Pilgrimage to an Extra Ordinary Synod

(CCRInt’l, a global representative body of Catholic Church lay citizens all over the world, made an epoch making representation to Rome, well prepared with an yearlong study over the reform inviting areas in the Church.  Janet Hauter: (Chair, American Catholic Council) was one among the team. Her notes are given here with a hope that it will lead everyone to have a better understanding of the Synod- Editor)

Day Eleven

Meeting wth former Daughter of CharityThe weekend Synod hiatus begins and our hearts are full with what appears to be hints of a slight conversion to center from some bishops who understand, to some degree, the needs of the people.  Who would have thought this movement could occur at all or so soon in the process?

The year ahead will be proof of the pudding, however, as it is crucial for all of us to develop a laser focus on building a relationship with our “home” bishops and cardinals to give them information, “lived experience” and our perspectives on issues, that will constitute the topical issues for discernment and decision making in next year’s Synod.  The Extraordinary Synod, this one here and now, views the landscape of pastoral issues that the bishops need to focus on and solidify an agenda for the 2015 agenda.  In a couple days, we will learn how the list of issues was whittled down to have a targeted focus on key issues.

This deliberative list creates a format for prayer, discernment and dialogue for both the bishops and ourselves. Our role here is to have discussions with other Catholics, priests, bishops, etc. that help us fully understand the issues from the list.  This means the history of church teaching, understanding the signs of the times and how church teaching could be more pastoral in supporting contemporary families in their struggles to live a Christian life.

The bishops on the other hand are to increase their collaborative dialogue with us (could be same meeting as above) and reach out to other bishops to share opinions and experiences of the faithful and to compare and contrast church teaching and its ability to be mercifully present to families.  We know that six additional prelates have joined with Cardinal Peter Erdo, the primary drafter, to help write the “relatio”, the summary of the first week’s dialogue of the Synod, and it will be released Monday.

Interesting as yet another Francis strategic move, the majority appear to be pope supporters on using mercy to resolve some of the conflictual issues!  :-)  This document then will serve to define the issues that will be foundational in all future interchanges seen as the “key focus document” defining where the bishops and the faithful are called to prayer, discernment and process issues that could drive implementation.

This drafting team is composed of the following: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture (to whom we have delivered our position papers and summary to date of our surveys). Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. (we have previously sent him an invitation to lunch or dinner and await a response). Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and one of the pope’s top theological advisors. (Also already sent same invitation). Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico, president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council. (We are researching whether he is English speaking). Archbishop Peter Kang U-Il of South Korea. (Also researching English speaking skills). Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón of Spain, superior general of the Jesuit order.

All current indications are that there is positive movement in the direction that our hopes and dreams are tied to.  The Spirit is working overtime!

Day Twelve – Today was a SPIRIT DAY!

Rene and I often wake up groggy from the activities of the prior day but eager to face the challenges facing us.  Today was one of those special days.  We woke early, did a couple hours of computer work and headed to Caravita for what we thought was 10 o’clock Mass.  We got to the train, ran to catch the non-existent bus which we waited for for about 20 minutes until an Italian couple kindly asked us if we were waiting for a bus (we were standing at curbside under the bus sign…) and he told us that they too were waiting for a bus but when there was none in sight, they asked the police patrolling the area.  They were told “No bus-a today!  It is a walking day!”  Really?

So we began our trek by taking another train and then hiking (I am not kidding) at least 7 miles as we continued to ask-a directions every time we saw someone who could direct us.  While they were kind and trying to be helpful, the help we needed was not forthcoming.  I challenge anyone to walk with Rene…she is often a block away while I am walking at top speed.Public Audience with Pope Francis

We arrived at Caravita for the 11am. Mass and discovered it was both the 14th Anniversary of the Caravita community and an ecumenical Mass shared with the World Methodist Council.  Part of Caravita’s mission is to reach out ecumenically to other Christian denominations. The Methodists came to celebrate with the Caravita community en route to Assisi for their annual prayer and dialogue conference. Catholics and Methodists together sharing fellowship and worship.  And the best part: all were welcomed to the table for Eucharist. Both the Catholic and Methodist communities see a great deal of convergence on the things they share in common and see very little that divides them.  Their theme is God’s Grace and Mercy with a focus on what binds them together.

The celebrant was Bishop Donald Bolen, the bishop of Saskatoon, who serves on the Ecumenical Council with them and warmly welcomed the Methodist community, recognizing the people and their leadership  by name.  It was gracious, inspiring and unifying.

There was a small reception following the Mass where those able to stay could get to know one another better and then we went off to lunch.  At lunch, we shared what a moving ecumenical experience it was to be at Caravita for the dual celebrations.  We lunched with Fr. Keith Brennan, Reyanna Rice, Sr. Filo and Rene and I.  Wonderful fellowship, food and lots of laughter.  We learned that Keith had  greeted the U. S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, who’d been at Caravita with us.  We will reach out to him this week to introduce ourselves and share our focus with him to see if he could help.

Then, we went to see Sr. Christine Anderson who heads the organization, Faith and Praxis for Global Leadership, and who has followed our progress enthusiastically.  She reminded us that we had accomplished an historic event in Rome. Rene had met Christine last year when she first came to Rome to interview people about Pope Francis.

Christine gave us some good suggestions of people to see this week. She also recommended that we write a book about our work and progress.  We will consider that after we arrive home as there is much yet to achieve while we are here and we must make maximum use of our time in Rome.  What do you think?  Should we think about this seriously?

