Synod´s Final Message on Figure of the Bishop

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the final message approved Thursday by the fathers of the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The English translation is by the Commission for the Preparation of the Message.



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I. Introduction

1. Assembled in Rome from September 30th to October 27th in the name of Christ the Lord, we, Catholic patriarchs and bishops of the entire world, have been invited by Pope John Paul II to evaluate our ministry in the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Not unlike the Apostles, who after the Resurrection gathered together in the Upper Room with Mary the Mother of Jesus, we have been "united in heart and prayer," calling on the Spirit of the Father to enlighten us in our responsibility as servants of Jesus Christ for the hope of the world (cf. Ac 1:14).

2. The constant presence of the successor of Peter during our work has been a special source of encouragement. He has proclaimed the Good News to everyone and has tirelessly travelled the whole world as a pilgrim for peace. Together with him, we have listened to the Word of God and to one another. In this way, we have heard the voices of local churches and of different peoples, in a vivid experience of universal fraternity, which we would like to share through this Message.

3. We missed the presence of some of our beloved brothers in the Lord who were not able to come to Rome. We listened with deep emotion to the testimonies of several bishops who had been sent into prison or exile during recent decades, for Jesus’ sake. Others have died for their fidelity to the Gospel. Their sufferings, and those of their local churches, have not dimmed the light of Christian hope, but made it shine more brightly throughout the whole world.

4. The Superiors General of some religious Congregations actively participated in this Synod. We were also delighted to welcome fraternal delegates from other Christian Churches, auditors, religious and lay, men and women, as well as experts and interpreters. We sincerely thank them all, as well as the members of the Synod Secretariat.

II. Jesus Christ our Hope

5. The Holy Spirit, granting us the grace of opening ourselves as a group to the present-day situation of the Church in the world, made the risen Christ shine in our hearts, taking from what is his and sharing it with us (cfr Jn 16:14). As a result, when we reviewed in turn the tragedies and wonders throughout the world today, we did so in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Using the words of St Paul, we found ourselves face to face with the "mysterium iniquitatis" and the "mysterium pietatis" (cfr 2 Thess 2:1 and 1 Tim 3:16).

6. While from a human point of view, the power of evil often seems to triumph, in the eyes of faith the loving mercy of God immeasurably prevails: "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rom 5:20). We have experienced the strength and the truth of this teaching of the Apostle as we considered our present situation. "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Rom 8:24.25).

7. The first refusal to obey God, which Sacred Scripture reveals as the root of sin, was the origin of the division between man and the Creator, between man and woman, between humanity and the earth, between man and his brother. From these divisions arises the question which never ceases to prick our consciences: "Where is your brother?" (Gen 4:9). But we should never forget that this account of sin is immediately followed by a promise of salvation, and that this promise precedes the story of the murder of Abel, the innocent one, prefiguration of Jesus. The Gospel, good news for all humanity, is proclaimed at the very dawn of history (cfr Gen 3:15).

8. Today this Gospel is still preached throughout the whole world. Therefore we should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by those doctrines which deny the existence of the living God and which strive, in more or less cunning ways, to undermine, parody or deride Christian hope. In the joy of the Spirit we profess: "Christ is truly risen". In his glorified humanity, he has opened the prospect of eternal life for all those who accept the grace of conversion.

The horror of terrorism

9. Our assembly, together with the Holy Father, has expressed its deepest sympathy for the victims of the outrages of September 11 and for their families. We are praying for them and all the other victims of terrorism in the world. We absolutely condemn terrorism, which nothing can justify.

Violent situations

10. During this Synod, we could not close our eyes to many other collective tragedies. It is both urgent and necessary to keep also in mind what Pope John Paul II has spoken of as "the structures of sin", if we want to point new ways forward for the world. According to reliable economic experts, 80% of the population of our planet survives on only 20% of its income and one billion two hundred million people "live" on less than one dollar a day! A drastic moral change is required. Today the social teaching of the Church has a relevance which we cannot overemphasise. As bishops, we commit ourselves to making this teaching better known in our local churches.

