Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Synod on the Eucharist"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 20, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Modern communication and mobility have facilitated remarkable changes in the Church. In the early days of the Catholic Church here in the Northwest, missionaries waited for months to receive responses from their superiors in Europe, or from the Vatican.

The Second Vati-can Council brought together bishops from all over the world to discuss the situation of the Church and of the world in which we live. The world was dramatically changing, and Blessed Pope John XXIII knew the council fathers had to be in dialogue about their present reality.

And what a change there has been!

As a follow up to Vatican II, periodically, synods have been held either representing the global Church or regions of the Church. The Synod on the Eucharist began in Rome on Oct. 2, and is scheduled to continue until Oct. 23. Some 256 bishop, delegates from around the world, have gathered here for three weeks of discussions on this very important topic.

The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist the “source and summit” of our spiritual life. In some parts of the world, culture has been dramatically secularized, often with significant impact upon the spiritual life of members of the Church and upon regular Church attendance.

Most synod delegates are elected by their bishops’ conference, and are then approved by the Holy Father. Some are selected directly by Pope Benedict. There are four of us from the United States: Joining me in Rome are Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, and Bishop Donald Wuerl of Philadelphia. Five others from the States were selected directly by the Pope: Byzantine Archbishop Basil Schott OFM, of Pittsburgh,; Melkite Archbishop Cyril Bustros, from Newton, Mass.; Cardinal Edmund Szoka, former Archbishop of Detroit, now president of the office governing Vatican City State; Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, former Archbishop of Denver, now head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, a Church court dealing with matters of conscience; and Archbishop William Levada from San Francisco, now appointed to Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Synod on the Eucharist began with an opening Mass on Sunday, Oct. 2, in St. Peter Basilica. The Basilica was packed.

The synod meetings are held Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Pope Paul VI audience hall, located slightly behind St Peter Basilica, is the location for the daily gatherings. At the entrance of the huge audience hall on the second level is the synod hall, which seats slightly over 300. The arrangement is that of a theater, with a sloping floor so everyone has a good view. At each chair are a microphone, and an earpiece to listen to spontaneous translations. The main languages are Latin, English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. A delegate’s seat is assigned, and at the beginning of each morning and afternoon session, an attendance card is to be signed (so no skipping out!).

An LCD projector shines on a center screen, and there are large TV screens on either side. The TV screens are used to focus on a delegate who makes a presentation. He remains in place. Several TV cameras are placed in the ceiling, much like a security camera in a supermarket, so that each delegate has a face on view of the camera without the need for a cameraman to be all over the room picking up the picture of a delegate as he speaks.

Each of the synod delegates is to make a six-minute presentation on some aspect of the theme. These presentations are made in the earlier days of the synod, each in one of the six languages. All of this takes time, but I must say that as one listens to bishops from all over the world, they speak of their own insights and practical situations so that one can appreciate in a very special way the diversity and universality of the Church. A bishop from Japan speaks of the very small Catholic population in his own country; a bishop from Tunisia talks about the special and appreciative relationship he has with the predominantly Muslim population in that county. A bishop of New Zealand shared the situation in Oceania, a diocese which includes one-third of the world’s oceans, six percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent (1,200) of the world’s languages. Another delegate made the observation that he has only one priest per 16,000 Catholics in his diocese.

The delegates also are divided into smaller language groups. There are 23 in my group, from Asia, Oceania, Africa, Canada, India, England, Ireland, and, of course, the U.S. (By the way, we from the U.S. need to be especially sensitive to the fact that all the bishops from North and South America consider themselves to be part of America although we often refer to ourselves in the United States exclusively as from America.) The smaller groups will meet more frequently as the synod concludes, to process all of the discussion and to draft propositions which will reflect upon suggested actions for the future. For me, the smaller group discussions are much more engaging, because of the size.

In the afternoon of Saturday of the first week, reflections were given on the 40th anniversary of the synod. Specifically, those reflections were on the regional synods such as those in Oceania, America, Africa, Europe, Lebanon, Asia, and so forth, dwelling on specific realities and challenges of those regions. In general, great appreciation was expressed for the assistance and effectiveness of these gatherings. Several did mention, nevertheless, that the results of these regional synods sometimes takes years to implement.

Finally, I want to make a comment on the hysteria created about a rumored statement on homosexuality among seminarians and priests. The rumors have generated a tremendous amount of press, much of it quite negative. There probably will be a statement forthcoming, but from recent reports that appear to be accurate, the statement will be nuanced and balanced. There are many wonderful and excellent priests in the Church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel. Witch hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church.

Please continue to keep the synod in your prayers. Each day you are in my prayers, and I ask yours for me as well.

Blessings and peace.

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