Then, we arrived “home” and made an appointment to visit with Pope Benedict’s ex-butler.  You remember the story, right?  The butler went to the press when he witnessed the corruption in the Vatican; it was called Vati-leaks and the butler was jailed for 6 months for being a “traitor.”  He was eventually pardoned by Benedict as one of his last acts prior to retiring. After reading the report that the three appointed Cardinals submitted to Benedict about the truth of the Vati-leak facts, Benedict came to understand that Paulo Gabrielle, the butler, had acted out of concern for his Church and for Benedict. He is a significant figure in what is happening now because as the news came out, it became clear to Benedict that the scandalous events surrounding the Vatican were bigger than he, himself, could handle. Within the week of pardoning Paulo, Benedict retired as Pope.  Francis was selected because the bishops saw him as one who could do what needed to be done to “right the ship.”

Thirteenth Day

There has been a kind of rhythm to our visit that we’ve begun to notice.  Most days we have a loose schedule of meetings with people with whom we wanted to connect.  What has begun to happen is that the Spirit has confiscated our planners and peppered them with surprises.  Take today for instance: We woke and checked emails for appt. confirmations for the remainder of the week. We each had things to complete so for about 90 minutes we were each busy with our own tasks.

Then, Rene said she’d received an email from Marco Politi, a Papal biographer and famous Pope analyst highly respected in the media and in particular with the Vatican crowd because he is such a fair reporter.  He gave us less than 90 minutes to meet with him.

Since we were in pajamas, we jumped to get dressed and out the door to catch the bus which generally takes 40-45 minutes to get to the Vatican area. We were 8 minutes late!  Phew! …and what a conversation it was with Marco…he welcomed us warmly and we sat down to chat.  We had a number of questions of him related to the Synod.

He clearly stated that Francis is having a profound effect – both the impact of his personna and on Synod results.  We arrived to see him moments after Cardinal Erdo’s summary report of the first week’s activities had been released. Here it is if you’d like to read the full report: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html

Marco commented that this Synod was vastly different from prior Synods in its structure, tone and tenor.  He was pleased with the challenging direction Francis was taking–both within the clerical culture and with the faithful as well.  Marco was cautiously pleased that in this year between the Extraordinary Synod’s close and the beginning of the October, 2015 Synod much needs to happen within both populations.  Now there’s a concept!  Shared responsibility!!!

He told us that he has a new book being translated into English and published soon by Columbia University Press called Francis Among the Wolves. He asked about a possible book tour in the Fall to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Pennsylvania in September.  We’d like to explore this with COR and Future Church and see if they would like to work together or take the lead on putting this tour together.

From our conversations, here is what we’re seeing: Bishops need to dialogue with other bishops in a collegially collaborative manner on  summary report issues as the Synod closes.  The faithful will be expected to take that final report and engage in dialogue around those issues in their local communities (sounds a lot like our Regional Gatherings, doesn’t it?) and convey their opinions, concerns and hopes to their bishops.  Many issues have been discussed that will soon be in the hands of all as this second week closes the Synod.  The preliminary report is being discussed by the bishops in language groups (English, Spanish, Italian, etc.) this week to guarantee that the language is reflective of what was said and translations are accurate.

Of particular note, is Francis in the midst of all this.  He gets to the Synod Hall early and greets every attendee daily, he walks among the small language groups as they discuss and ponder how to create a balance between church teaching and lived experience.  It is clear that some topics will not gain total closure through this Synodal activity because of the breadth and depth of the issue content.  Francis is walking with these bishops as they learn new skills, entertain new thinking, debate and “encounter” the views of others that are different from their own.  He is always the last to leave.

Then Keith Brennan invited us to see the Salvatorian Center where their Superior General lives.  It is in an ornate old building and, because of its proximity to the Vatican, the Salvatorians have also incorporated a boutique hotel for Vatican Visitors. Below are two shots of their rooftop garden and gathering spot:

We heard stories about how the view of the Apostolic Palace where often seminarians and priests would watch a particular window there where at precisely 10:15p Pope Benedict would shut off the lights in his room for the night. Keith wrote in the registration book explaining why he was in Rome:

From the Salvatorian headquarters, we left to attended a panel discussion on: Marriage and the Family today:  Pastoral Challenges and Hopes in Light of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family with John Allen moderating.

John reiterated some of the points that Marco made, namely:  that this Synod is remarkably different from the previous nine John attended.  It is short, smaller and has a greater sense of urgency than prior synods.  John announced that we were in a climate of change watching this Synod unfold with clear areas of agreement with Francis which appear to be migrating toward majority finding a new language and attitude that is truly pastoral, not autocratic and reflective of having a kind of “Vatican II seal of approval .”

John indicated that the bishops are, for perhaps the first time as a group, looking at “lived experiences of families and marriage.” Hmmm…could we have had a significant influence on this language as we must have used this phrase dozens of times in our position papers, petitions, open letters to the Pope and our surveys? John indicated that we are all being called to a “lifestyle ecumenism” where we actively live the Gospel message and the joy that that brings becomes its own conversion moment for others. There has been extensive conversation in the Synod about cohabitation. The bishops seem to have come to the obvious conclusion that they nothing they say will alter this pattern of couples lifestyle today. So, like with contraception, they are, for the moment, avoiding direct statements about either topic and leaving it, without saying so, up to the individual conscience.  They have agreed to change their negative language and will no longer be passing moral judgments on behavior that, in the past, they have preached against. The Synod Fathers have concluded that there must be some pastoral action for the Church to support marriage after the wedding service with perhaps mentoring relationships in parishes following the service that have a robust, pastoral presence “walking with” the couple through the good times and bad to alleviate and/or anticipate the normal potholes of life.