11. Some endemic evils, when they are too long ignored, can produce despair in entire populations. How can we keep silent when confronted by the enduring drama of hunger and extreme poverty, in an age where humanity, more than ever, has the capacity for a just sharing of resources? We also must express our solidarity with the flood of refugees and immigrants, who, because of war, political oppression or economic discrimination, are forced to flee their homeland, in search of employment or in the hope of finding peace. The ravages of malaria, the spread of AIDS, illiteracy, the hopelessness of so many children and youth abandoned to life on the streets, the exploitation of women, pornography, intolerance, the scandalous perversion of religion for violent purposes, drug trafficking and the sale of arms ... the list is not exhaustive! Still, in the midst of all this distress, the humble take new heart. The Lord looks at them and strengthens them. "Because they rob the afflicted, and the needy sigh, now I will arise, says the Lord" (Ps 12:6).

12. Perhaps what most upsets us as pastors is the contempt for human life, from conception to death, as well as the breakdown of the family. The Church’s "No" to abortion and euthanasia is a "Yes" to life, a "Yes" to the fundamental goodness of creation, a "Yes" which can move every person in the depths of his conscience, a "Yes" to the family, the most basic community of hope which so pleases God that he calls it to become a "domestic Church".

Fashioning a civilisation of love

13. With our whole heart, we thank all priests, religious men and women and missionaries. Inspired by the hope which comes from God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, they dedicate themselves to the service of the weak and the sick and proclaim the Gospel of life. We admire the generosity of those many people who work for humanitarian goals, the persistence of those who lead international organisations, the courage of journalists who work at considerable risk for the truth and for the enlightenment of public opinion, the dedication of scientists, doctors and nurses, the daring of businessmen who create jobs in run-down areas, the devotion of parents, social workers and teachers, the creativity of artists, and so many other peace-makers, who seek to save lives, strengthen the family, promote the dignity of women, bring up children and preserve or enrich the cultural patrimony of humankind. We believe that, in all of these people, "grace is active invisibly" (Gaudium et spes, 22).

III. The Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Hope

A Call to Holiness

14. The Second Vatican Council presented a universal call to holiness. Bishops achieve this through the exercise of their apostolic ministry with the "humility and strength" of the Good Shepherd. One form of holiness which the world needs today is precisely the openness to all that is distinctive of a bishop, through his patience and boldness in giving "reason for the hope" which is in him (1P 3:15). In order to dialogue in truth with those who do not share our faith, our communion within the Church must be simple and authentic, so that all people, whatever their role within the Church, "preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3).

Struggling against poverty in poverty of spirit

15. Just as we must struggle to free those oppressed by a poverty which is destructive, so there can be a kind of poverty which frees our energies for love and service. This is the gospel poverty which we want to practise. We should be poor before the Father, like Jesus in his prayer, his teaching and his deeds. We should be poor with Mary, remembering God’s mighty works. We should be poor in the face of our brothers and sisters, marked by a style of life which draws people to Jesus the Lord. The bishop is the father and the brother of the poor. When it is necessary, he should not hesitate to raise his voice for those who have no voice, so that their rights will be recognised and respected. In particular, he "must do everything he can so that in every Christian community, the poor feel ‘at home’" (Novo millennio ineunte, 50). It is only then, as we face the world filled with missionary dynamism, that we can 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.

Communion and collegiality

16. The term "communion" (koinonia) belongs to the undivided Christian tradition of both East and West. It takes its strength from our profession of faith in God, Father, Son and Spirit. It is this relational mystery of unity and love within the Holy Trinity which is the source of communion within the Church. "Collegiality", which is at the service of communion, characterises 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" (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses IV, 26, 2) and announce it to all the peoples of the earth (Dei Verbum, 8). Communion and collegiality, when lived out fully, work together to sustain the bishop’s sense of well-being, humanly and spiritually. They help Christian communities radiate joyful hope and missionary enthusiasm.

