridan Sanders, Sebastian Gomes


Inside the Synod – Wedneday, Oct. 17

Tonight on Inside the Synod we recap the interventions that got the most buzz, Sebastian brings us interviews with Cardinal Kurt Koch and Cardinal Tong Hon, and we bring you the details on Cardinal Wurel’s summary of everything that’s been said so far.