The fundamental debates around divorced and remarried couples receiving Eucharist have the expected two camps: those believing any change betrays the Church and those who say that mercy is needed for healing through Eucharist, allowing bishops to make local decisions on these matters.  John has the perception that each camp is so ensconced in its defense that what may occur is that they approach Francis and say they could not resolve it and will look to Francis to make the final decision. However, according to Marco Politi, the naysayers seem to be in the minority. Ecumenical Mass at Caravita

One of the more controversial panelists talked about how the Church has taken ownership of marriage and while it has sacramental value, it has earthly reality as well influenced by science and lived experience and both are dynamic, ever-changing realities.  The audience was then left with the question:  “If science and lived experience defines marriage on the one hand and it is dynamic, how can a theology of marriage be status and unchangeable?”  Try that one on for size!

Following the panel discussion, we were invited to a reception where we had the opportunity to mingle with other attendees. One priest whom Rene spoke with was a Roman Catholic priest who had been married and now widowed. He explained that he had the “lived experience” of both sides of the issue. Rene also had the opportunity to speak with Mary McAleese, the former two-term president of Ireland until 2011. She is also an outspoken reformer. Rene shared with her how the reform movement had gathered in Rome to unite behind Francis for the renewal of our Church. Rene indicated that we would be approaching her to speak at a future gathering.

You might notice what Rene is holding in her hand. She purchased the 2014 Annuario Pontificio, the book with the email addresses and contact info for every Cardinal, Bishop, religious institution and organization throughout the world. So, CCRI committees, get ready. We have some additional communication work to do!

We arrived home exhausted from information overload and confirmation that indeed the Church is in a major metamorphosis; the bishops are re-inventing themselves. Their structures, their systems and their practices are in flux and we are all being called to a transformation bigger than any we have to date experienced.  Are you up for the challenge?

Fourteenth Day – A little insight into Francis and his human side

For Pope Watchers, tracking Francis has been an adventure.  Every Italian we have met in cabs, on buses, on trains and at events is enchanted with this man.  Many non-Catholics confess to watching him and his uniqueness as a Pope.  Some have recognized that he uses slang at times for emphasis.  On one occasion, he referred to God as his “bandar”, a gambling expression uniquely applied to God.  Francis used it in a context that demonstrated that God knows him,  knows what he is capable of and will support him—kind of a “I can bank on you!”

On issues of security:  “To be in the midst of people does me good. And then the people have need of a word, a handshake. I feel safe in the midst of the people.”

On another occasion, he said:  “–It is important to work and if one must work he cannot be all the time watching his back, thinking only of his safety. I do what I can, what at this time they allow me to do. Also the pope depends on a watch—he said this looking at his—and time passes quickly. Soon, I have a meeting with the Secretary of State.”

In response to “how do you feel as Pope?, he said:  “I have much peace. When all of this began, it has been like getting into something dizzying, strangely dizzying, because I had not expected anything, it seems to me unbelievable. But then, I get much peace. I did not dare to think that it was what He wanted, but at least He had not prevented it and I said to myself: “Si Dios me puso aquí, ¡que Dios me banque. ” (If God has put me here, that he sees it now, that he takes charge.)

This very human Pope is loved so much because he is one of us.  When butlers approached him to help him dress, he responded that he has learned how to dress himself–thank you.  It seems the most important thing is whether to recognize that we can say that God “banca: us” when we accept the challenges of his designs on each of us.

In the midst of all the activities, the crowds, the pilgrims—this can give us all hope…and some level of peace.

Day Fifteen – The Spirit is Working Overtime

The air is electric here in Rome!  Today Keith Brennan, Rene, and I attended the Public Audience at the Vatican to see and pray with Papa Francesco; it was an intimate gathering with 60-80,000 other people.  Incredible!  It was a public display of such love and joy at seeing Papa.  People were standing on folding chairs risking life and limb to get a picture.  All we were able to muster were Jumbotron photos because we smartly thought choosing chairs closer to the Basilica steps would get us a prime view of this incredible strategist!  NOT!  The Jeep he is in did not go among the seats but rather the crowds that stood behind the barricades!  So consistent with his own teaching…

Richard Bishop was able to get a much better photo of Francis when he and Reyanna attended the public audience the week before.

We were to meet, Tina Beattie, an author and strong feminist, but the public audience crowds did not allow us to find one another.  We’re looking at dinner tomorrow instead when the crowd dilemma is no longer as big an issue as it was today.

Rene and I sat down to have lunch en route to our meeting with Pope Benedict’s butler. Over lunch, we finally had time to discuss where we are going with all the information and the contacts we have developed and the Spirit invited herself to lunch with us.  She is a bit assertive when she wants someone to pay attention to her!  Nevertheless, having the time to talk through some of our findings, we began to connect the dots and see if there was a theme in our efforts.  You guessed it!  The theme was so clear, so loud, so inviting that it could have been the creative efforts of a Walt Disney production.

