Archbishop John Dew
It was the largest ever Synod and there is a great interest and real passion about the importance of announcing the Gospel anew, of proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way to God, and that as human beings we can never be fully alive or achieve what it means to be human without God in our lives.
In the Synod Hall there have been some inspiring interventions and plenty of food for prayer and reflection:
‘Do we have the courage to speak of our own personal encounter with Christ who has captured us with his love?’
‘Our message must always be “God exists and I have found Him”.’
‘May the world know that we have not come to conquer it, but to serve it.’
‘The Message of Jesus expresses the love of God, therefore to witness to the Gospel is always an act of love, and love is always new, new because we put it into practice every new day.’
Four days after the synod’s opening we gathered again in St Peter’s Square with Pope Benedict to celebrate the Opening Mass for the Year of Faith, for the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council and the 20 years since the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It was amazing to think that 50 years ago I was in my first year at secondary school and now here I was celebrating Mass with the Pope and bishops from all over the world, on this historic anniversary.
The first thing that impressed me was that at least 100 bishops had the same thought I did – to pray silently at the tomb of Blessed John XXIII. I had been thinking of Pope John and what it must have been like to open the council 50 years ago and I became aware that the number of bishops stayed constant for the hour before Mass started. It was a powerful experience to pray at his tomb and to think about how the actions, prayer and love for the Church of those who gathered 50 years ago, changed the Church forever. My impression was that these bishops, in Rome for the Synod, were hoping to have the same effect – hoping for a New Pentecost.
I was also moved that the deacon who proclaimed the gospel used the Book of the Gospels from the Opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, – such a wonderful connection.
At the end of the Mass Pope Benedict symbolically handed out messages to representatives as had Pope Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council in December 1965.
Pope Paul said ‘We seem to hear from every corner of the world an immense and confused voice, the questions of all those who look towards the Council and ask us anxiously: “Have you not a word for us? For us rulers? For us intellectuals, workers and artists? And for us women? For us of the younger generation, for us the sick and the poor?” These pleading voices will not remain unheeded.’
I found Pope Benedict’s gesture highly significant. I hope this Synod will be able to speak again to people throughout the world who are looking for signs of hope and new life.
That evening I joined thousands of others in a candlelight procession in St Peter’s Square. At 9pm Pope Benedict came to the window of the Apostolic Palace and addressed the crowds just as Blessed John XXIII had done 50 years earlier.
Pope Benedict reminisced on the procession 50 years ago and on the words of ‘the good Pope, Blessed John [XXIII], who spoke with unforgettable words, words full of poetry, of kindness; words of the heart’.
‘We were happy – I would say – and full of enthusiasm. The great Ecumenical Council had begun; we were sure that a new springtime for the Church was coming, a new Pentecost, with a new strong presence of the liberating grace of the Gospel,’ he said.
The Pope said the Church experiences the same joy today, but it is a more ‘humble joy’. In these 50 years, the faithful have seen that ‘in the field of the Lord there are always weeds.
‘We have seen that human frailty is present in the Church as well, that the ship of the Church is sailing against the current, with storms that threaten the ship and sometimes we thought: “The Lord sleeps and he has forgotten us”.’
Despite this, the faithful have also experienced the strength of Christ present in the Church. The fire of Christ is not a destructive fire, he said, but a ‘silent fire’, a flame of goodness and truth that ‘that gives warmth and light.
‘Yes, Christ lives and he is with us today as well, and we can also be happy today because his goodness does not extinguish, it is strong even today.’
Pope Benedict XVI ended his address echoing Blessed John XXIII: ‘Go to your homes, give a kiss to your children and tell them it is from the Pope.’
These have been powerful days for me, not just to remember and to ponder the 50 years, but also to look forward, as we are doing in this Synod.
The Second Vatican Council happened – it cannot be undone. We have been reminded in many ways during this Synod and the New Zealand Bishops were told at last year’s ad limina visit that we must continue to work to implement the Council.
Our task today is to accept the Council, to continuously strive to understand it better and to implement it so that ‘the kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be accomplished’ (Gaudium et Spes 45).
From Rome, with every blessing.