The 2018 Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment was overshadowed, in part, by the “Summer of Shame,” as it was often termed in the media, as clerical sex abuse took center-stage from damning accusations against disgraced then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to the devastating Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report; from the three explosive testimonials of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò implicating the Pope and several hierarchs in his inner circle for cover-up of clerical sex abuse to Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s ad hominem attack on Viganò (which affirmed, ironically, many of Viganò’s factual claims); from scandals being unearthed in the Pope’s native Argentina and his former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires to others erupting in neighboring Chile, where two bishops were laicized recently.
Then, at the outset of the Synod, and at various intervals during the gathering, pressure was exerted by certain ideological groups to “baptize,” as it were, the use of the acronym “LGBT,” which found its way into the “Instrumentum Laboris,” despite its not having appeared in any pre-synodal documents, contrary to what Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, had claimed. In fact, in the “Final Document” the paragraph which received the most non-placet votes was the one concerning homosexuality. Apparently, as a block the African Synod Fathers voted “non-placet,” and likewise Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (so went the word in the Vatican Press Office circles). This should come as no surprise in light of Chaput’s intervention at the beginning of the Synod in which he condemned in no uncertain terms the gender ideology associated with LGBT identity politics. Chaput’s argument was rooted in an orthodox Christian anthropology which refuses to accept the notion, albeit politically correct, that Catholic Christians should not identify themselves or be identified by others as “lesbian”, “gay”, “bi-sexual” or “transgendered” because the baptized are children of God whose human and Christian dignity does not depend on their expressed sexual orientation or preferences.
Saturday evening, journalists accredited to the Holy See Press Corps made their way amidst downpours in Rome to wait a few hours in the Sala Stampa for the bishops to finish voting – paragraph by paragraph (something not originally envisioned but clearly demanded by the bishops – on the “Final Document,” which is mercifully much briefer than the verbose “Instrumentum Laboris.”
The “Final Document” of the Synod contains much of the sociological language and data of the “Instrumentum Laboris.” It also records many of the same biblical references (e.g., the Lucan pericope of Jesus’ accompanying the disciples of Emmaus and the call of the young prophet Samuel), all of whom, attentive and docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, responded generously to the divine call, accepting the divine invitation to become God’s spokesmen.
Before Paolo Ruffini (Director of the Sala Stampa) and Greg Burke (Papal Spokesman) gave the final “Press Briefing” of the Synod on Saturday evening (around 9pm, Rome time), and we journalists were able via a live feed to follow the final events taking place in the Synod Hall.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri thanked the Pope, the Synod Fathers, the young people who were auditors, not to mention the fraternal delegations. There was a sense of joyful relief, and the Synod Hall erupted in sustained applause on several occasions. After Cardinal Baldisseri spoke, the Pope gave his final address in which he reminded us that synodality is an integral part of ecclesial life not limited to the Synod Hall but something of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration that transcends the Synod proceedings to touch the universal Church in all its particular churches and episcopal conferences, in which the young people are called to play a more active role of leadership and co-responsibility, a concept found in the “Final Document,” together with the notion that the role of women must likewise be more positively appreciated and valued in the Church’s internal life in all sectors.
Pope Francis also reminded us that the Church is our Holy Mother whom we must always defend, even if we as members of the Church remain poor sinners. In this regard, Pope Francis recalled the patristic expression, “Casta Meretrix,” referring to the Church as holy in her essence and yet sinful in her individual members. Finally, citing the Book of Job, the Pope warned us that the “Great Accuser” is pro-actively not only accusing Holy Mother Church but attacking and indeed persecuting her members, especially in the ancient lands of the Eastern Churches. The most moving moment of the final session of the Synod was when the Pope and all those present in the Synod Hall sang the “Te Deum” in Latin as an act of gratitude to Almighty God for the successful termination of the Synod.
Let us return for a moment to the Opening Mass of the Synod on Sunday, October 3, when from the first moment the Pope appeared on the sagrato of Saint Peter’s Square, he caught everyone’s eye as he carried a wooden pastoral staff that in certain circles was jokingly compared to a Wiccan staff. As I had expected, Pope Francis used this same staff for the Synod’s Concluding Mass on October 28. One wonders if he will use this staff on a regular basis, or he will consign it to a Vatican storeroom.
Pope Francis’ homily for the Opening Mass of the Synod was focused on Scripture passages in which the theme was young people dreaming. His tone was optimistic, but the content was vague. His homily for the Closing Mass of the Synod was centered on the Gospel of the day, taken from Mark, in which Jesus heals the blind man Bartimaeus. The Pope highlighted elements of this passage, relating them to key themes of the Synod like “discipleship” of Jesus in a “journey of faith”; “listening” to Jesus as an exercise of the “apostolate of the ear,” as Pope Francis cleverly termed it; the priority of “drawing close” to Jesus in a communion of life and love, which bears fruit in the concrete actions of daily life over and above the extremes of “doctrinalism” (whatever that is) and “activism.”
The other day, after the 1:30pm Synod Briefing, I walked into a restaurant on the Borgo Pio in the area of the Vatican and, as I settled into my place to have lunch, I noticed two Synod Fathers from Africa seated in front of me. They were towards the end of their meal and were trying to figure out something on their bill. The Italian waiter made attempt after attempt to communicate with them in Italian, to no avail. Finally, something clicked, and they were able to pay the bill and leave the restaurant. I had no idea what their original or even secondary language was. However, I could tell that their knowledge of Italian was at level zero. Then it dawned on me: How can these Synod Fathers understand well enough the “Final Document” written in academic and elevated Italian, without an even basic knowledge of Italian, let alone interpreters or a working translation?