The idea has yet to be fully developed but the question is this: when was the last time that Church reform has gotten wholesale approval from a Pope?  When has a Pope ever stated that the work of the next 12 months lies squarely on the shoulders of the people and the bishops?  When did reformers ever get carte blanche to gather and talk about the future of the Church and function as co-architects in sharing with the Vatican and our bishops our dreams of a Church re-imagined.  I come from a tradition of having a beloved, now deceased pastor, who always called upon the People of God to re-imagine a Church that could be without a domination system that kept us prisoners in our own faith.  Patrick Brennan was that light in the darkness for so many of us that would pass other churches in our desperate attempt to find a Church that was relevant, a Church that could hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other when delivering a homily.  THAT was my experience of developing into an adult Catholic and I will never go back to being dominated or treated disrespectfully.

In short, what Pope Francis is saying and what several more progressive bishops are saying is that this next year, between Synods, must be about the People of God speaking up and sharing their lived experiences of family life. The bishops need to hear from them. We have experience at holding Regional Gatherings and can continue these into this next year. We have a survey currently active on our website and plan to continue this into mid-2015. We are seeing our next reform step is to continue what we’ve begun, ask all reformers to reach out to the local bishop and invite a partnership with them in setting up these gatherings. We anticipate that some bishops will and some won’t. But with them or without them, all reformers should move forward and gathering the faithful together to express their views and we will continue to get this information to the bishops around the world. Now that we have the 2014 Annuario Pontificio, we have almost all their email addresses now. We in the reform movement have our work cut out for us for this coming year.

We ended our day with a meeting with Paulo Gabriele, Pope Benedict’s butler who released Vatican documents that demonstrated the conspiratorial dysfunction of a system and structure that was amoral and un-Christian at its core. He brought his wife, Manuella, and a close family friend, Paula, with him. Paulo and Manuella are centered in the photo below. Paulo is a gentle and kind man who suffered greatly as an individual and whose trauma caused great pain for his family. There is little we can say about our discussion because there is still ongoing litigation. A holy war was launched against him and his family that deepens our desire to bring about change to a system that clearly is in great need of reform.

There are too many “coincidences” happening this entire trip to believe these were accidental and unrelated.  For instance, just after returning home from our meeting with Paulo, Rene opens her email to find an article by Leonardo Boff talking about the injustices around Paulo’s case. We found this statement of particular interest and share Leonard’ view. He says: “Within the Vatican Curia there had sprung up cliques and power groups which watched out for their own promotions and the defense of their hegemony over other groups. The Vati-Leaks scandal blew the lid off much of that. Ironically, it was the butler, a layman named Paolo Gabriele, who precipitated the implosion of the Ratzinger papacy. Maybe one day Church history will thank him.” After meeting Paulo, there is no doubt that we owe him a huge thank you. Without him, Benedict may never have resigned. Francis would still be a Cardinal. CCRI wouldn’t exist. And there would be no hope for reform in our Church.

Another example of “coincidence,” we missed meeting Tina Beattie only to find her name mentioned in an unrelated email arriving also this evening. Marilyn Hatton was sharing plans for the WOW convention in Philly and listed the speakers. Tina Beattie is one. We are having dinner with her this evening.

How does one not believe that these events, these messages are not part of a Spirit-led strategy?  We can’t help but wonder what she has in store for us tomorrow. As we made our way home, we walked past St. Peter’s Square. It is beautiful lit up at night. Better get some sleep as it is nearly midnight now and we need to have the energy for what lies ahead.

Sixteenth Day

It is 10:45pm and we just got home from an overly full day.  Rome is abuzz with all kinds of speculation on what the results of the small language groups will be.  Will it be more gobble-gook that is full of Church-speak either very lofty and hard to follow or overly instructional for us poor?

Today was one of those days where our thinking was challenged not because we were wrong or someone else was right.  Rather, our thinking was stretched in thinking about Pope Francis’ call to us to care for the poor.  Sure, we’ve all heard that and we get it on some level but do we really understand and act where the needs are greatest.

Rene and I worked on computer stuff this morning only for me to learn that my email was hacked, I can’t send out any emails and there for a time, I couldn’t even get online.  For me, that is trauma!  I fantasized about needing an IT-ER.

I finally gave up and decided that that pesky Spirit wanted something else from me.  While it wasn’t clear at all, I got dressed for the day as we were meeting a Columban priest who works a great deal in the Middle East and particularly in Pakistan.  The panel discussion we attended earlier in the week was provocative in its own right and this priest, Fr. Robert McCulloch, whom we were scheduled to meet with for lunch asked a question of the panel.  Since the panel was about marriage and the family, his question was complex and let me try it out on you.  He asked the panel how they would handle a non-traditional arranged marriage like regularly occurs in Pakistan — not just among the poor but among older, educated couples.  There are many, he shared, that never meet until the wedding ceremony.  The couple is given a year to learn about one another, to establish a relationship but after that year if it doesn’t work, the annulment is rapid.  His point was that the Synod is looking at outreach to here-and-now couples too much in isolation where he believes that one must look at the families across cultures where the mores are generational.

Our lunch meeting with Robert was a fascinating conversation and challenged us to think outside the box and create a way to get a broader perspective ourselves to help the Synod Fathers that the Western culture should not be their entire focus but to think holistically about a world where the same rules are impossible to apply to everyone.

