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 at the end telling us all to take our seats in the Hall: stop the chatter and start praying before working.
After prayer we had a few words from Cardinal Tagle of Manila, President for the day, and then from the Secretary General before he introduced Pope Francis who wanted to say a few words. The Pope started by reminding us that there was a strict continuity between last-year’s Synod and this one – and he said that the key to this continuity would be the small groups rather than the plenary sessions. He also pointed out that the heart of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family was untouched in the last Synod and wasn’t up for grabs in this Synod. But he said we need to beware of what he called “a hermeneutic of conspiracy” that came from outside rather than from within the Synod. Good point that, I thought. He also warned against thinking that the only real problem the Synod had to deal with was communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. In other words, widen the horizon of concern. His words were brief but well appreciated, as the applause showed when he sat down.
Then we headed back into the three-minute speeches, which were predictably a mixed bag. Some themes began to emerge as the morning wore on: violence against women, local or regional solutions to pastoral problems rather than a universal approach, the threat of pastoral despair leading to false solutions rather than having a big vision of what’s possible rooted in God, seeing the family not as a problem but as a joy, the need for the Church to learn from the family, much more thorough marriage preparation (like a catechumenate) and (from parts of the world like Eastern Europe) the need to remember that the family saved the Church in the times of persecution and that the Church may now have to save the family.
This morning we finished the three-minute speeches about the first of the three parts of the Instrumentum Laboris; and as a pipe-opener for the speeches on the second part, we listened to a couple from South Africa (35 years married) speak about their vocation of marriage. Given what black South Africa has been through and is still going through, theirs was a simple and beautiful testimony. Listening to them, I thought we should be hearing more from married couples. Perhaps as the Synod unfolds.
This afternoon we move into the small groups for which I have hopes. I’m in English group C – with people like Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, Cardinal Don Wuerl of Washington, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, Philippines, and Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ, Superior General of the Jesuits. We’ll elect the moderator (group chair) and the relator (group reporter) which are important roles, especially as the Synod unfolds. I was a relator at the last Synod I attended, and I was flat stick for the best part of two weeks.
People think that when you come to Rome it must be for a holiday; but Synods can be seriously hard work … and you hope that the hard work produces something worthwhile. And I mean not just words but action.