This is something Diane Montagna already wrote about for LifeSiteNews.com, but I thought I needed to confirm her concerns as my own from personal experience of the phenomenon. Frankly, I cannot understand how a document can be considered “magisterial” when so bishops who voted for it did so based on a text written and presented to them in a language they barely understand, or at least not in any great theological depth.
When this question was raised by Montagna in the Sala Stampa, the answer that came back was in reality a non-answer. So much for transparency! It reminded me of Nancy Pelosi telling congressmen that they would understand Obamacare after it was implemented. Perhaps we need a Synod of Bishops on Social Communications and how journalism functions in the 21st century in the world outside the confines of the Vatican. Arguably, there is more transparency in the Trump White House than in the Vatican. From my perspective as a journalist, this secrecy is counter-productive and only serves to cement the idea that synods are indeed rigged or pre-cooked events.
Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary of Los Angeles, has expressed the opinion that any meeting as international and complex as a synod must in some way be fixed in advance. This I can understand as far as procedures go but not in terms of the “Final Document,” which gives me the distinct impression that large swathes of it were written in advance of the Synod. Perhaps I am wrong, but this would not detract from my basic argument that a Synod’s Final Document should be written in a language which the majority of the Synod Fathers comprehend. To pretend that the universal language of the Church is Italian is ridiculous. As far as I am concerned, its use is forced onto the Synod Fathers and has become a pretense for Italian prelates and periti, working on orders of the Pope, to exercise direct control over the synodal process in such a way that the Final Document says what they wanted it to say from the outset.
Then I ask myself: Is the Final Document truly a fruit of the collegiality and synodality, so frequently touted by Pope Francis and his equipe? Or is it something that is presented to the Synod Fathers as a fait accompli, requiring less than an informed vote due to their own deficiencies in the Document’s original, working language?
The Concluding Mass of the Synod was mainly in Italian, which also struck me as odd, considering that the Synod Fathers represented the Universal Church whose official mother tongue is Latin, not Italian. To be fair, certain parts of the Mass were in Latin like the Gloria, Credo and Pater Noster. However, given the challenge that Italian presented for many Synod Fathers, I wondered how they were able to concelebrate the Mass (especially the Eucharistic Prayer) in that language – when Latin would have surely been more accessible to the vast majority.
The Entrance Procession and Recessional were impressive as, first, the young people who were auditors at the Synod entered Saint Peter’s Basilica ahead of the concelebrating priests, followed by the Synod Fathers (the Eastern patriarchs and bishops looked splendid in their gold vestments and jeweled crowns!), and the Pope who carried that odd, wooden pastoral staff that made its curious debut at the Opening Mass of the Synod.
For my part, I climbed a narrow ladder to take my place on a rickety scaffold near the medieval bronze statue of Saint Peter. Near me were two young Carmelite nuns in their brown and white habits who had been sent by their Order to cover the Synod. Dutifully, we all knelt for the epiclesis and words of consecration and then climbed our way down the scaffold and back up again to receive Holy Communion.
The Sistine Chapel Choir was on its game. It has made a lot of progress from my seminary years in Rome back in the early 1990s when they were jokingly referred to as “The Sistine Screamers.”
A nice collaboration took place between Monsignor Palombella’s Cappella Musicale Sistina and Monsignor Frisina’s choir. A few of the more beautiful pieces that I enjoyed singing were the entrance hymn, “Jubilate Deo“; the “Eccomi” offertory hymn, whose refrain was in Italian, but whose verses varied from Spanish to English and then back to Italian; and the moving Communion “Pane di Vita Nuova,” whose eight verses alternated between English, French and Italian. Likewise, I appreciated the near-perfect execution of the “Kyrie,” “Gloria,” “Credo,” “Ubi Caritas,” and the concluding Marian antiphon, “Salve Regina.”
The auditors played various roles in the Mass. Some were lectors, others read the Petitions, and still others brought up the gifts at the Offertory. The servers of the Mass were seminarians from the Collegio Urbano “Propaganda Fide,” started by Saint John Leonardi (feast: October 9), Founder of the Order of Clerics Regular of the Mother of God, who have graciously offered me hospitality for my last three Roman sojourns. It happens that the Rector of the Collegio Urbano is my classmate from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Monsignor Vincenzo Viva, a priest of the Diocese of Lecce in the Puglia region of southern Italy.
Before the Solemn Pontifical Blessing, Cardinal Baldisseri, standing at a podium near the Papal Chair, and behind whom stood representatives of the young Synod auditors, read the Italian (presumably the original!) version of “The Letter of the Synod Fathers to Young People,” after which there was applause as the Pope got up to embrace Baldisseri, as well as each of the young persons flanking him.
After the chanting of the “Salve Regina,” the choir and assembly sang a hymn I had never heard before, entitled, “Cristo Gesù, Giovane Speranza” (“O Christ Jesus, Young Hope”). The melodic hymn was comprised of an Italian refrain and six verses, alternating in different languages, including Italian, English and Spanish. The refrain, roughly translated, reads: “O Christ, young hope of one journeying through the world, You are the way, you are truth, you are our joy.”
The verse that struck a particular chord with me since I am a Mariologist by trade was verse four, that I would translate as follows: “In Mary, we contemplate the maternal icon of the Church; on her young and joyous countenance the light of grace shines upon us.”
It is a perk as a journalist accredited to the Holy See to have in advance, albeit under embargo, both the text of the Pope’s homily in various languages, as well as in the case of the Closing Mass of the Synod, the Letter of the Synod Fathers to Young People.
A word of gratitude is due to Monsignor Guido Marini, one of whose books on the Sacred Liturgy I had the privilege of translating for Newman House Press several years ago. Thanks to Monsignor Marini, the Papal Masses go off without a hitch, everyone carrying out his role with the utmost dignity and decorum. I hope the Pope appreciates his loyal and competent service as Papal Master of Ceremonies.
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