Then we met with Fr. Keith to begin to develop a press release that we would release Saturday directly after the press conference on the Summary Report.  We don’t have lofty expectations especially since the fundamentalist bishops are cutting Francis into shreds calling him a bad pope and discrediting his style.  We have mixed feelings about this treacherous behavior.  On the one hand, it is near comical because the more these men scream about Francis, the more bizarre they actually appear.  On the other, Francis is a strategist and he handpicked the drafting team, slightly stacked with other Jesuits, who come from all parts of the world.  They knew when selected what their charge was to be in the midst of the animus among their peers.  They will be honest in telling the good, the bad and the ugly.

We developed the press release at a sidewalk cafe which demonstrated the eclectic nature of the Italian culture.  Behind us were a group of 20-somethings drinking wine and singing–obviously celebrating something.  As we tried to think clearly about what to put in the release, all of a sudden they would break into song, jump to their own beat and pop open champagne.  Alrighty then…

Ahead of us was a man painting a white door.  He was a perfectionist!  He’d paint with absolute full attention until a child walked up to him and asked him some questions.  He stopped, smiled and answered whatever the child asked.  Then, he returned to his painting.  I watched this happen three times with three different children.  Try to concentrate in that environment:  so loud that it rattled your liver on the one hand and diligent, focused solitary work of a perfectionist who could only have his attention deflected by a child.  And there we were like the filling of an Oreo cookie—trying to talk over the din of the singing, keeping one eye on an artist at work while committed to delivering the most honest report on an event yet to happen.

Then, we met with a woman professor from England whose name is Tina Beattie, a delightful woman who is a theologian, lives on a houseboat and who teaches, is a lecturer and has published scores of books on women in society and in particular in the Church.  She is a feminist!

We chatted over dinner and talked about our fear that the Summary Report, called the Relatio Synodi, will not address the role of women in the family since there appeared to be no evidence of same in the interim report or in any press releases that have come out.  I mentioned that we wanted to bring that issue to the fore in this year between now and the Synod (October 4-25, 2015) to demonstrate that the Church has a shallow view of the role of women and it is insulting that it is not one of the key issues needing attention, study, debate and decision by 2015.

Tina suggested that we write a paragraph inviting women who work with women all over the world to describe their work, their challenges, and their concerns.  The conversation was most revealing given the stories Tina knew about:  women caring for whole families infected with HIV-AIDS in Africa and how mothers in the family died of AIDS, the father abandoned the family of five children while two pre-teen girls went toward the city to become prostitutes to have enough money to eat while a young girl of nine cared for the remaining infant and the toddler who eventually died.  This girl became the only family the infant had and they bonded together to face the world.  The repeated trauma and the responsibility she now assumed caused her to lose her smile and she had only a vacant stare when people saw her.  The sisters in the community didn’t know how to tell this young girl, a child herself, that the infant she was caring for did have AIDS.

These bishops have no clue what the life of a woman is like and what they do to create community and help one another.  One goal we have for the months to come is to reach out to women all over the world who know of such stories to share them with us so that the bishops can actually learn what women endure, how they learn not only to cope for themselves but to care for others in need.

The mind has been stretched and we find it impossible to turn away when a holistic story needs to be told to hardened hearts that believe more in a Church of rules, power and control than a Church of compassion.  Wake up call desperately needed.

As we headed home, again we walked past the Vatican lit up at night. The image is beautiful but depicts a structure that is isolated, set apart, and out of touch with the rest of the world. Can we reformers change this in the year to come?

Seventeeth Day

Today has been a bit of a technical data entry day.  Visualize entering a couple of hundred email addresses on a spreadsheet for Synod voting attendees.  This often secret information is found for most in the Annuario Pontificio, the annual Pontifical Directory weighing 8+ lbs. and weighing twice as much as Rene’s son at birth!  CCRI now owns the book. The print is teeny and our eyes are blurry but we just completed that task.  Time to celebrate!

Our intention is to complement the bishops for their perseverance (not the best in all cases…) for the transition of a new Pope, a new process, a new style of communication and a new synodal structure.  They are men after all and need at least a polite “atta boy”!  We developed the database to be prepared for all our communications with the Synod fathers during the coming year and, in particular, for the email letter over this weekend as the synod winds down and they begin their trek home.

There are mixed concerns about the U.S. media around the drama of the forthcoming release of the Final Extraordinary Synod Report.  We met with the esteemed author, Marco Politi, who just wrote a book called Francis Among the Wolves and wolves is a great word because that is how the others are reacting to Francis.  The gloves are off and they are actively working to destroy him, his method, this synod and any message of change.  These are stressful times.  Wondering if the Spirit is on vacation or out for a stroll at best.  There is good and legitimate concern among some priests that two more conservative bishops – Hart and Napier – were added last minute by Papa Francesco. To offset this, however, you may have seen that Cardinal Marx just came out with a public statement that doctrine can develop and change. We will add this to our press release going out later today.

Rene and I had dinner with Keith and Reyanna prior to everyone’s departure and two of our party are very concerned with the Cardinal Burkes and Muellers of the world tearing Francis apart in extremely malicious ways.  For instance, they have threatened to have conservatives stop donating to the Church.  Some of us are concerned; others see this three-act play revealing some of the dysfunctional behavior of conservatives when their stance is threatened.  Someone needs to call on the Spirit to have a surprise ending here!

Through it all, Pope Francis seems to remain calm through the turbulent responses and strife between the conservatives and the liberals. Here he is seen walking into the Synod and giving the Swiss Guard a “low five.”

Eighteenth Day – Yet another blessed day!!!

