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Today in Reading, England, at the site of the Railway Tavern where Blessed Dominic Barberi was taken in to die, a Blue Plaque was inaugurated and blessed. Dominic was travelling by train with another Passionist to the recently founded Passionist Retreat at Woodchester when he had a heart attack. Put onto the station platform at Pangbourne, he lay there until a train going in the other direction brought him back to Reading where he was given a bed at the Railway Tavern. Blessed Dominic died there later that day, 27 August 1849.

“My heart, O Lord, will never rest content, until I behold that which I desire. Thou hast begun the good work, and do thou vouchsafe to finish and perfect it, through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever liveth and reigneth one God world without end. Amen.”
(Blessed Dominic Barberi C.P., Lamentation of England)

The above photograph and the news of today’s inauguration and blessing are taken from Catholic Schoolmaster‘s blog.

(Father Richard Barton of the Clifton Diocese has a very interesting podcast on Blessed Dominic and Woodchester, and beyond, here.)

World Youth Day 2011

The journey to Madrid for the World Youth Day is beginning in these days. A phone call yesterday gave me news of the pilgrims going from Sydney to Madrid, some via the Holy Land and some via Rome. The pilgrims from our Province will leave Dublin and Glasgow on Wednesday, going first to Valencia and then, next Monday, becoming part of the group of about five hundred young people from Passionist parishes and communities around the world at our college in Alcala de Henares, just outside Madrid.

For pilgrims and for those following from a distance, here are some words of encouragement from Pope Benedict last Sunday: In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear how Jesus calms the storm and urges the disciples not to be afraid, but to put their faith in him. Often we too find ourselves caught up in storms and tempests that fill us with anxiety, but Jesus assures us we have nothing to fear if we simply place our trust in him.

May this World Youth Day be a moment of grace for all who will take part. -And here’s a reminder of last time:

Synod Faces

What better way to finish my coverage of the Synod than by a few photographs that didn’t make it into earlier posts?


Father Waldemar Linke from Poland


Father Leo Bos from the Netherlands; behind him is Father Jesus Maria Aristin


Father Antonio Curto from Italy listening


Father Piergiorgio Bartoli from Italy listening, while Father Antonio Curto talks and gives hand signals at the same time.


Father Michael Ogweno listening, while Father Antony Xavier Tharayil has a siesta.


Father Giuseppe Martinelli looking pensive; in the background is Father Battista Ramponi, the General Econome


The four Major Superiors from Africa, Fathers Raphael Mangiti, Antony Sikhalele Mdhiuli, Aloysius John Nguma and Emerie Kibal


The Secretary General of the Passionist Congregation, Father Ramiro Ruiz Betancourt


and finally the Secretary of the Synod, Father Jose Luis Quintero (my boss during these days), sending greetings to all ‘Laus Crucis’ readers.

Synod Sketch – Day Ten

The Final Day at the Passionist General Synod. There was a change of timetable today. We had nothing to do until the first session at 9.00 a.m. which was to be followed by Mass. The usual routine has been as follows: Synod Mass at 7.00; morning sessions from 9.00 until 12.30, with dinner (-most people nowadays call it lunch) at 1.00. After lunch, I would start the daily summary, trying to cover the morning’s work before the Synod took up again at 3.30. The Synod continued from 3.30 until 7.00, with Evening Prayer at 7.30 and supper at 8.00. After supper, I would do the second half of the daily journal, and then write my Synod Sketch, which I usually finished at about 11.00. Last night I decided to take advantage of the late start, so I stayed in bed until the General phoned me at 7.45. (Why does somebody always phone when I decide to get up later?)

The closing session is described in the daily summary which you will find in my earlier post (Synod Day Ten – Summary from the Drafting Commission) or on the Passionist General Synod Blog. If you haven’t already looked at it, go over (not now, but when you’ve finished here!) to the Passionist General Synod Blog. They have some interesting things there, including, in a documents section, the full text of the three parts of the General’s report; click ‘documents’ at the top of the page, and then look for ‘Relazione P.Generale, 1a parte (en)’, then ‘2a parte’, and finally ‘3a parte’. There are lots of photographs on the site too.

