On the Road Together – The final post

20151025 Final Mass 277The final Mass at St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photography by Fiona Basile

"The Synod journey is far from over; in some ways an important new phase is only beginning. But we are much better equipped ... this doesn't mean we have a detailed road-map; but Abrahamic journeys never do. They require instead a listening of another and deeper kind."

27 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge

Into St Peter's we marched yesterday to close the Synod that had opened three weeks ago. It seemed like three months. When I made it to my place and sat down, I felt a fatigue come over me – probably the let-down after the intensity and sheer hard work of the Synod journey. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, thinking it was either my guardian angel or an MC telling me I was in the wrong place. But no: it was the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See who'd been sitting in the front row in all his finery and then saw me take my place. He needed to speak with me. Under Pope Francis, it seems, diplomatic formalities aren't what they used to be. No one stays in their proper place any more. All these surprises can be exhausting.

On the Road Together – A radio conversation

26 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Archbishop-Coleridge-in-Paul-VI-Hall-Photo-by-Fiona-Basile-wArchbishop Coleridge in Paul VI Hall. Photo by Fiona Basile.

A few of my blog posts were brought up in this interview with Noel Debien – from ABC Radio in Australia. We were able to speak about many Synod moments in the 30-minute interview. I enjoyed speaking with Noel before the final Mass of the Synod.

I told Noel: "There has been a genuine step forward on a long and complex journey to try to deal with people in a way the respects the truth ... but at the same time accompany people. Don't just hurl doctrine in their general direction. If there was any word that came to dominate the language of the Synod, it was accompaniment. In other words, you have to walk with people.

On the Road Together – Wonderment, gratitude, relief, weariness

"When Francis finished, the entire assembly gave him a standing ovation. This was heartfelt rather than some corny showbiz stunt. We felt we'd heard the voice of Peter."
25 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Final day at the Family SynodThe Pope packing up his things at Synod's end after he'd given another stirring talk. Cardinal Pell can also be seen. A bit like Where's Wally?

When we returned to the Synod Hall yesterday afternoon for voting, there was another touch of high farce – an unscripted skit to finish this Synod of surprises. After we'd recited the Adsumus prayer (used daily at Vatican II), the president of the day welcomed us back and then passed the microphone to the Secretary General, as he normally did.

Cardinal Baldisseri began by reminding us that we had to remember the change from "ora legale" to "ora solare" – in other words, turn you clocks back. Glad he mentioned that; I would certainly have turned up an hour late for the closing Mass this morning. It was one of Cardinal Baldisseri's finest moments.

He then proceeded in the normal way to register the presences in the Hall, which is something done at the start of each session. But this was more important than usual because we were about to vote on the final document. That's where the farce began. At the first attempt, 259 registered as present. But then two more bishops arrived belatedly, so we had to start all over again. Now we had 261. But then, in slow succession, two more entered the Hall, the last (a Curial cardinal!) to resounding applause. So we had to start all over again. Some were getting tetchy, but I found it seriously comical. After a third registration, we had 263 and we were told that now the two-thirds vote required to pass a paragraph was 177. Finally we could begin the voting. We all looked furtively at the doors to make sure no more stragglers could be seen.

On the Road Together – Unanimity was striking

"We were reminded again and again of the presence of the Holy Spirit amongst us. Of this presence, there was no doubt in my mind."
25 October 2015, by Dr Maria Harries
Spiritual partners and dedicated workers from the UK, Canada and New ZealandSpiritual partners and dedicated workers from the UK, Canada and New Zealand

It has been a welcome end to an intense three weeks as well as a poignant one. All of us are grateful for the time we have been privileged to share: a time of rich discussions, intense debate and the congenial settling of most differences. It is poignant as we farewell people that we would like to see again, whilst knowing this is unlikely. In our temporary ‘home’ at CIAM we shared in a cultural programme in which even the nuns participated in the dancing and singing.

Last Sunday we were again privileged to attend the canonisation of four saints in St Peter's Square. Relevantly for this synod, two of these, Ludovico Martin and Maria Guerin, a married couple, were the parents of five children, one of them St Thérése. Pope Francis's talked about them as a couple whose doors were always open to those in need and I thought with pride of all the women and men in our services in Australia whose focus is on those in need.

The week saw the preparation, discussion and voting on the final document that had been prepared by the 'writing group'. There is no doubt about the level of anxiety palpable as on a welcome day off we waited for the new document. Why the anxiety? Because there had been such criticism of the structure and some of the content of Instrumentum Laboris – the document we had worked with -and also because there were particularly divided thoughts about some matters raised therein.

On the Road Together – The last day

"There'd been some rabble-rousing discussion before the session about the method we'd follow. It'd been decided that we would read the entire document through in the morning and then vote on each of its 94 paragraphs in the afternoon."
25 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Here’s one of the commemorative gifts we were given – a rather lovely image in metal of the Holy Family.Here’s one of the commemorative gifts we were given – a rather lovely image in metal of the Holy Family.