Today is our last full day in Rome:  bittersweet… Longing to be home after three solid weeks of increasing our circle of influence here in Rome.  The three weeks were packed with absolutely no down time and often running from one appointment to the next.

Spent the morning packing as much as was possible since I have to sleep in my clothes this evening, be up at 3:45a., leave at 4a. for a 6:30a. departure.  Two hours to Munich and then an 8 hour layover there until I leave for good old Chicago.  With the layover in Munich and heading home in the daylight guarantees that I won’t sleep until I get home so…there are three projects I absolutely must finish before landing.  Wish me luck!

The climate yesterday was, as I shared, very tense.

Today as we prepared to leave for the Vatican Press Office a couple of hours prior to the press conference to be sure we could get a seat, we had no idea what we might face.  We were able to acquire guest passes and got seated in plenty of time.We saw many journalists we’d met and had time to chat about the events these last three weeks including Josh McElwee, Tom Reese, and John Allen.

Prior to the Synod final vote in the afternoon on the final document and with our translation earphones on, we listened to a panel speak to us in English, Spanish and Italian to tell us the progress of the Synod as a whole.  We expected content but really received progress which sounded (and was frequently repeated…) like this:  no conclusions are being reached in this Extraordinary Synod; we are looking at issues that affect the family and how the Church could support families better than it does; issues outside of the family are not being considered like women’s ordination-those issues are for another day.

All in all there was much dialogue around the conceptual blessings of living in family settings coupled with many societal pressures and responsibilities.  The bishops heard from selected families invited to the Synod and heard directly about the challenges they face.  The feedback was diverse and thought provoking and added depth to the bishops dialogue.

The bishops then broke into ten language-specific groups to discuss the varied elements of family life and how to be a support to them.  The process was entirely different from prior synods where an inordinate number of position papers were read by bishops to their peers which were 3-4 minutes in length.  Imagine sitting through an enormous number of such presentations and how selective listening would invariably set in!  This time they heard about lived experiences and the small groups added a dimension of collegiality and cooperation among these groups where they actually were asked to speak to one another frankly but respectfully.  This was unique for them.  This is also where the positioning began to happen where small groups adopted a consensus decision and offered those opinions to the whole.

We know that some sparks flew as the dialogue progressed and it came from one camp who want no change, want the status quo retained, while another group argued for a reform that was a compassionate outreach to issues that families realistically face, i.e., divorced and remarried being able to receive sacraments, recognition and respect for gays, and even gays living in committed relationships.

This synod was not to resolve the issues but to understand them within the context of the societal/cultural contexts where diversity is present.  Some of the African bishops argued for some dialogue around homosexuality: (1) as a condoned state, (2) where in some countries gays are murdered as they are seen as a disordered state, (3) or in Africa where some practices of polygamy exist, current Church teaching tell the husband to choose one spouse and the children from that relationship and send the others away.  In all cases, the issues were seriously considered and lived experience scenarios helped to broaden the bishops understanding of geographically cultural difference that cannot accommodate a “one size fits all” teaching.

In the press conference we were told repeatedly that the process was new, somewhat difficult because few had experience in it and the end product was merely to better understand a topic and relate it to family life as an agenda item for dialogue, understanding and decision making in 2015.  The new component was that the people are asked to engage in their own dialogue locally on the same issues that bishops will discuss further.  It is the first such Synod where true collaboration engaging the full People of God on common issues is mandated by the Vatican.  It is also in some way open ended.  If through this year of dialogue, encounter and discernment, the bishops cannot come to the Pope with a definitive merciful solution to support families, the Pope may be asked to step in and resolve open issues or another synodal experience of some sort may need to be initiated.

So, bottom line, we heard process, process, process… and how the process of the Synod was in itself a kind of reform. No solutions were expected to be reached because Papa Francesco wants the people engaged.  How awesome is that? After the conference, we went to lunch with Bob Mickens to test some of our theories.

Bob felt that having the bishops experience one another, have a deeper understanding of how lived experience sometimes cannot accommodate church teaching in these contemporary times, was the really good outcome of this Synod.  We discussed the open issue of whether doctrine will change in light of some of the archaic teaching and Bob felt that that was at the heart of the struggle that bishops were having which may continue through this year. We were pleased with Cardinal Marx coming out opening and saying that doctrine can develop and change over time.

After lunch, we stopped in a shop and found Bob Kaiser’s book on full display.

We learned that another press conference was being called for 6:30 this evening and we were torn. Our accommodation hosts were creating a farewell dinner for us this evening since we’d cooked for them on two occasions and ate out most of the other times.  They wanted to have a small farewell party for us as we have come to love one another in these three weeks.  So we were conflicted in how much of the 6:30 event we could attend and still take a bus and a Metro to get home at a reasonable hour for our private party.  Well…6:30 came and went and no press conference…By 7:10 an announcement was made that the press conference was delayed because the bishops had gone overtime in reaching their final votes.

At that moment, it was announced that copies were being made of the document and, by the way, the Pope received a standing ovation from the bishops at the close of his remarks. A cry of joy went out from most of the journalists! At that moment it was unknown whether Papa Francesco would release the report as written to the public.

Joy of joys!  In spite of the negativity we were hearing, the bishops did give a majority nod to the document prepared. What prompted a standing ovation? We gathered that it was because the bishops liked the experiences of this new process and found the process outcome an effective way to view problems?