This morning was basically a tidying up session which lasted about an hour and a half, after which we assembled in the Retreat House Chapel for Mass at 11.00. (One of the good things about the way the Synod was organised was that we never went directly from work to Mass or Prayer, but always had a quiet period in between.)


Father Aloysius Nguma from Tanzania, wearing his lanyard on the opening day of the Synod

You might remember, if you have been following this blog closely during the Synod, that on the first day each of us was given a yellow lanyard which we then had to leave in the aula. Before Mass we were asked to take a lanyard and write a word on it which expressed the Synod; these would then be used for a dinamica after Mass. I wasn’t sure what a dinamica was, but I wrote ‘speranza’ (‘hope’ in Italian) on one of the lanyards and then asked one of my multilingual brothers what the word meant; he said, ‘It’s kind of liturgical, but it’s not liturgical’ which gave me an idea and at the same time no idea, so I decided to wait and see. The Mass was, as usual, very prayerful with good music and a homily by the General (see my previous post for the text). After Mass, we were given our ‘dinamica’ instructions: we were to exchange lanyards with the person next to us, sharing the words written on them as we did so – then do the same with someone else. This exercise developed its own dynamism and in the end I had five or six changes of lanyard; the words I received included patience, bridge and charism, but the one I ended up with was in Spanish: Ilusion. At first I was disappointed because I thought the word simply meant ‘illusion’ (-I don’t speak Spanish), but after conferring with my multilingual brother, I discovered that it also means ‘hope’ which was my own word. How very ‘dinamica’.


The ‘dinamica’ in progress; photo by Fr Miguel Angel.

As for the meaning of the word ‘dinamica’, looking at the photograph, I think the nearest we have to it in English is ‘muddle’, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In today’s summary you will find some of the evaluations of the Synod given verbally by Synod members. For myself, I think the funniest summing up of this kind of meeting is one I heard many years ago after a Provincial Chapter, given by my old mentor, Father Marius, beloved friend of many readers of this blog. He said, ‘Sometimes I think a Chapter (or in this case we might say a Synod) is like two elephants trying to have a baby. Everything happens at a very high level, with enormous difficulty, and it’s a long time before you see any result.’

A great expression when I studied in Rome was chiavi di letture which literally means ‘keys for reading’; in English we might say ‘key-words’. So, what were the key-words from the Synod? I would say there were five; the first four were Solidarity, Charism, Dialogue and Discernment. The fifth word, used so often in Latin countries as a spiritual value, has no single word in English which sums up the richness of its meaning for southern Europeans. In its Italian form, the word is Cammino, which means path, way , journey or the state of being on the road to somewhere (what the Second Vatican Council called ‘the Pilgrim Church’) so, taking a leaf out of the book of Father Massimiliano, the Podcasting Passionist, I thought I’d finish my Synod Sketches with a song. (I really would have preferred Ken Dodd singing ‘On the Road to Madalay’, but I could only find Robbie Williams on YouTube.)

Homily of Most Reverend Father Ottaviano D’Egidio for the Closing of the 14th Passionist General Synod, Rome, 31 October 2010.

My dearest Brothers of the Congregation,
Let us thank God for these days that we have spent together. Let us do this with the Eucharist where Jesus himself becomes thanksgiving to the Father by his death that is renewed and offered in another “Last Supper” in the cenacle of this chapel where He again is priest and victim and where we, together with Him, form the mystical body which is the Church.

Solidarity has its maximum expression on the Cross where Jesus dies for us and in the Cenacle where He takes bread, which is His body, and breaks it and shares it among the disciples. He takes the cup, which is His blood, and he gives it to the disciples so that they may all drink from it. Breaking and sharing the same bread and drinking from the same cup are the “sign” of sharing and solidarity and doing this we “remember.” We do this in this Eucharistic sacrifice where: “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1Cor.10:17) Personal choices, choices as a Synod and as a Congregation cannot contradict what we are celebrating. It was sharing and breaking the bread that it could be distributed, that enabled the disciples of Emmaus to recognize Jesus.

