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Vol. XVI, N. 17 29 October 2012
SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
Father General has participated in the recent Synod of Bishops on: "The New Evangelization for the transmission of Christian Faith". We have asked him what are his impressions on this event. Here are his responses.
I confess having some misgivings about the Synod before it started. I was asking myself: Are we going to move in the direction of "more of the same" or will we be ready to move ahead with courage and creativity?
The reality of the Synod has been mixed. I can indicate some (1) positive, inspiring and encouraging points, and (2) some insufficiencies that indicate areas where the Church, or, at least, the awareness of the Bishops and other Synodal Fathers, including myself, have some journey to make.
1. We can classify the positive points in three categories:
a) Geographical input. This part refers to presentations that gave us a good sense of the situation, the issues and, often, the sufferings of specific countries - mostly in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. One of the best features of a Synod is the very fact that the Bishops from many countries have a chance to communicate and exchange freely about their experience and thinking.
b) Ongoing creative initiatives, especially those based on cooperation projects, networking or international exchange, in which lay persons and movements are very involved and committed. Not only through the presentations in the plenary sessions, but mostly through informal sharing and comments on the same initiatives outside the sessions.
c) Reflections on the Foundations, Meaning and Dimensions of the New Evangelization. Here we could witness a great confluence, among other points, on:
*the importance and need of religious experience (encounter with Christ);
*the urgency of good spiritual and intellectual formation of the New Evangelizers;
*the central role of the family (Ecclesia domestica) as the privileged place of growth into the Faith;
*the relevance of the parish and its structures, that need to be renewed and become more and more open to wider lay involvement and ministry;
*the priority on evangelization rather than sacramental expression, as Saint Paul thought of himself, "sent to Evangelize, and not to baptize";
2. As for "insufficiencies" we can indicate the following:
a) The voice of the People of God does not have a place to be heard. It is a Synod of Bishops, and, thus, there is no much provision for the Laity to participate, even though a number of experts and "observers" (auditores) are invited. It made me think of Steve Jobs' statement that he was more interested in listening to the voice of the clients, rather than to that of the producers. And in the Synod we were all "producers".
b) Thus it was difficult to avoid the feeling that this was a gathering of "Men of the Church affirming the Church", which in itself is a good thing, but hardly what we need at the time of the New Evangelization. There is a real danger of producing "More of the same".
c) Lack of reflection on the First Evangelization, and, thus, very little on whether and what we have learnt from the very long past history and from the good points in it, as well as from our own mistakes. This omission could have very negative consequences.
d) Very little awareness and/or knowledge of the History of Evangelization and the role of Religious men and women in it. At times Religious Life was ignored and at times it was mentioned only in passing. Not that we, Religious, need further affirmation, but I express a concern that the Church risks losing its own memory.
e) Maybe the weakest point is the methodology followed, very similar to the old way of running our own General Congregations. I do hope, though, that the complexity of reality and the needs of the future will help the Church adjust its processes for greater apostolic fruits.
You can understand that it was a time of much reflection, of learning and challenge. The invitation to deepen our Faith, proposed by the Holy Father, can help us face the deepest dimension of the New Evangelization. The reality around us has become much more complex than we can face individually, and the original challenge of our Mission to serve souls and the Church continues and grows in poignancy.
It is my hope that Jesuits will respond to the new challenges with the depth that comes from our appropriation of Ignatian spirituality and from a serious study of our times.
I pray that the reflections in our Communities and Apostolates on the Year of Faith will help us renew our spirit and our mission.
Q. In your intervention during the Synod, you spoke of "European Signs of Holiness" What do you mean by this? Aren't they universal Christian Signs?
A. Naturally. The Signs that we look for in a Saint have a Universal value and express different dimensions of God's life as it becomes visible in our midst. We are talking here about charity, compassion, service of those who are suffering, in need, lonely and afflicted. What I mean is that we have gotten used to these signs and might tend to think that there are no other signs. If that were the case, wouldn't that make God very limited, predictable and even reduced to the European capacity to "see" familiar signs of his presence and action? Without any doubt whatsoever, I affirm those signs as good, credible and solid. My question was about what we might have missed by not discovering other signs, by not being surprised and in awe at the creative action of God in "others", in people from different cultures, traditions and ethnic belonging. A little before Vatican II, Father Jean Danielou wrote a book with the title: "Pagan Saints". It was a challenging and inspiring book, but maybe those Saints were not so pagan, after all.
Q. Can you offer some signs of what you would consider "Asian" holiness?
A. With pleasure. As a matter of fact, anticipating this question I have consulted a few experts in Asia about the matter and I can say it was a very fruitful consultation. Let me offer you a few examples: filial piety, that at times reaches heroic levels; the totally centred quest for the Absolute and the great respect for those involved in the quest; compassion as a way of life, out of a deep awareness of human brokenness and fragility; detachment and renunciation; tolerance, generosity to and acceptance of others, open-mindedness; reverence, courtesy, attention to the needs of others; etc. Summing up, maybe we can say that if our eyes were open to what God is doing in people (and peoples!) we would be able to see much more Holiness around us and many of us would feel challenged to live the Life of God in new ways that might be more adapted to the way we really are, or the way God wants us to be.
Q. How come missionaries, or the Church at large, have not been able to "see" those wonderful signs as the work of God?
A. It is very difficult to interpret why something does not happen. One is tempted to introduce explanations that might be accurate as well as theories that might miss the point altogether. Maybe we are not comfortable with a God of surprises, a God that does not necessarily follow human logic, a God that always draws the best from the human heart without doing violence to the cultural background, to the religiosity of the simple people. Who knows? We enthusiastically affirm God's freedom, but do not give it much of a chance to influence our lives... Or maybe we have "seen" those signs with respect and even awe, but were not sure about their meaning or could not develop a sensible theory about them.
Q. What you are saying is that there is Holiness outside the Church. But if there is Holiness, should not we say that there is also Salvation?
A. Of course! We have always known this. It is part of God's Freedom. God is free to do as God likes with his people (men and women) in any situation and in any context. Jesus had no difficulty in acknowledging in a pagan Roman soldier or a foreign woman a depth of faith that he found always missing among his own disciples. But I do not have a theory of salvation. You can spare your next question. My deepest concern is to find out how God is working in people and cooperate with God's work. There I cannot go wrong. With theories I certainly can.
Q. Fr. General, according to you, what and how should the Church's responsibility be highlighted in bringing peace and harmony in the present violent world, in the light of the new evangelization?
A. I am convinced that whatever we do comes from the deepest self, from inside. It is the result of our faith, our relationships (relationship with God included), our loves and hopes. If the deepest self is in communion with the God of Peace, of Justice, and Compassion that we believe in, then we will live, act and speak Peace, Justice and Compassion. If the world around us becomes more violent it does not mean that we become so, but, on the contrary, that our commitment - from the heart - to peace and dialogue becomes much more relevant and a better proclamation of the Gospel we believe in. Naturally, this takes many forms when we think of the Church and many organized activities and initiatives will emerge out of committed Christians.