The end is nigh. Upon entering the Synod Hall and until we began the prayer, I sensed a mood of restlessness tinged with frivolity as we looked to start the last day. There was a lot of movement, much chattering, a fair bit of laughter. At last we were to see the definitive version of the final document. This makes for Synodal excitement.

Mind you, the excitement was tempered by a chorus of coughing, with God knows how many bishops stricken (as I am) by some sort of cold. At one stage I felt like standing up and conducting the orchestra; there was so much coughing we could've attempted Beethoven's Fifth. All we would've needed was the odd sneeze or loud nose blow. They came later.

At the appointed time, the young, black-clad clergy who serve as assistants walked in quasi-liturgical procession down the aisles of the Hall carrying piles of a fat document. These they solemnly handed to eager bishops who received them with trembling hand, passing them quickly along the rows. It was a bit like when the exam papers were handed out back in the years when we were doing exams. We couldn't wait to see the questions.

On the Road Together – A New Congregation

"Pope Francis will be sitting poker-faced up the front, taking it all in and wondering what to do with all this. I don't doubt for a moment that he already has some thoughts. He's nothing if not a strategist."
23 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Bishop-Hurley-by-Fiona-BasileBishop of Darwin, Eugene Hurley, representing ACBC at the Synod. Photo by Fiona Basile.

When we made it back into the Hall yesterday, the Secretary General said the Pope wanted to say a word. My ears pricked up. This Pope doesn’t take the microphone just for the sake of it. What’s going on here, I thought. Well, again he caught us on the hop. For some time there have been rumblings that we may have a couple of new Congregations in the Roman Curia, and the Pope took this opportunity to announce one of them – a Congregation for the Laity, Family and Life.

Not sure why he chose this moment to make the announcement. It may have been a way of saying that things are moving in Rome in order to counteract a sense that has emerged at times in the Synod that nothing either is moving or should move. A gesture against immobilism? Who knows? But the timing was interesting. Nothing has been said about personnel but, as always, structures are only as good as the people you put into them. So we’ll see who the key people turn out to be.

On the Road Together – Seeking Reality

"Some seem to think that decentralisation and unity are incompatible. Clearly Pope Francis doesn't. The paradox, I think, is that 'a healthy decentralisation' could in fact strengthen the real unity of the Church."
22 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
221015hArchbishop Coleridge discusses Synod business with brother bishops. Photo credit: By Fiona Basile.

Yesterday was supposed to be a free day for all but 10 of the Synod members – those chosen by the Pope to draft the final document. They were hard at it all day and (I imagine) into the night. They have a colossal job.

But a few others – myself among them – were also tied up, trying to finish our assessment of the 520 proposed amendments to Part III of the working document. My little group resumed work at 9am, with Cardinal Lacunza saying he couldn’t stay beyond 10.30. So we agreed that we would finish by then. As it turned out, we finished by 10.25, with His Eminence making a very speedy exit for a big man. For me, what was left of the day was largely absorbed by talking to journalists – four of them. This was a bit tougher than it should’ve been because my voice had turned decidedly hoarse. But I managed to croak away.

On the Road Together – A View on the Blog

"The Synod ... is a steady diet of soap opera and theology, and almost too much for any reporter to keep up with."
David Gibson, RNS
22 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Archbishop-Mark-ColeridgeArchbishop Mark Coleridge

I have enjoyed speaking with journalists when time permits at this Synod. One of those journalists is David Gibson, who writes for Religion News Service. David has provided a view on my blog. You can link to his piece here or read below:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Barrels of ink, digital and real, have been spilled by journalists trying to convey the gravity of the high-stakes debate on church teaching in Rome this month, as the melodrama that a closed-door Vatican gathering of some 270 churchmen almost guarantees.

The synod, as it’s called, has it all: steady leaks to the press, rumors of lavish dinners and reports of intense lobbying, plus open disagreements over doctrine. It’s a steady diet of soap opera and theology, and almost too much for any reporter to keep up with.

On the Road Together – Developing Pastoral Plans

22 October 2015, by Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
221015bBishop Tarabay greeting Pope Francis during a break at the Synod on the Family.

I am currently in Rome, participating in the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “the vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world” and I am pleased to share with you some aspects of this experience so far.  

Last Wednesday, I had the chance to deliver my intervention at Synod. I spoke about the sanctity of marriage and the challenge of same-sex marriage, referring to points 130-132 of the Instrumentum Laboris. In my address, I underlined three main points being: the consequences of redefining marriage, the need to develop pastoral and spiritual plans for people with same sex attraction, and our call to work together as members of the mystical body of Christ to protect the family from all challenges especially that of a change to the definition of marriage. 

