Cardinal Ratzinger Evaluates Synod of Bishops

Serenity Let Assembly Focus More on Evangelization

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ROME, OCT. 29, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke with Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Fides news agency, about the just-completed Synod of Bishops.



--Q: Your Eminence, how would you assess the synod that has come to an end?

--Cardinal Ratzinger: This synod was a cordial and tranquil meeting. Perhaps there were no great intuitions or surprises: The ideas and problems are known -- nothing out of the ordinary.

However, it was a greatly anticipated event of profound collegiality, which has been built up over the past 20 years. I have participated in every synod meeting since 1977 and experienced acute tension in some of them.

Comparing this synod with the early postconciliar ferment, this serenity demonstrated that there is a new generation that has assimilated the [Second Vatican] Council and is in search of news ways of evangelization. The first evaluation, therefore, is genuine cordiality and profound harmony. We no longer need to discuss questions of organization, or even of interpretation. Now is the time to show the world the face of Christ.

With no great surprises, the essential experience [of this synod] has been for me this new profound unity of the College of Bishops, proceeding together in the proclamation of the Gospel to a world that needs to hear once again about God and Christ.

--Q: In your address, you spoke of the bishops´ self-secularization. You said bishops tend to be concerned with internal problems "while the world longs for God."

--Cardinal Ratzinger: This, thank goodness, did not happen. There could have been fear of dwelling on questions of relations between the Roman Curia and the bishops, synodal powers, the structures of national and intercontinental bishops´ conferences.

This could really suffocate the life of the Church, constantly discussing antecedent concerns while neglecting [matters of] ultimate [importance]. This was the risk at a certain period of the postconciliar era, with the major restructuring, which was useful in itself but [kept] the Church busy thinking almost exclusively about herself -- a situation that yields no fruits for the "rest of the world," and concerns the Church only. This is futile.

I wish to speak out against this danger. If the Church is concerned with herself, she forgets that she is only at the service of something far greater: She must be a window through which people can see God; she must be an open space in which the Word of God appears and enters the world.

There is also a risk of another type of secularism: 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.

Hence, self-preoccupation on the part of the Church and a horizontalism which -- affected by the evils in the world -- thinks only of doing material things, and God becomes secondary.

Thank goodness, in order to ward off these two dangers, great attention is being given to the primary [imperative]: the world´s need to know God. If he is unknown, then all the rest comes to a halt, as witnessed in the giant atheist systems of the last century.

--Q: The bishops´ proposals seemed like a long list of "duties," things the bishop must do, care for priests, religious, youth, ecumenism, social justice, etc. Is there a danger that such a multiplicity of duties cannot be fulfilled?

--Cardinal Ratzinger: This is always a danger for all synods in their efforts to be comprehensive. They seem to want to be a sort of handbook, instead of shedding light on a few important imperatives.

Various indications coming from the synod fathers regarding a change in synod methods are along this line: The aim is not to produce a handbook, but to simply give a few instructions of real importance. In any case, there is hope that the next postsynodal 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.

--Q: The discussion and final documents seem to indicate that the bishop is a master of the Church: He does this, he does that. Is there ever a moment when the bishop realizes that he is a son of the Church, not only a father and a master? Your Eminence, you once said "the Church is female," that is, that the Church is more important than all her ministries.

--Cardinal Ratzinger: Perhaps this danger is real. Underlining the duties of the bishop and all the riches of the episcopal sacramental function, we tend to forget that the bishop is a believer and a servant.

He is a son of the Church and only in this way can he also be a father. In our efforts to indicate everything that the bishop receives in the sacrament, all his responsibilities, we might tend to overlook this ultimate humility, which is also a great grace: After all, our work does not depend on us; we can only entrust everything to the Lord.