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“Sub Secreto” Propositions: Synod Fathers Walking the Walk

October 22, 2008
Photo: Dario Pignatelli/AP
There was definitely a mood of expectancy in the air this morning as we met in general congregation in the upper room (of the Paul VI Hall) for the third week of the world Synod of Bishops on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church."
Once Benedict XVI had led us in morning prayer, we were seated and the "runners" went throughout the aula handing out the handsomely bound gray book of "Elenchus Unicus Propositionum," the synodal propositions that are the fruit of synodal labor over the past two weeks.
The words "sub secreto" were stamped clearly on the cover. While the meaning of "sub secreto" in a Roman context is highly nuanced and has many levels of interpretation, I will follow the strict interpretation of this expression and tell you everything about the propositions without revealing anything of their contents! (If I do otherwise, the Swiss Guards will be writing this diary entry tomorrow night, while the Sistine Choir is singing numerous verses of "Arrivederci Roma" in my honor).
The 253 synodal fathers submitted 254 synodal propositions last weekend. During the first editing session, led by the "relatore generale" -- Cardinal Marc Ouellet -- and his team of experts, this number was brought down to 106. In the final editing process, which took into consideration duplications, similar issues, etc., the number was brought to 53 propositions.
Alternating back and forth, Cardinal Ouellet and Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, the special secretary for the synod, began reading the 53 propositions in Latin before the Pope and the entire assembly. The cadence kept up for well over 75 minutes and one almost felt the need to respond to each proposition with "ora pro nobis." Those sitting at the head table have a very good handle on the Latin language.
No surprises
Having sat through all 20 general congregations and many meetings of the "circuli minores," where these propositions were generated, I can say this about the contents of the gray book we received this morning: There are no surprises!
The propositions sum up very well the discussions and concerns raised during the synod. There is a sense of unity, urgency, hope and gratitude flowing from the propositions. Contrary to the wishful thinking of some outsiders to the synodal process, there is absolutely nothing "retrograde" about these texts. They represent hours of work on the part of Cardinal Ouellet and his team and a masterful synthesis of tons of ideas and suggestions and desires of the Catholic world that have emerged during this synod.
If anything, the propositions, when finally amended and approved by the synodal assembly and, if accepted by the Holy Father, will feed into Benedict XVI's apostolic exhortation on this synod. They will have direct ramifications in the lives of Catholics near and far, and also on the Christian Churches. The apostolic exhortation will also be a clear witness to the world that the Roman Catholic Church is a community of people deeply rooted in the living Word of God, not in some ancient history book.
Through tomorrow, synodal fathers and participants are meeting in the small language groups to carefully study the propositions and make necessary amendments. Those will then be handed over to the General Secretariat before the final voting session Friday morning in the general congregation. I cannot tell you anything else about the propositions since they are "sub secreto!"
An Archbishop's Experience
This afternoon I had the privilege of bringing Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, to the John Paul II Hall at the Holy See Press Office for our regular briefing with English language journalists, and a few others from non-English speaking countries. The Jesuit archbishop handled the questions with ease and personal warmth.
Because Ottawa is a bilingual diocese -- French and English -- Archbishop Prendergast, a Scripture scholar, is part of a French-language group at the synod. He shared this unique point with the journalists. In his language "circle," the cardinal presiding over the group invites the members to enter into a half-hour "lectio divina" before they begin their deliberations each day. It is called "practicing what you preach" or "walking your talk."
"It was a very interesting experience for me," Archbishop Prendergast said. "Bishops find themselves listening to the Word of God and called to conversion. One bishop actually said he might have to change how he relates to some aspects of his ministry."
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.
Photo: Dario Pignatelli/AP