A spiritual struggle

17. The Second Vatican Council, that "wonderful grace for the Church in the twentieth century", remains a "reliable compass to direct us along the right road for the coming century" (Novo millennio ineunte, 57). By remaining faithful to the Council’s teaching on the Church, the sacrament of unity, we will everywhere be able to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the hope of the world. Love for unity in no way implies indifference to currents hostile to that truth which shines so brightly on the face of Christ: Ecce homo (Jn 19:5). This love induces the shepherd, as guardian and prophet, to warn his people against false teachings which threaten the purity of Christian hope. This love leads him to oppose every slogan and stance which, claiming " to reduce the Cross of Christ to nothing " (1 Cor 1:17), at the same time obscures the true face of the human person and our sublime destiny as creatures called to share the divine life.

"Go then ..." (Mt 28:19)

18. Celebrating the Eucharist for his people every day, the Bishop unites himself to the crucified and risen Christ’s offering of himself to the Father, renewing in himself Jesus’ action of "giving his flesh for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51). During this Synod we were renewed in our own ministry of proclaiming to all God’s plan of salvation, extolling his mercy, sharing it through the sacraments of new life and teaching his law of love by bearing witness to his presence "always and until the end of time" (Mt 28:20). "Go then ...": this missionary task is given to all the baptised, to priests, to deacons, to those in consecrated life, to lay people. Through them, it is extended to "every creature" (Mk 16:15).

Weavers of Unity

19. "The Church becomes the home and school of communion" (Novo millennio ineunte, 43) by her openness to everyone, by lectio divina, liturgy, service and witness: this is this spiritual and pastoral challenge which moves the bishop to strengthen the faith of some, to reawaken the faith of others and to preach confidently to all. He will not tire in sustaining the religious fervour of parishes and developing missionary dynamism within them, in collaboration with the parish priests. Movements, small communities, and agencies of formation and charity, which constitute the tapestry of Christian life will benefit from his vigilance and concern. As an expert weaver of unity, the bishop with his priests and deacons, will discern and sustain all these charisms in their marvellous diversity. He will bring them all together to promote the one mission of the Church: to bear witness at the heart of the world to the blessed hope which is in Jesus Christ, our only Saviour. Mindful of the irrevocable commitment of the Council to re-establish full communion among Christians, the bishop will lovingly commit himself to ecumenical dialogue and to developing the ecumenical understanding of his people.

Ministers of Mystery

20. "Even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). This prayer is "both an imperative that binds us and a strength that sustains us". With Pope John Paul II, we express our hope for a "full return to that exchange of gifts which enriched the Church of the first millennium" (Novo millennio ineunte, 48). The irrevocable commitment of the Second Vatican Council to the full unity of Christians draws the bishop to engage with love in ecumenical dialogue and to form the faithful in its proper understanding. We are convinced that at the start of the third millennium the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of all the Christian faithful for this unity, a great sign of hope for the world.

21. This Synod wishes to express the bishops’ heartfelt thanks to all priests, their principal collaborators in the apostolic mission. Serving the Gospel of hope means renewing our fervour so that God’s call to work in his vineyard is heard. 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. The apostolic ministry cannot be separated from the mystery of hope. To give priority to this calling and to pray for "pastors after God’s heart" is not to underestimate other vocations. On the contrary, by doing so, we enable them to increase and be fruitful. We pray that permanent deacons, who are a reminder to all Church members of the obligation to imitate Christ the servant, will find in these words an expression of our support and encouragement.

Consecrated life

22. We are also deeply grateful to all consecrated persons, devoted to contemplation and the apostolate. Their presence and work give privileged witness to hope for the coming of the Kingdom and they often enable our apostolic ministry to reach people at the furthest reaches of our dioceses, where, without them, Christ would not be preached. Through their radical choice and the fidelity of their communities to the charism of their founders, " they put into song the musical notation of the Gospel " (St. Francis de Sales, Letter CCXXIX [6 October 1604]: Oeuvres XII, Annecy, Dom Henry Benedict Mackey, o.s.b., 1892-1932, p. 299-325).

