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Synodal Heartburn: The Lasting Impact of October in Rome

October 27, 2008
vatican.jpgWitnessing the final voting on the synodal propositions on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning was a real lesson in the collegiality of the Church.
You can certainly find elsewhere the detailed information and "scoop" stories on the intrigue surrounding the voting procedures. It suffices to say here that the degree of unanimity for each proposition was striking. It revealed much consensus in this synodal assembly, unlike previous synods where such consensus was not as evident.
The consensus also revealed how much the relator-general (Cardinal Marc Ouellet) and his team worked hard to incorporate the 354 amendments, reformulations and suggestions into the final propositions. In the end there were 55 propositions voted on, approved and presented to the Holy Father. These propositions will assist the Pope in the formulation of the apostolic exhortation that flows from this synod.
Immediately after the Saturday morning session, I accompanied Cardinal Ouellet to the press conference in the John Paul II Hall of the Vatican press office. Cardinal Ouellet, the special secretary and a bishop from Brazil fielded the questions from the international press corps. The Cardinal ended the one-hour conference stating that what we had just experienced in this synod was a journey and an encounter. We were like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking along and discussing many things about the events that took place in Jerusalem long ago. But the synod also offered us a privileged moment of encounter not only with words, but with the Word who is Jesus Christ. We must bear him to our people and to the world.
Following the press conference we walked back to Paul VI Hall to join the lunch already in progress with Benedict XVI and the synodal participants. The atmosphere was jovial, fraternal, elegant and most pleasant. We arrived in time for dessert!
At the end of the meal, Pope Benedict took the microphone and spoke extemporaneously. His words were warmly welcomed by all. After his litany of thanks to all those who worked to make this synod possible, the Holy Father publicly admitted that he had "violated human rights" over the past weeks by depriving so many synodal participants of sleep (I forgave the Pope in my heart), as well as denying weekends to many of the synodal members! The Pope said that this matter would be corrected in the future. Needless to tell you that the Pope's words were met with great applause.
On his way out of the audience hall, to a well-merited papal siesta, the Pope stopped to thank all of the waiters and servers who worked hard to offer such a great meal. Benedict also thanked the fleet of "runners" (young priests and seminarians from around the world) who worked in the aula for the past three weeks. Their efficiency and discretion were obvious to all of us.
I must also mention here the permanent secretariat of the synod of bishops at the Vatican. Archbishop Nikola Eterovich and his small staff did a superb job in pulling this off. Their affability, generosity, infinite patience, good cheer and daily kindnesses made all of this experience bearable. I am sorry that I only met them three weeks ago. I would have hired all of them to work with me on World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, six years ago!
When I first learned of my appointment to the position of "Deputatus Notitiis Vulgandis" (press attache) for the "Lingua Anglica" (English language), I knew that I would be in for a lot of work. I never imagined that the experience would involve so much work, meeting so many great people, sitting for so long in the aula, sleeping so little, writing so much, being moved on a daily basis by what we heard, saw and celebrated together in moving liturgies.
As I return to my life as Director Exsecutivus Retis Televisifici Catholici (C.E.O. of the Salt and Light Television Network in Canada), I take with me a serious case of synodal heartburn from Rome. Only this type of heartburn will not require Zantac or other medications to heal it. This cardiac condition refers more to a biblical phenomenon induced by a three-week immersion into the Word of God in the most international of settings. I traveled to Rome to work. I ended up making a three-week retreat immersed in the Word of God, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially "Dei Verbum" and the subsequent Church teachings on sacred Scriptures.
As I watched and heard bishop after bishop, auditor after auditor get up and speak about the blessings and burdens, hopes and challenges they face in offering God's Word to the world, suddenly our own problems back home paled in comparison to some of the very serious situations we heard about. There is something about working with the universal Church that puts things into perspective and reminds us of the bigger picture. This experience is sorely missing from many of our ecclesial and communal realities in North America.
Holy hunger
emmaus.jpgOver the past three weeks we heard the Emmaus story of Luke's Gospel (24:13-35) mentioned many times. It is a most fitting paradigm of what we have experienced over the past three weeks in Rome. The Resurrection story teaches us that believing and for that matter, Scripture studies, are not only a matter of the mind, but a matter of the heart. It will only be through our pounding hearts and burning hearts that we will come to believe. What we "believe" is what we "give our heart to."
When we meet the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the glow of that first Easter day has begun to fade. Resurrection at this point is nothing more than a rumor or a tale. Buried beneath their verbal exchange lies a deep yearning and holy hunger. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope, and their need for God to be alive, vibrant and present. But the baggage of their doubt impedes the fervor of their faith. And so they fail to recognize Jesus.
The stranger on the road to Emmaus takes the skepticism and curiosity of the disciples and weaves them into the fabric of Scripture. Jesus challenges them to reinterpret the events of the past days in light of the Scriptures and they share a meal together. After breaking the bread with them, he disappears and finally their eyes are opened. This meeting of the "tradition" with the "encounter" of Jesus in the flesh enkindled a fire in the hearts of those who traveled with him. Finally in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened and they recognized the risen One in their midst. Understanding the Resurrection implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the One about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers.
All along the road their eyes are prevented from seeing Jesus. Their eyes longed to see beyond the scales of sorrow and sadness and understand that it was truly the Lord. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus thirsted for the living water that only the risen One could give. But they finally recognize him in sharing the Word and breaking the bread.
Emmaus places some important questions before our community of faith: How is Jesus alive and present in our community? It may not always be conscious and clear, but in the human heart there is a deep nostalgia for God. Nostalgia and longing are matters of the human heart. Are our own hearts gradually on fire within us when the Scriptures are opened to us? And how often do we recognize the stranger as the living Christ in our midst?
Let me conclude with a little prayer as we begin to make our journeys back home and carry the experience of the Synod of Bishops to our people:
Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening and the day is far spent. Just as the two disciples prayed on that evening in Emmaus, help us to be focused and centered on you, our Lord, our hope and our life.
When doubt and despair fill our lives, stay with us, Lord.
When sadness and emptiness tempt us to believe that you are absent, fill us with your consoling presence. When selfishness prevents us from reaching out to others, teach us your art of selflessness.
Stay with us, Lord, and help us to remember that the royal road of the cross is the only way for us and for the Church. Stay with us, Lord, along the journey, and help us to discover you each day in the breaking of the Word and the Bread.
Stay with us, Lord, as we journey to the New Jerusalem where you are light, peace and endless home. Amen.
Thank you for your very kind comments, words of encouragement and numerous responses to these diaries. Stay tuned locally to what will become of all of the words exchanged in an aula and two basilicas in Rome during an October that I will never forget. As the story of this synod gets unpacked in your countries, dioceses and parishes, I wish you a very good case of heartburn... the synodal kind.
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.