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Adventure into the Mushroom: Looking Inside the Synodal Nerve Centre

October 6, 2008
synod_button.gifVATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Having learned last June of my Vatican appointment to the 2008 world Synod of Bishops on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," my mind often wandered over the past summer to the adventure of the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which begins today.
What do synods really accomplish and achieve? What comes of the volumes of interventions, reports, messages to the people of God, propositions and apostolic exhortations that have flowed from previous world Synods of Bishops? How do these gatherings of the universal Church continue the dynamic of collegiality of the Second Vatican Council? What impact, if any, do synods have on the life of ordinary people living in places far away from Rome? What would be my role as one of five appointed linguistic press attachés to such a formidable gathering?
The general purpose of a synod, mentioned in No. 5 of the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church, is clearly presented in the Code of Canon Law (No. 342). It states that the synod is comprised of bishops from various regions of the world who meet to assist the Pope with their counsel and to consider questions concerning the Church's activity in the world.
The theme of this year's synod is of great interest to me, having been a grateful student and teacher of Scripture since 1990. The past 18 years of studying, teaching, lecturing and preaching Scripture in Jerusalem, Jordan, Canada, Italy and the United States remind me of the debt I owe to some great professors at Regis College in the Toronto School of Theology (from 1982-1985), Rome's Pontifical Biblical Institute (1987-1990) and the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem (1990-1994), where I learned to love the Bible.
Before entering into the details, intrigues, nuts and bolts of this year's synod, allow me to share my own thoughts and hopes on what this experience will be.
Over the past years of teaching sacred Scripture, especially at the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, I have often heard it said among candidates preparing for ministry in the Church: "Scripture courses are like doing autopsies in a morgue. … No one is teaching us how to put the body back together again after the dissection." Or, "The heart and soul of Scripture doesn't come through after having taken apart the text."
Questions
I hope that this year's synod on the Word of God will ask some real questions and offer some positive suggestions on how to make God's word come alive in the Church and in the world. As a Church community we must ask ourselves, Do our hearts burn with love of God's word? Does God's word challenge us and send us into the world to make a difference? Does our own reading and preaching of God's word lead us to Jesus? Are today's Catholic Scripture scholars, teachers and students adequately prepared to draw from their exegetical knowledge and their own life of faith and prayer to help fellow Catholics discover the meaning of the biblical word for today?
How do we deal with the serious problems of biblical (and theological) fundamentalism that are nothing more than an attempt to bend Jesus and God to religious security? Fundamentalism says, "You really don't have to think -- this ancient document or statement is your answer, all set for you." In the case of biblical fundamentalism, the word of God is so stressed that one forgets that human beings wrote and received the Bible. When fundamentalists are the only ones to offer people knowledge about the Bible, people will go to fundamentalists. A solid, scholarly, prayerful approach to the Bible can be spiritually nourishing and mentally satisfying.
As we look back over the sweeping changes in the life of the Church following Vatican II, we can never underestimate the important relation that exists between liturgy and the interpretation of the Bible. In the liturgy the words of Scripture are alive and filled with the mystery of Christ.
It is accurate to say that the Bible provided a lexicon of words for Christian speech and the liturgy a grammar of how they are to be used. This must always be a guiding principle in our own efforts to make God's Word come alive for the Church today. In spite of its many accomplishments, a strictly historical approach to the Bible can only give us a medley of documents from various times and places in the ancient world. It cannot give us the book of the Church, the Scriptures as heard by Christians for centuries, the psalms imprinted on the Church's soul, the words and images that bear witness to the Trinity.
The synod will consider the positive fruits of the Biblical Renewal that received its wings and took flight at the Second Vatican Council. This year's synod fathers -- cardinals, bishops and experts from around the world -- will speak about the many signs and pockets of hope in the Church today that have kept alive and took seriously the biblical renewal that followed the Council.
But they will also raise questions and concerns about areas that still need to be studied, pursued and challenged regarding understanding, acceptance and reception of the word of God in the life of the Church, and in the lives of believers throughout the world.
"The Five"
Enough of my theological and biblical musings. Now for some intriguing aspects of the synod known to few people.
On Friday, the Vatican press attachés for the five language groups, known in Vatican circles as "the Five," were introduced to the mysteries and inner workings of the Synod of Bishops. "The Five" includes Monsignor Giorgio Constantino (Italian); Monsignor Joseph Bato'ora Ballong Wen Mewuda -- we call him Monsignor Joseph -- (French); Jesús Colina (Spanish), Salesian Father Markus Graulich (German), and myself (English).
After intense, yet very cordial meetings with Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, and the ever gracious and wise Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, we formally received our Vatican synod and media credentials. We were then given our formal Latin titles at the synod. We were not just "press attachés," but rather "Deputati Notitiis Vulgandis." I was assigned to the "Lingua Anglica," and am listed in the official Vatican synod directory as: "Director Exsecutivus Retis Televisifici Catholici "Salt and Light" (Canada). Some friends will at least recognize the last three words. In Canada they only call me the "CEO"
We were then told to report to "the Fungo" -- the mushroom. I am more familiar with "fungo" in its plural form: "funghi" in relation to tagliatelle ai funghi porcini (a great pasta dish) or pizza margherita con funghi. But now we were being sent to the Vatican mushroom! We were told it is located behind the audience hall and the synod hall within Vatican City. This was a part of Vatican City State unknown to each of us, except to Monsignor Giorgio who is an old hand at synods!
Climbing the back stairs of Paul VI Hall, we passed through several "restricted" doors and entered a remarkable, makeshift beehive of activity. Supervised by Dutchman Vik Van Brategem, assistant of the Holy See Press Office, and notorious for his shepherding of the Vatican press corps on papal visits, I was amazed at the scene inside this giant "mushroom." Over 40 young adults, from many different nations, diligently working in linguistic groups at computer monitors -- overseeing the translations of all synodal press releases and documents.
I marveled at the order, calm, seriousness and professionalism of the entire environment, and was told that the international group even broke for prayers several times during the day. For me it was heartening, encouraging and inspiring to witness so many young adults hard at work in the nerve center of the Synod of Bishops, giving flesh, meaning and consistency to the many words that will be spoken, and proving that even synods are young-adult friendly!
By the way, it is called "fungo" because of the large, modern concrete structure built in the parking area, meant to protect the Pope and special visitors from inclement weather as they enter the audience hall for large gatherings. The large concrete structure is in the form of a giant mushroom, ever modern and ever new, seemingly out of place amid the historical relics and remnants of Vatican City.
Stay tuned for more words from the world Synod of Bishops on the "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," the theme of the concluding chapter of the council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," and a natural sequel to the 2005 synod on "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."
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Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's English-language press attaché for the 2008 world Synod of Bishops. A Scripture scholar and university lecturer, he is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, and a member of the General Council of the Congregation of St. Basil.
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