On the Road Together – The Soil of Real Experience

"We've come far but there's still a long way to go in a short time."
21 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
211015bHere’s a photo of my “small” group taken (in front of a huge sculpture of JPII) just after we’d finished our final session. I’m on the far left, next to Fr Adolfo Nicolas, Superior General of the Jesuits. The group included 18 nationalities.

Yesterday we finished work in the small groups. Our group was a very mixed bag, as were all the groups more or less. But English being spoken so widely we had a real jumble of nationalities (18), and voices spoke from vastly different backgrounds, at times it seemed from different planets. It wasn’t always easy to weave a tapestry from this but – thanks in large part to the tact and patience, the tactics and hard work of the Moderator, Archbishop Eamon Martin – we came close enough to it.

Yesterday we finished work in the small groups. Our group was a very mixed bag, as were all the groups more or less. But English being spoken so widely we had a real jumble of nationalities (18), and voices spoke from vastly different backgrounds, at times it seemed from different planets. It wasn’t always easy to weave a tapestry from this but – thanks in large part to the tact and patience, the tactics and hard work of the Moderator, Archbishop Eamon Martin – we came close enough to it.

On the Road Together – Pastoral Imaginations Flourishing

21 October 2015, by Dr Maria Harries
221015cMy view across the Synod Hall

‘I have been surprised at how fearful some are of change – as if the Church will collapse if certain language is used or if pastoral responses are too forgiving. This Church isn’t collapsing.’

The work of the Synod is taking more shape as we finished the second week of relentless presentations and conversations, and much fantastic pasta and just a few glasses of wine.

People are generally very weary but there remains a sense of optimism and the persistence of courage on the part of many synod members who have brought with them such a strong sense of the pastoral and a wish to represent the needs of ordinary folk in families throughout our very disparate world. I recall an early plea to the synod to let ‘our pastoral imaginations’ flourish during this time. Wonderful language!

On the Road Together – Invective, Fear and Surprise

"Those voices, clinging desperately to some imagined or ideologised past, cannot point the way into the future. History will have its way, however much we try to cling to illusions of timelessness."
20 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Archbishop-Mark-ColeridgeArchbishop Mark Coleridge

The Italians are past masters of the art of improvisation. In a restaurant (at least of the more old-fashioned kind) the menu is only a rough approximation of what they actually have on offer. So too with the details of the Synod timetable. At the start we were given a timetable, but there have been many adjustments as we’ve gone along. As a group reporter, you never quite know until the last minute when you’ll have to swing into action, so you just stay tuned and learn to improvise. Nothing is set in concrete; everything seems to be fluid.

I might add that the sense of fluidity has been aggravated by the weather, with unwelcome rain seeping through old shoes, leaving me with wet feet and now a (slightly) sore throat. Pass me a lozenge. In fact most of the bishops seem to be coughing and spluttering.

On the Road Together – Listening is More Than Hearing

"The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, requires the Church to develop synergies in every area of her mission. The path of the synod is exactly what God wants from His Church in the third Millennium."
Pope Francis
20 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
Archbishop-Mark-ColeridgeArchbishop Mark Coleridge

I’ve written already in my blog about Pope Francis’ remarkable speech a few days ago in the Audience Hall at a celebration of the 50 years of the Synod of Bishops. I mentioned it again this afternoon at the daily press conference on the Synod.

As we await the official translation, here’s an unofficial translation by Monsignor Peter Fleetwood of Liverpool:

Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

It is a joy for all of us, while the Ordinary General Assembly is in full swing, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, for which we praise and thank the Lord. From the Second Vatican Council until the present Assembly, we have experienced more and more intensely the necessity and beauty of “walking together”.

On the Road Together – Between Abraham and Moses

"We're caught at the moment between Abraham and Moses. All of the bishops have a bit of both in them, but some are more Mosaic than Abrahamic, others more Abrahamic than Mosaic. Let's hope the two patriarchs can embrace by week's end."
19 October 2015, by Archbishop Coleridge
191015aThe skies cleared as the Canonisation Mass continued. The clouds dispersed but the mitres were still everywhere.

Yesterday, being Sunday, was free from Synod commitments. But that didn’t mean free from praying and eating – both of which are done in considerable quantities during the Synod, free day or not. I had two invitations for Mass – one to the Domus Australia where Cardinal Pell was celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Aussie house in Rome, the other the Canonisation Mass in St Peter’s Square. I decided the Square was closer, so over I went with Bishop Hurley to join the mob of of bishops who gathered around the Pope as he declared four blesseds – among them the parents of Therese of Lisieux – to be saints.

These papal occasions have about them a grand formality, at least out in the Square. But things are a little less formal, in fact a bit messy, in the Basilica where the bishops vest. It’s very pleasant to have, as it were, the run of St Peter’s without the vast crowds that throng through it from day to day.

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