We learned that a panel of bishops were coming in 15-20 minutes to tell us more if we could just wait.  Copies of the summary document would be readied at the close.  We learned as well that one bishop would present the summary in Italian and then the French bishop would speak and basically say the same thing in his language and so it would go with the English and Spanish speaking bishops.  We calculated it would take two hours for these summaries to be delivered followed by a Q-A so we bolted to celebrate our stay with our hosts, assuming we would pick up the content through the media as we travel.

We arrived home to an elegant table set with a top drawer dinner and conversation, pictures, hugs and kisses and a promise that we would return to their home next year for the 2015 Synod.  It is midnight and I need to close for now.  I will be back on Monday to wrap this adventure with a bow and draw some conclusions and think ahead to what the next year has in store for us. These just arrived over the transom and captures the reaction by the bishops to Papa Francesco’s comments.

Pope calls for Bishops to find middle ground between doctrine and the reality of family life today

Peace to all who have journeyed with us; it has been a Spirit-filled rich experience that has definitely created a metanoia experience.  What incredible joy we feel as we prepare to come home.

Nineteenth Day

(Janet is on her way home so I, Rene, will take up the blog today where she left off. I began the day today heading for Caravita for Mass and to say goodbye to friends.)

The Gospel was about Jesus being put to the test, asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Whether he said yes or no, he would fall into a trap. Wisely, he said: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. I couldn’t help but feel that this is the same dilemma that Francis faces with the Synod Fathers: unchangeable doctrine or compassion regarding families. Wisely, he called upon the Bishops to use this time between Synods to find a middle ground between doctrine and the lived reality of families in today’s world. Gerard O’Connell captured the essence of the Synod well in his article: Synod on Family Closes No Doors; Absolute Majority is with Pope Francis. Some of the key issues were only a few votes off from gaining the two-thirds majority. How doable is it over the course of the coming year for reformers to turn 104 votes into a 120, thereby giving the needed support to give the divorced and remarried official access to the Eucharist? it seems so possible….

After Mass, there is always a social. I said goodbye to Josh McElwee, to Bob Mickens, to Fr. Keith Brennan, and to the new friends I’d made in Rome. Small world, there was someone there also from the States named Joan McCafferty, who, in another lifetime, had been in the same religious community as I. We were both Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, God’s geese with the white coronet, and both from the same province of St. Louis. Joan entered community the year I left. I can relate to Jesuits who cling to their Jesuit upbringing. Joan and I both said that once you have been steeped in the Vincentian way of life, it is with you forever.

Filo suggested that we go somewhere new for lunch. We jumped on a trolley and headed for a little lunch spot called Carlos Monte in the Trastevere district.  Over a two-hour lunch and glasses of Chiante, we shared personal life stories and explored the next steps for CCRI and the reform movement. We recalled that our supporters had a vision for 2014: to write well-formed, thoughtful position papers as our recommendations to the Synod, to hold regional gatherings inviting people from around the world to meet and discuss family life in the context of Church teachings, to post a survey inviting everyone to share their views and personal stories about living a Christian Family life in today’s world, to tally the results of all of that into a summary report to share with the Synod Fathers, and finally to culminate all of that by hosting a Forum in Rome to welcome and support the Extraordinary Synod called by Pope Francis. Think about it – what a massive undertaking. And the amazing thing is: we did it. We did all of it. And it wasn’t just a few people who pulled it off. It was a worldwide community of believers, of people dedicated to the renewal of our Church working collaboratively together.

CCRI has said from the start that we want to be the Church among ourselves that we hope the universal Church will become. And Francis seemed to accomplish something similar with the Bishops. The most amazing part of the Synod was the process. It was unlike any previous Synod. It was Bishops not posturing, not giving empty speeches, but men sharing their heartfelt beliefs with one another, sometimes passionately, sometimes in heated debate, but always respectfully. For me, witnessing this process up close, this Synod served as a warm up, a kind of dress rehearsal for the real Synod of 2015. Filo and I discussed that we have our work cut out for us for the coming year. We have laid the groundwork this year for inviting people to speak out and share their opinions and stories from their personal lives. The difference is: now we have a papal mandate.

During the Synod Bishop Bruno Forte said: “Bishops from all over the world will have to listen to the laity in their respective dioceses….I expect laypersons to be protagonists who search for real solutions with their heads held high!” It makes it so clear what our task is for this coming year. We must continue to do what we’ve done this past year – invite the people to speak out in local communities around the world -but to do so, when possible, in collaboration with the local bishops. If only a few bishops respond to our outreach and work in partnership, clergy and reformers together, guiding the people to recognize that they have a right to speak up for the good of their church. This Extraordinary Synod accomplished five critical things that must be recognized and valued.

After lunch, Filo and I went into Santa Maria in Travestere.

I sat quietly in prayerful thought about all that we had discussed and prayed that the CCRI mission could continue to grow as a community and to work together joyfully for the renewal of our Church. I said goodbye to Filo until next year and headed for home.

As I walked up the stairs to Piazza Benedetto Brin, what has served as our home in Rome for the past three weeks, I was grateful for the loving couple, Flavio and Susanna, who have hosted us here. We too have become a family and will return to them next year. So much packed into three little weeks in Rome. I will always remember this time and sense that this historic moment of these first small steps toward reform in our Church will be something I want to tell my grandchildren, if I’m ever fortunate enough to have any, that I was there. We, all of us in the reform movement, have played a part in something monumental. My former now deceased husband, James Kavanaugh, wrote a book back in 1967 called A Modern Priest Looks at his Outdated Church. Sadly, that book is as modern today as it was 47 years ago. I have no doubt that he is rooting for us from wherever he is. We will, beyond any doubt now, see some kind of renewal in our Church and we will know that we have played a small role in making it happen.

