One of the main reference points for the October 2012 Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the issue of the new evangelization, will be the anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II in October 1962.
This Synod will aim at an in-depth reflection on the meaning of evangelization itself.
Bishops from all over the world will meet at the Vatican from October 7-28 to re-examine the teachings of Vatican II, which were meant “to transmit the doctrine of the faith pure and whole without attenuations or misrepresentations.”
The bishops will exert themselves for “the certain and immutable doctrine to be presented and elaborated in such a way as to meet the needs of today’s world.”
This is the text of the note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prepared for the Year of Faith, called for by Benedict XVI, which also will begin in October 2012.
“After the Council,” says the note, “the Church set about ensuring the reception and application of the Council’s teachings in all their richness, in continuity with the Church’s whole tradition and under the firm guidance of its magisterium. To ensure the correct reception of the Council’s teachings, the Popes have frequently summoned the Synod of Bishops, first instituted by the Servant of God Paul VI in 1965, providing the Church with clear guidance through several post-synodal Apostolic Exhortations.”
The Synod is thus derived from the Council and in recent years it has matured and changed in many respects, as free discussion has been introduced in accord with the Pope’s will.
The Synod’s secretary general, the Croatian Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, illustrates these changes in this fourth article in a series preparing for the Synod.
How has Pope Benedict changed the way the Synod functions and operates?
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic: Benedict XVI has carried out a small reform of the Synod, reducing the bishops’ working time from four to three weeks, focusing the Synod’s work, and promoting greater participation, among other things, with the introduction of free discussion, which has given a new impetus with positive effects.
Another aspect that has been developed is the ecumenical dimension with the participation of delegates of sister Churches and church’s communities. For the first time, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, participated in the Synod of 2008, while the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Tewahedo Abuna Paulos, took part in the 2009 Synodal Assembly. Representatives of non-Christian religions also participated in different Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops: Jewish representatives in those of 2008 and 2010, and Muslims in that of 2010. A living and fruitful communion came into being, and the Holy Father made several interventions when he thought it proper. In other words, the Synod is a living, active assembly which grows according to the Church’s needs.
What role will the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council play in the Synod?
Eterovic: The Year of Faith will begin on October 11, which marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. On that afternoon, the Synod’s work will be suspended for a commemorative act, with a talk given by the Pope and the participation of all the Synodal Fathers who will symbolically represent all the bishops and faithful of the world. Of course, there will be representatives of other Christian Churches and communities. The Synod of Bishops was erected on September 15, 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, and in its activity has always kept this important event as a point of reference.
There are many aspects to the problem of evangelization. One is the announcement of the Gospel to other religious communities living in our cities and towns. How can this problem be tackled?
Eterovic: Emphasis must be placed on the importance of bearing witness and living an exemplary Christian life, even though we are all fragile and inclined to sin. Yet nowadays a Christian family is good news even in Christian and non-Christian milieus, especially when there are now being proposed different and non-acceptable models of the family. Nowadays, the laity must realize that true Christian living, in conformity with the teaching of Jesus and the Church, is good news for the world. The replies to the Lineamenta (guidelines) sent to the bishops provide a great number of indications for developing the role of the laity as witnesses operating in such fields as work, culture, politics, public or Catholic schools. When it comes to interreligious dialogue, then, the main thing is the witness of our lives; first of all we must know our religion and then the position of the Church, which says that the truth can be proposed, but not imposed. Nevertheless the Christian has the duty, if called on to do so, to account for his faith even to believers of other religions, to people from cultures other than his own, in other words to account for the joy of being a Christian, though respecting other people’s choices and beliefs. Non-Christians, on the other hand, should be interested in learning about the essence of Christianity in order to understand the cultural context they live in because it is impossible to understand “Western culture” without knowing about Jesus Christ and the Church.
“Human ecology” is a problem which Benedict XVI is highly concerned with, and it features among the items on the bishops’ agenda…
Eterovic: If man is considered the masterpiece of nature, we cannot then respect nature without respecting man. This is an important aspect of the Christian understanding of mankind and nature, that the faithful are called to witness and joyfully proclaim to others, while humbly maintaining an awareness of being sinners always in need of conversion. Therefore, the new evangelization requires a conversion, a purification, both individual and collective, so that we may be more authentic in our witnessing and proclamation of the Good News.
Don’t you think a deepened sense of Christian identity could risk leading Christians to isolate themselves too much from people of other cultures and believers of other religions?
Eterovic: No, Jesus Christ is the Son of God and we must be completely what we are, that is, children of God, sons in the Son; this fills us with joy and gives us strength in the Spirit to overcome our sins and limitations by converting both as individuals and as a community. Conversion is the precondition for the renewal of persons and of the Church: Ecclesia semper reformanda. The Church is always to be reformed to live and proclaim the Good News. We proclaim Jesus Christ who is the protagonist of evangelization. All our efforts must be aimed at proclaiming Jesus, who is alive and as the Holy Father points out, is our contemporary in whom we have our strength. He is the evangelizer par excellence, the first Evangelizer, and we must be channels open to the Spirit, of which we are instruments.
You accompanied Benedict XVI in many of his journeys, first of all to Croatia, your native country. What memories do you have of those days?
Eterovic: It was a great joy and I was moved by the response of the people who recognized in the Holy Father the head of the Church on earth. Benedict XVI dealt with important issues like the family, which is good news for the world. The family should be taken into due consideration by the institutions of the state, since it is the fundamental cell of the Church and society.
The other topic treated was the faith-reason relationship, which the Pope proposed in the meeting with Croatian representatives of culture and science, during which he presented the example of a great Croatian Catholic scientist and believer as a model of this harmonic relation.
Then came a meeting with the young and the prayerful adoration of the Eucharist in Zagreb’s central square, with the impressive silence of 50,000 young people. The Holy Father Benedict XVI spoke to them of the example of Blessed Ivan Merz, the founder of Catholic Action in Croatia.
Croatia is a country which has experienced war and communism, but where Christianity is alive. Is this country ready for the challenge of the new evangelization?
Eterovic: Of course it is. This was clearly shown by the positive reaction of the priests, religious and laity to the Pope’s re-proposing the example of Blessed Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, a martyr and witness of the faith. Croatia is certainly a country in transition, still bearing the wounds of the recent war, but also of the Second World War, the truth of which was kept hidden under the communist regime. Then came the wounds caused by the communist system and, more recently, the passage to a capitalist economy without rules, along with the growing influence of secularization. Yet the people have preserved the Christian faith as an essential part of their national identity and their Christian roots, which is the common element of all European countries, Croatia included, as well as the link with the Holy See and the Popes, who have played a key role in the history of our country. However, Croatia, like the other countries of Europe, also needs the new evangelization to revive its rich Christian inheritance in order to offer the Good News of Jesus Christ to contemporary mankind, for only Jesus has the words of eternal life.