However, the days of this Synod, two years after the Synod of Cuernavaca, were not easy. We experienced foggy days, feeling lost, feeling afraid and feeling tempted to a “reverse Exodus”—wanting to turn back, like Israel, to slave labor and the precarious life in Egypt. God had a plan for his people; it was not a plan to help the powerful, but to free the oppressed.

Moses himself had his doubts and he resisted the call of God who reassured him: “I will be with you.” (Ex.3:12) It is a small phrase, but it has a strong meaning: what does man have to fear if God is with him? Man can fulfill the mission that was entrusted to him because he will not be alone in fulfilling it – God will be with him.

The presence of God strengthens, encourages and transforms. This is what today’s gospel reminds us with the account of the meeting of Zacchaeus with Jesus in the biblical city of Jericho—a vast oasis rich in water, date palms and fruit trees, and there are also sycamore trees that appear in today’s gospel episode. Jesus is travelling toward Jerusalem (we, too, as a Congregation during this historic period of Restructuring are travelling toward Jerusalem). In the crowd that gathers around Jesus, there are two individuals who are on a similar faith journey: an anonymous blind man who cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Lk.18:38) He screams out, and he is annoying because in addition to yelling he is also begging; but Jesus, always accessible and welcoming, heals him: “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” (Lk.18:42) The other individual is Zacchaeus and both of them, the blind man and Zacchaeus, at the moment that Jesus is passing by, react, take the initiative, and finally are able to “see” Jesus and to find salvation in Him: salvation is offered to the poor man, but also to the rich and the sinner.

The biblical exegetes say that the episode of Zacchaeus is among the most meaningful in the gospel of Luke because it contains many of the elements that are cherished by the evangelist: the journey, wealth, the desire to see, the encounter, the contrasting of values, the immediacy of salvation, and the mission of Jesus who was sent to bring Good News to the poor.

They are many elements that describe Zacchaeus: he was rich, he was small in stature, he was a sinner – a Jewish man at the service of the Roman occupation troops- he extorted money from his fellow citizens; however, he wanted to “see” Jesus. The gospel says he “ran ahead” and he climbed a sycamore tree. And up there, he waits and he watches from a distance, not wanting to get too involved; but Jesus looks up and calls him by name: “”Zacchaeus, come down quickly..” and surprisingly Jesus invites himself to his home… “for today I must stay at your house.”

Salvation is offered today. We, too, are aware that it is often this “today” that is present in our search for answers for our mission and as yeast in today’s world. Using the current process of reviewing positions and the weaknesses and strengths of our communities, there is the common desire to discern appropriate responses to the “today” of God whose Reign is in our midst. “Today I must stay at your house”– Zacchaeus hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy. If it is authentic, the meeting with Jesus accomplishes salvation: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

It is sharing; it is a change of view and relationship with others; it is the capacity to act with generosity. Jesus, observing the conversion that took place in Zacchaeus during the encounter (“Today I must stay at your house.”) says: “Today salvation has come to this house.” This “today” from the mouth of Jesus still resounds, confirming the divine intervention in that moment of grace and responsibility. It is a “today” that is always new, that becomes the future for the Church and for the Congregation and for our young and for us who are responsible to them for the task entrusted to us as elder brothers. This refers to the Restructuring and choices that we are making. However, faithfulness requires of us greater enthusiasm, courage and faith in God. Let us avoid impeding the future by each of us remaining ensconced in our houses and in our own situations: God has invited us to leave the encampment.

Zacchaeus does not make any other statements to Jesus: he is only happy to receive Him and he promises solidarity with the poor and the restitution of goods to those that he has defrauded, and Jesus says that salvation has entered that house. The same thing will happen in the first community of Jerusalem where powerful witness was given when the disciples placed their goods in common. (Acts 4:34 ff.) Similarly, Zacchaeus strove to share his wealth and to repay what he had unjustly extorted.