P.S. If you wonder how we got those banners into St. Peter’s Square, it was not easy. I carried them from Reno to Rome and have just packed them up for carrying them home….to have them ready for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The final and twentieth day- Janet’s summary

Well, I’m home and it feels wonderful!  My head is still buzzing from the experience…I had just moments to look at some of the media commentary about the Synod and it certainly is mixed.  I want to comment on that.

There can be no mistake that what happened in the last couple of weeks was DRAMA!  Part of it was improvised and part of it was scripted but it seems to me that those who are negative on the synod missed some key points:

It was designed not to be a conclusive moment on issues.  It was designed to initiate a process that might yield an agenda for the 2015 synod.  Therefore, those looking for answers must either not have understood the process or expected something that was not in the script.

Secondly, Pope Francis brilliantly put the bishops on a petrie dish and asked them to dialogue and really encounter one another.  They were asked to be authentic and by golly, they were, which rattled many people who then drew conclusions from the infighting.  I guess that was easier for some than others.

We all come from families and experience the good, the bad and the ugly at different times in our lives.  So old Uncle Ray comes to many family gatherings and he likes the attention of being center stage.  In this one-act play of the last two weeks, Uncle Ray really had a hissy fit and had his 15 minutes of fame but his agitation came prior to the event as his job is changing and considered a demotion at that so tensions were high.  In the past family members would politely listen to some of his rants, this time it seemed different and I’m sure he left our gathering somewhat hurt and bewildered.

Then there is our great uncle, Gerhart, who some wondered if he was suffering from some malady because his rancor was at an all time high.  Was this behavior catchy?  The negativity coming out of him some of us felt was over the top but maybe he is getting angrier in his old age.  It was interesting that when he spoke, others stopped to listen and the moment he stopped, other family members simply went on with their original conversation as if he’d not spoken prior.

Then our “youngest uncle”, Timothy seemed to try to fit in with the other two.  He was always the most entertaining and seemingly positive the majority of the time.  Poor Timothy, he’d been stepping in it recently–saying the wrong things to the wrong people and of course there was that enormous lie he told and continues to deny when he lived in Milwaukee.  That event was embarrassing and because of it, he doesn’t seem so funny any more.

Even though that play caused some of our family to get concerned that all three uncles were acting strangely and there was talk after the event about their behavior causing such a ruckus.  This is my take:  these bishops were asked to be authentic and they have never been before and we saw these characters on a world stage as they tried to get comfortable with their boss’ request so they acted out to make the pain of their discomfort and different opinions get the best of them.  We all do it.  When life throws us a ringer, we all act in different ways than the norm and when the stakes are high, we may overreact.  It’s natural.  Their humanity was on stage and It was to a degree bewildering but it was “one small step for man” but one giant step for our Church.

I say it all too often but we are in a relational Church.  Jesus developed relationships because he was open to others and building relationships eventually builds community.

Rome is the backdrop in all its splendor to this drama and it helped to ground us to the untold story of becoming human, truly alive in a real Church where people are authentic, open and truly engage with one another on multiple levels.  It may be that we are all family in this Church no longer with some acting as if they were nobility in a rigid caste system but we are flawed individuals seeking relationships that can ease the sting of hardships as well as celebratory moments with one another.

This synod for me was a respectful nod to the history of what we once were as family with the uniqueness of seeing some of our family members changing as they age.  Some make the transition well and accept the inevitable with grace and dignity; others, however, become hostile and unaccepting of change while others, yet, move into another state of denial that disconnects them from reality.

This one-act play was cleverly produced by our global strategist, Papa Francesco, who knows intuitively that change is messy but he was charged with this responsibility as the world watched.  To release the negative energy, always predictable by some in change, Francesco invited all to speak transparently, to speak openly and not hold back.  He got what he expected and he watched and listened but as any good facilitator knows, he did not engage and let the communication play out.

Within the chaos created was some level of unity as all became uncomfortable so even those watching this one-act play began to call for Francesco to speak, to step in, to give black/white answers to bring order to chaos.  “Rome is burning” many yelled to Papa but the wisdom of this Jesuit knew that this play was staged in Rome, the “Eternal City” after all, it’s not toast.

Fundamentally, as a family, we have been told to grow up (I never thought this could happen in my lifetime…), to understand what Jesus has called us to…to love one another (it does not get any simpler than that) and while it is a simple call, it is never totally easy because we are each different.  There’s the challenge!

For those of you reading this blog, I pray that you look at our time in Rome as informative and energizing.  We spoke to many people, got many opinions about what was going on in the Synod and these opinions were quite varied but we all interpret from our own experience and understandings of people.  So while I leave you to make your own decisions about the Synod which will no doubt be interpreted through your unique lens given your own experiences, Act Two of this synodal process is ours to produce, to staff and to act as adult Catholics taking our role seriously to potentially celebrate the birth of a Church that is healthy and open to full participation of all.  If we all work together, it is possible in our lifetime.  I sincerely hope that we can continue to dialogue about these issues, share them respectfully and reap the benefits together.

We in Catholic Church Reform Int’l will study the summary document produced by the bishops and assertively engage people globally in a templated process to gather information to begin to write Act Two.  Please stay tuned.

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