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In Principio Erat Verbum

October 8, 2008
home_photo_books.jpgAnd Then More, and More Words 
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- If any biblical phrase could sum up the proceedings of these first days of the world Synod of Bishops on the “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” it is the opening of the prologue of John's Gospel.
The passage from John 1 reads: "In the beginning was the Word." To that I would add, and then there were words, words and more words! This synod is about the Word, and the tons of words spoken by many people.
This morning while Benedict XVI led his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, speaking to tens of thousands of people on St. Paul's life, the 253 synod fathers, curial heads, experts, auditors and synod staff took part in the first round of the "Circuli Minores," or "Language Groups," as they are called in the official bulletins. I can assure you that there is nothing "minor" about these 12 linguistic groups. In fact, many feel that these groups really give voice to all participants of the synod and are the legacy of the entire experience for all participants.
As English-language press attache, I attended one of the three English-language groups, with 32 people present from 18 countries of the world. It was a unique experience only possible in the Roman Catholic Church.
Chiacgo's Cardinal Francis George, and Tuscon's Bishop Gerald Kicanas, respectively president and vice president of the U.S. episcopal conference, were elected moderator and rapporteur of this language group. It is not common that two people from the same country would be elected to these positions, but the group felt strongly that both men would do a very fine job in fulfilling their roles. And the absolute majority of the votes for both American prelates indicated just that.
Cardinal George did cause a bit of angst for me, however, at the beginning of our morning session. We began with morning prayers from the specially prepared Latin prayer book for the synod. After the opening prayer, he then leaned over to me and said that I would doing the Scripture reading and giving the meditation after the reading of St. Paul's famous "hymn to charity" from 1 Corinthians 13. I gasped, said "Eminenza!" invoked the Holy Spirit, asked Blessed John XXIII to come immediately to my assistance, smiled and did the reading in Latin, followed by a brief meditation. This was "winging it" big time at the Vatican ... before a world audience to boot. Divine assistance came in abundance.
Having known Cardinal George since my graduate studies in the Holy Land, it was a pleasure to be with him once again and to watch him in action in this international setting. Personable, bright, witty and articulate, he reached out to everyone in our group and made them feel very welcome, appreciated and heard. Everyone, including the English Anglican bishop and renowned Scripture scholar N.T. Wright, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, three rather extraordinary women from Nigeria, the United States and Hong Kong, cardinals and bishops from every corner of the world, spoke about their first impressions of the synod, their hopes for its results, their pastoral concerns of how to make the Word of God better known, received and loved in their respective countries.
While we carry on at the Vatican, another major event is taking place round-the-clock on the RAI state Italian television during the first week of the world Synod of Bishops: a 138-hour bible reading marathon from Genesis to the book of Revelation.
Last Saturday night in Rome's fourth-century Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusaleme, Italian state TV began its program called "The Bible Day and Night," with Benedict XVI reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis -- the Bible's opening verses about the creation of the world.
The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in seven days and six nights. Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians are participating in the marathon of truly biblical proportions.
The Pope, who appeared on a giant screen in the church to launch the marathon, was followed by Bishop Ilarion, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church. Oscar-winning director Roberto Benigni from "La Vita e' Bella" was also among those reading from the Bible on Sunday.
Every few chapters the reading is interrupted for Christian or Jewish religious music, and Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude Sunday by singing Bach's "Praise the Lord."
Former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, several cardinals and bishops, in Rome for the synod, are also lending a hand, including Canada's Cardinal Marc Ouellet and American Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston. The 1,200 readers were selected from among more than 180,000 people who requested to participate in the event. Referring to the marathon after his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Benedict said: "If welcomed, this seed will not fail to bring abundant fruits."
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state, will conclude the project by reading the last chapter of the Book of Revelation this weekend.
Bonaventure's Wisdom
Prior to this morning's first round of meetings, I took advantage of living inside the Vatican at the Domus Sanctae Marthae and went for an early morning walk in the peaceful Vatican gardens. I took with me a little prayer card that I had scribbled when I was still a student at the Rome's Biblical Institute 20 years ago. It is a bit worn by now, but words by that great Franciscan master of thought and spirituality, St. Bonaventure, were very appropriate for this adventure of the synod on the Word of God.
They are from his "Itinerarium Mentis in Deum" inviting Christians to recognize the inadequacy of "reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God."
Somehow those words seemed ever so appropriate for me and for all of us involved in this world gathering of people who love God's Word and try to be more faithful to that Word and what it is asking of us each day.
Stay tuned for more words from the synod on the Word.
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Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's English-language press attache 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.