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On the Road Together – A rough shape emerges

"All agreed that certain issues, questions and analyses would be better done at the local or regional level."
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Last night was a horror – at the least the first part of it. In the late afternoon, I was told that I had to have the text of my 10-minute report on the first week’s discussions into the Secretariat by 7pm. That was a tough call because the small group needed to OK the text and we didn’t finish until 6.45pm. And there had to be some changes to my draft after I’d shown it to the group.

I might also add that the computers and printers used by the bishops in the Synod Hall are seriously antiquated. Everything about them is wrong – computers (some don’t work), printers (ditto), height of keyboard (made for giraffes), lowness of chair etc etc. This makes a tough job even tougher. At the end of the work at the computer, I was stiff in the legs, with pain in my neck and back. Suffering for the sake of art.

To make matters worse I had Cardinal Pell and others waiting for me in a car outside the Synod Hall to go to dinner at Domus Australia. They just had to wait. Once I’d finished the revised text, I gave it to one of the assistants to deliver to the Secretariat, only to have him tell me that I had to deliver it personally. That was almost the last straw. So I stomped grumpily up the stairs to the office and grumpily thrust my report on the desk. Things were never like this in Brisbane where there’s always someone to help. Eventually I made it to the car where a surprisingly patient Cardinal and others were waiting (ungrumpily) for me. Off we went to Domus Australia for a very pleasant meal with Pell, Hurley and Tarabay. When we got there I was (as we say in Queensland) tonguing for a drink, so as soon as I entered the dining room they ripped the top off a bottle of Greco di Tufo which was my welcome reward for such exertions.

This morning (like the Lord) I rose before dawn, because I was told last night as I ran to the car that I needed to do the amendments to Chapter IV of the working document, because the amendments to the first four chapters had to be lodged at the Secretariat by morning tea on Friday. That was all I needed. After the Greco di Tufo, I didn’t think I should risk doing the amendments before retiring. So an early rise was my only option, given that the amendments had to be presented at the special meeting of the small group at 8.15am before we began the plenary session at 9am. I hope you’re following this. So the amendments were prepared on the better computer and printer at Maria Bambina. Thank God for the Sisters. At the 8.15am meeting, we voted to accept them all, and off we went to the Hall for the plenary.

It was time for each of the small group reporters to deliver their report on the first week’s discussions. I did mine which will be published, so there’s not much point in me telling you here what I said there. Read all about it. The other 12 reports were the predictable mix, with the Italians and Spaniards talking longer and more loftily, the French speakers being precise, the English speakers being practical and direct. Some things never change.

But there were some interesting points of convergence. All agreed that certain issues, questions and analyses would be better done at the local or regional level, given how differently marriage and the family are configured from culture to culture. Many agreed that the Synod working document was too Western in its perspective and that that had to change. It was widely held that our language on marriage and the family had to change too, and that we need to avoid talk of crisis and speak in more positive ways, which is not the same as indulging in denial. The clear feeling was that the working document was too negative about history, culture and the current state of marriage and the family across the board. We need rather to see with the eye of God who still looks upon all that He has created and still finds it good.

After the reports, I found myself more buoyed than I thought I would be. After the uncertainty, even confusion of the early days, it seemed to me that some rough shape was beginning to emerge. Certain points of agreement were emerging, and it will be interesting to see how these fare in the second week when we look at Part II of the working document which focuses on the vocation of the family.

One of the things I stressed at the end of my report was the need for patience in a process like this, the kind of patience that Pope Francis stressed in Evangelii Gaudium. Patience has never been my best effort, so I’m finding the Synod at this stage both challenging and educative. I need to cool it and wait on the God who reaches far beyond politics and ideology. I doubt that I’m the only one in that situation.

This afternoon at 3pm I head to a meeting of all the group reporters who have the thoroughly unenviable task of sifting through the mountain of amendments to the working document that have come from the small groups. There are hundreds and, given that there’ll be lots of repetition, we’ll have to group them under various headings, so that the hundreds become dozens.

The fruit of our work will be fed to the papally appointed commission of 10 who will supervise composition of the final document. Mind you, one of the suggestions this morning which I thought sensible was that one person be appointed as hands-on editor of the final document, given that the working document suffers badly from having had no single editorial hand on its final text. It goes all over the place. We’ll see…

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