Interview with Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, who is in charge of coordinating the upcoming synodal assembly in October 2012
One of the highlights of the Year of Faith, which Benedict XVI will inaugurate in October, will be the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Its theme, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” focuses on one of the primary concerns of Pope Benedict, who chose to create a new Vatican department to promote the new evangelization.
On January 6, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a “Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith” to help prepare for this special year, which is to begin on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and will end on November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King. The Year of Faith will provide an excellent opportunity to promote the distribution and awareness of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the CDF note says. The pastoral recommendations of the “Note” are intended to promote “the encounter with Christ through authentic witnesses to faith, and the ever-greater understanding of its contents.” This task will also be the focus of the Synod Fathers in October, during their three-week gathering in the Vatican.
Since 2004, the Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. The archbishop has already coordinated two ordinary general assemblies and two special assemblies; the upcoming synodal assembly will be his fifth. Archbishop Eterovic was part of the papal entourage in Cyprus and Africa for the promulgation of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Africae munus, based on the recommendations of the Synod Fathers who represent the Church throughout the world.
The general secretary explained to ITV that the purpose of the new evangelization, and thus of the Synod, is the transmission of the Christian faith. Unfortunately this process is in crisis in today’s world, beginning with the family, the basic unit of the Church and society, and other institutions, for example, parishes. With this in mind, the synod will specifically consider how to communicate adequately the richness and joy of the Christian faith to people living today and to new generations, especially those who have drifted from the Church.
The complete title of the Synod is important, because obviously the new evangelization is not only an academic, theological or pastoral discussion, but it is predominantly concerned with the transmission of the faith. The Year of Faith is very well-placed in the context of the Synod, as it will mark not only the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council but also the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
How was the Synod topic determined?
Most Rev. Nikola Eterovic: Before the Holy Father made his decision, I wrote to the 113 bishops’ conferences throughout the world, to the 13 Eastern Catholic Churches, to the 26 dicasteries of the Roman Curia and to the Union of Superiors General, requesting that they propose three themes which, in their estimation, deserve treatment. A majority emphasized the very real problem facing our world today of transmitting the faith.
Afterwards, the Pope chose to place this topic in the context of the new evangelization. He emphasized that, since the new evangelization received so much attention during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, we must not lose sight of the abundant teaching on the subject. We are called upon to understand what the former Pope intended by the new evangelization and the relevance of its message for the Church today. Subsequently, the present Holy Father established the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Eterovic: The collaboration is good at both the institutional and personal level. The General Secretariat presides over an Ordinary Council comprised of 15 bishop members, 12 of whom were elected during the previous assembly in 2008 and three appointed by the Pope. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, was invited to become a part of this Ordinary Council. He has already participated in our meetings in November and February to study the text of the Instrumentum laboris which will serve as the agenda for the synodal assembly in October. This document is a summary of the many responses to the Lineamenta, which were due in the General Secretariat last November.
Have many responses arrived in the General Secretariat? What interest is there in the topic chosen by the Holy Father?
Eterovic: The bishops responded very well. What is most striking is that the topic was of real interest to the whole Church, not only Churches in more secularized countries but also those in Third World, developing countries. This is perhaps an effect of globalization and the influence of certain positive and negative ideas which spread from more developed countries throughout the world. The topic has great resonance not only in countries of so-called Western culture, but also in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that is, in countries where the first evangelization is still taking place.
In reference to the magisterium of Blessed John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the main collaborators. We return to the Note on evangelization published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defines three elements in evangelization: the normal one, which is always taking place in the Church and will always be done; then the evangelization ad gentes, which is comprised of missionary activity or what we might call the initial proclamation; and finally, the new evangelization, which theoretically relates particularly to those who have drifted from the Church, or, as one might say, those who are baptized but not sufficiently evangelized.
Of course, in our Western countries, these three categories are interwoven. To undertake a new evangelization, to draw those who are farthest from the Church, our communities must become more dynamic.
Furthermore, normal pastoral activity and evangelization must receive a new momentum. In order to have missionaries, our communities must be dynamic; the missionary endeavor must then be promoted.
Eterovic: Yes, of course, it is about imagining how to transmit the faith to individuals in today’s world. The message of faith is always the same, Jesus Christ, the Gospels, but you must find the language and the way to reach and touch people. In fact, many bishops have stressed the importance of the media and the new technologies. The Church already uses them, but you need to do more, without forgetting what is essential, namely, the personal aspect of the one who proclaims and the one who receives.
Many stress the importance of the laity in this work. The parish assumes a new role as a community of communities. The parish ensures a regular liturgical and sacramental life, but also has other groups, perhaps volunteers, groups for Bible reading, or perhaps a prayer group which meets in a building belonging to the parish. The pastor has to coordinate these various initiatives while also bearing in mind those who might be farthest from the Church, perhaps by organizing cultural and academic conferences and meetings.
Following the teaching of Vatican II and Christifideles Laici, every Christian is called to be a witness and a missionary.
Why was the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl, chosen as speaker?
Eterovic: He is a bishop in the Western world who is experiencing secularization. It is also in order to give importance to the American continent. The Special Assembly for America has led to considering America as a single continent, but, in fact, there are many different situations.
In addition, Cardinal Wuerl is a good catechist; he has co-authored a well-known catechism in English, which is in its 5th printing, and is already very engaged in the new evangelization, with a decidedly pastoral perspective.
One last question: you accompanied the Pope in Africa to deliver the fruits of the Special Assembly for Africa. What is the meaning of this gesture of the Bishop of Rome?
Eterovic: Africa is a continent where the Church is in dynamic development, thanks be to God, with all the difficulties that belong to development.
The two visits of the Pope were in conjunction with the Special Assembly for Africa; they provided an opportunity to give new dynamism to the particular Churches, which is truly a blessing from the Lord. They also encouraged them to grow in unity and communion.
An important thing which the Holy Father said in Africae munus was that Africa must help secularized countries with not only its dynamism but also with people. In fact, this already exists. There are many priests and religious who are missionaries in secularized countries and bring the joy of being Christian, which is more felt in their countries than in our communities, which are a little tired.