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Synod on the Family blog

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Just before I was due to leave for the 2015 Synod on the Family, it was suggested to me that I might think of doing a blog while in Rome. I was a bit reluctant at first because I’d never been much good at doing this sort of thing in the past, and I wasn’t sure I’d have the time and energy to keep doing a blog that was worth the effort. But I said I’d have a crack at it – really just to keep a few folks at home in the loop. Or so I thought. I was even given a new iPad with a bit of tuition on how to use it not just to write but even to do videos. For one who’s no technowhiz, this was beginning to look complicated.

When I got to Rome, I soon discovered that writing the blog posts fitted quite well with the Synod day. I could rise early before Mass at 7am and write then, or I could wait till after lunch which was at 1pm and write the post (after a couple of glasses of wine) before the Synod resumed at 4.30pm. Some days I wrote both early and late, depending on what was happening.

The posts were written quickly and with little revision by me. The people back home to whom I sent the posts kept an eye out for the bigger bloopers. What I discovered was that, far from overloading the Synod day, the writing of the posts helped to focus my many thoughts, insights and feelings through the intense Synod process. In that sense, it was a big help to me personally, which was something I didn’t expect.

Nor did I expect the blog to go so big. People far and wide began to read it, and some of the best known journalists got on to it. Then it became bigger than Ben Hur – for reasons I didn’t understand at the time and still don’t quite understand.

I was trying to demystify the Synod in the belief that to demystify is not to diminish: on the contrary. I tried to present the human face of the Synod which is so real when you’re part of it but elusive when you’re on the outside looking in. I tried to offer a combination of reportage and reflection, with human interest and flashes of humour thrown in. I was also conscious of the need to respect the confidentialities of the Synod which I think I did.

Inevitably some didn’t like everything I wrote. Some simply got me wrong. One of these was The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat who, in his 2015 Erasmus Lecture reprinted in First Things, had me saying that I didn’t think that civil remarriage after divorce was in any way adulterous. In fact, what I said was that civil remarriage after divorce could not be considered adulterous in the same way as a couple skulking off to a motel for a night or a weekend – which strikes me as so obvious that it’s hardly worth saying. Both are adulterous, but in quite different ways; and the problem is that our language at times implies that they’re adulterous in the same way.

Yet for the vast majority of those who read the blog it seemed to offer a sense of being part of the journey, which was at the heart of what I had in mind. No Synod can be just for those in the Synod Hall. Somehow it has to involve the whole Church. The consultation before each of the two Synods, though clumsily done, was a step in that direction, so let’s hope we can build on that in the future. The blog seems to have been another way in which more people felt involved and had some sense of what was actually going on in the Synod. We may need to think more about Synods and social media.

When the Synod finished, people said I should keep blogging, but I had no interest in that. One commentator described me as an “inveterate blogger”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was happy to do the blog through the Synod, but once the Synod was over the moment had passed and the muse had left me.

People have also said that I should publish the blog. But I’ve decided against that – again because the blog was an essentially situated utterance that had its moment which is now gone, even if the Synod journey continues. People can read it online here; but to polish and publish would be to present the blog as something it wasn’t intended to be. I present it here, unpolished, as what it was at a one extraordinary moment – a record, done on the run, of an event that showed an intensely human Church swayed by “something greater than Solomon”.

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  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – Thoughts from the Synod

    Finally, after months of preparation, the bags are packed and I head to Rome tonight for what is probably the most eagerly anticipated Synod since the close of Vatican II, 50 years ago. The word “synod” means “on the road together”, which explains the title of this blog. When the Pope decided to convene the…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – Show us your power, Little Flower

    Sitting in the lounge at Dubai airport waiting for my flight to Rome, I’ve been thinking that the Synod needs to deal with facts – the world as it actually is rather than the world as we might wish it to be. Yes, we need to hold firmly to the vision of the way things…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – A striking start

    My first full day in Rome … and there’s a transport strike! I really know I’m back here when that sort of thing happens. I think the first word I ever learnt in Italian was “sciopero”, which means “strike”. Some things never change in the Eternal City. I’m staying for a couple of nights at…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – Towards and beyond a wedding

    Rome is a city that juggles fixity and flux, changelessness and change, being and becoming. It’s a place that holds together past and present, with an unusual capacity to adapt while keeping a core intact. The historic monuments are everywhere, but the city is vibrant and contemporary. That’s part of what it means to call…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – Village life

    From our different temporary lodgings, Bishop Hurley and I arrived at Maria Bambina this morning at about 9am, and an hour later we set off to the Synod Hall to lodge what’s called the “petitio loquendi”, which means our request to speak (for three minutes!) at the Synod. We’re only a stone’s throw away from…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – The Pope’s homily

    Just in from the Opening Mass of the Synod which was a tremendous occasion – not quite the NRL Grand Final (which must have been really something) but up there nonetheless. Pope Francis gave one of those quietly spoken but powerful homilies of his, drawing upon biblical readings which were uncannily suited to the opening…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – The Synod begins

    We’ve just completed the first morning of the three-week marathon. There was lots of milling around before we actually started – greeting those you know, finding your place in the Synod Hall, sorting through the documentation, making sure you know how the technology works (microphone and voting device). It turns out I’m sitting next to…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – A time to speak

    The sun rises on Synod Day 2. In the afternoon yesterday we began the long haul of the three-minute interventions, with Cardinal Vingt-Trois beginning with the very lengthy list of those who’d been called to speak. The two Kiwis and I were among those called, so we all rushed to our bag to find our…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the Road Together – Widen the horizon

    The video accompanying this post gives you a sense of the Synod Hall just before we began work this morning. It’s time to meet and mingle – and you can see Pope Francis up the front shaking a few hands. I was too busy videoing to head his way: later. You can hear the PA…

  • Oct 2015 '15

    On the road together – The power of words

    Yesterday afternoon, we finally moved into the small groups, which was a bit messy but refreshing. I say messy because the first challenge was to find the room where your group was to meet. That may sound easy, but (with four English groups, three French, three Italian, two Spanish-Portuguese and one German) it wasn’t. Having found the room, the challenge was…

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