Mission of the laity

23. Today more than ever, lay people are again playing their proper part in giving life to Christian communities, liturgical life, theological formation and charitable works. We wish to thank and strongly encourage all catechists, as well as those women and men, who through their different talents and together with the priests, deacons, and religious men and women have dedicated so much love and energy for these essential tasks. In a special way, we must give thanks for the loving witness of all those who join their sickness and suffering with that of Jesus and Mary at the foot of the Cross for the salvation of the world.

24. The bishops, for their part, wish to promote the first task of lay people, which is 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", particularly through their work in the media or in encouraging respect for God’s creation (Redemptoris missio, 37), may they continue to bridge the gap between faith and culture. May they gather together in organised apostolates in the important struggle for justice and solidarity and so continue to bring hope and meaning to the world.

Theology and Inculturation

25. Vividly aware of the marvellous diversity present in this Synod, we bishops have once again taken up the important theme of inculturation. We wish to acknowledge "the seeds of the Word" which God has implanted in different cultures, religions, works of art and in all the spiritual richness of different peoples throughout history. Developments in science and technology and the world-wide information revolution have forced us to examine the mystery of faith anew, with the energy, audacity and insight which characterised the Fathers of the Church, theologians, saints and pastors, who often did their work in times of trouble and change, such as ours.

26. The entirety of the life of our communities is involved in this steady work of dialogue and growth. But in order to explain the purity of the original Christian faith in a new and accessible language ever faithful to tradition, we need the particular contribution of skilled theologians. Like the great theologians who deepened our theological understanding in the past, inspired by the desire to be of one mind with the Church, they will help us be servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the hope of the world. May we continue in joy, prudence and loyalty, the dialogue between the great religions, in the spirit of the encounter at Assisi in 1986.

IV. Conclusion

We now broaden our horizons to include you, all our brothers and sisters who seek a world of justice, love, truth and peace. May this message encourage you in your search!

An Appeal to Political and Economic Leaders

27. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their message to governments, dared to say: " In your earthly and temporal city, God is building his spiritual and eternal city ". That is why, recognising our own limits and our role as bishops and making no pretence to any political power, we still dare to speak to our political and economic leaders: May the common good of all persons and peoples be your motive for action. It is not beyond your mandate to join together as broadly as possible to work for justice and peace. We ask you to remember those corners of the world which receive no media coverage and where our brothers and sisters are dying from famine and lack of medicine. The persistence of gross inequalities between nations is a threat to peace. As the Pope has explicitly asked you, we ask you again to lessen the burden of external debt on the developing countries, to defend all human rights, especially the right to religious freedom. Confidently and respectfully, we ask you to remember that all power finds its meaning in service alone.

Call to Youth

28. And you, young people, you are "sentinels of the morning". It is Pope John Paul II who gave you this name. How is the Lord of history asking you to build a civilisation of love? You have a keen sense of what honesty and sincerity require. You do not want to be caught up into divisive ethnic struggles nor poisoned by the gangrene of corruption. How can we be disciples of Jesus together and put into practice Christ’s teachings on the Mount of the Beatitudes? The Ten Commandments written in your hearts are not superseded by these teachings. These Beatitudes give the Commandments a vitality and a radiant inspiration that can win hearts for the Truth that frees us. They say to each one of you : " You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself " (Lk 10:27). Stay united with your bishops and your priests who are public witnesses to the Truth that Jesus is Our Lord.

29. Appeal for Jerusalem

Finally, we turn to you, Jerusalem,
City where God is revealed in history:
We pray for your well-being!
May all the children of Abraham meet once again in you
with genuine respect for one another’s rights.
May you remain, for all the peoples of the earth,
An everlasting symbol of hope and peace.

30. Spes nostra, salve!

Most Holy Mary, Mother of Christ, you are Mother of the Church,
Mother of the all the living. You are the Mother of Hope.
We know you accompany us always on the pathways of history. Intercede for all the peoples of the earth, so that they may find, in justice, forgiveness and peace, the strength to love one another as members of a single family!