"Strengthen the faith of some, reawaken the faith of others and preach confidently"
After considering nearly 300 suggested amendments, the Synod of Bishops approved a seven-page final statement, which was released on 26 October and reflected the major themes explored on the role of the diocesan bishop.
The statement began by referring to the Pope's invitation "to evaluate our ministry in the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council" and the "present-day situation of the Church in the world."
The document affirmed the continuing "relevance" of the Church's social teaching in the light of worldwide "endemic evils" such as "extreme poverty", violence and floods of refugees, and the need to make "this teaching better known in our local churches." Of particular concern was "the contempt for human life, from conception to death, as well as the breakdown of the family."
Call to holiness
To be effective leaders, bishops had to exemplify Vatican II's "universal call to holiness" through the practice of a "gospel poverty ... which frees our energies for love and service." Only through this could a bishop speak "credibly of the joy of the humble and pure of heart, the power of forgiveness and the hope that those who hunger and thirst for justice will finally be satisfied by God."
While a few Western bishops had expressed concern during the Synod about Vatican 'centralism' and a weakening of local autonomy, this line of thinking had no obvious impact on the final document, which spelled out the Church's understanding of "communion and collegiality".
Communion, it said, "belongs to the undivided Christian tradition of both East and West" and "takes its strength from our profession of faith in God, Father, Son and Spirit." Collegiality should be "at the service of communion", as with "the college of the apostles and their successors, the bishops, united among themselves and with the Pope, the successor of Peter. Always and everywhere, together they teach the same faith with the 'sure charism of truth'."
A love of Church unity should, in turn, inspire episcopal awareness "of currents hostile to that truth which shines so brightly on the face of Christ" and prompt a bishop, "as guardian and prophet, to warn his people against false teachings which threaten the purity of Christian hope."
Bishops had to face up to the "spiritual and pastoral challenge ... to strengthen the faith of some, to reawaken the faith of others and to preach confidently to all"; and also to apply their "vigilance and concern" to the roles of "movements, small communities, and agencies of formation and charity, which constitute the tapestry of Christian life."
The role of priests - "their principal collaborators in the apostolic mission" - was especially vital: "Through mutual trust and a warm friendship with his priests, the bishop will enhance their esteem for their ministry, often misunderstood in a society tempted by the worship of possessions, pleasure and power."
Next, Bishops should foster "the first task of lay people", namely, "to bear witness to the Gospel in the world" through "their commitment to family, social, cultural and political life, and through their presence at the heart of what Pope John Paul II has called 'the modern areopagus' [public square], particularly through their work in the media or in encouraging respect for God's creation" and "in organised apostolates in the important struggle for justice and solidarity."
At the Synod's conclusion, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger discussed his impressions of the Synod with Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Fides news agency.
Cardinal Ratzinger was gratified that "nothing out of the ordinary" had occurred, indicating that "a new generation" had "assimilated the [Second Vatican] Council" and was "in search of new ways of evangelisation"; and that there had been little "dwelling on questions of relations between the Roman Curia and the bishops, synodal powers [and] the structures of national and intercontinental bishops' conferences." This "danger", as he put it, "could really suffocate the life of the Church" at the expense of matters of "ultimate" importance.
What the Cardinal described as "another type of secularism" was "too great a concern for the problems of the world, filled with suffering, which could result in our being only social workers, forgetting that our first service to the world, including the social world, is to make God known." Both a "self-preoccupation on the part of the Church" with its own structures and "a horizontalism" regarding "the evils in the world" could effectively make God "secondary."
A danger for all synods, he noted, was that in their efforts to be "comprehensive" they end up being "a sort of handbook, instead of shedding light on a few important imperatives." He said he hoped "the next post-synodal document will not be a long handbook but, instead, the presentation of a few essential elements, something like Novo Millennio Ineunte, which is a document that addresses the heart of the matter."
Meanwhile, Archbishop George Pell of Sydney was one of 15 bishops elected to a post-synodal council to help Pope John Paul II compose his document on the office of bishop.
Others on the advisory council include Cardinals George (Chicago), Arinze (Nigeria), Kasper (Germany) and Daneels (Belgium).
This council will collaborate with the Holy Father in writing the final document, or post-synodal exhortation, which will take into account the Synod's conclusions. It should be published some time next year.