Justice that is restored reconstitutes him as a son of Abraham; solidarity affords him new membership among the people of Israel. Meeting with Jesus–Solidarity—Salvation: three words and three realities that are intimately connected in this episode. Each is a result of the others. They are also symbolic for us and for what we are trying to do as a Congregation during these years and during the days of this Synod: they should be directives and confirmations of what God wants from us “today”—a word that Jesus says repeatedly in this gospel.

And I am not surprised that this gospel is offered to us today for our study and reflection, as if God was closely following our journey. He knows our weakness and indecision; but he wants to affirm the plan He has for us in our spirit and in our heart. The gospel episode of Zacchaeus is his word for us as we close the Synod. It is his prophecy for us. He wants to tell us that meeting and living with Jesus (“I must stay at your house”) is fundamental and it is the premise for every act of salvation. It is an invitation to a profound spiritual life and intimacy in community with the Lord (“at your house”). We want to assert that an authentic encounter with Jesus converts and helps to restore justice and to recognize the rights of the poor.

It generates and strengthens the capacity to share goods and lives. And this initiates salvation; it is the Reign of God in us and in the Congregation. And the gospel, in its mystery, also reminds us about the mission that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” It summarizes the meaning of the entire mission of Jesus and our mission through the Passionist vocation that we received. In fact, He is the shepherd who came to search for the lost sheep and He did so by going to the houses of “sinners” and by allowing himself to be crucified among “thieves”.

In the reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul begins with a prayer in which he asks that the Lord “bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” so that the Christians of Thessalonica could always be “worthy of his calling” and through them, “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” It is an invitation also to us to carry out the work that has been entrusted to us.

In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, it states that God loves everything that he created. Love has a determining role to play in creation- “you love all things that are” because his “imperishable spirit is in all things”—and this is especially true for human beings. God has compassion on everyone; little by little he corrects; he forgives our sins and he loves life. God wants to convince us of his love for us – an infinite love that we have come to know on the Cross where Jesus, out of compassion for us, went to take our place: the innocent One who became the guilty victim for all the sins of the world. And as a Congregation, and as the Passionist Family, through our vocation we are witnesses of this through the charism of St. Paul of the Cross and the mandate of the Church. I thank each and every one of you especially for your presence and your participation: we are a gift to each other. Let us entrust the work of this Synod and the next two years in preparation for the General Chapter to the protection of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani” (The Health of the Roman People).

May St. Paul of the Cross bless us and protect you as you travel home. Amen.

The closing session began with a prayer reflection led by Fr Orven Gonzaga. The session was chaired by Fr Luigi Vaninetti, who began by saying that the session would consist of four parts: the reading by the Synod Secretary of the decisions taken by the Synod; a statement from the General Econome on the expenses of the Synod; a verbal evaluation of the Synod on the part of the Synod members; the Superior General’s concluding remarks.

Fr José Luis Quintero then read the text of the six proposals which had been agreed by the Synod. These are: the proposal on the Solidarity Fund from the Commission on Solidarity in Finance; the proposal to study the question of criteria for the viability of provinces and the situation of the vicariates in preparation for the 2012 General Chapter; the proposal on giving decision-making powers to the configurations; the proposal that the General Council consult our own religious and the members of the various Passionist lay movements and examine the situation of the various groups, with a view to including references to our Passionist lay movements in both the Constitutions and the General Regulations; the recommendation to provinces regarding the eligibility of Passionist Brothers to the role of First Consultor; the proposal that the configurations continue to operate until the 2012 General Chapter.

The General Econome, Fr Battista Ramponi, then gave the Synod members a detailed breakdown of the costs incurred during the Synod, including travel to Rome for Synod members, food and lodging, rental of equipment for the secretariat and translators, costs for facilitators and invited speakers. He compared these to the costs of the last General Synod in Cuernavaca and the last General Chapter in Rome. He explained how the costs, including travel, would be redistributed around the provinces, vice-provinces and vicariates according to their ability to pay, following the same percentages used for the annual contributions to the General Administration.

The statement from the General Econome was followed by a time of sharing for evaluating the Synod. The Synod members had already received a form for a written evaluation on the previous day, containing the following questions: What were the three most useful aspects of this Synod of for you? In what way has the experience of this event impacted on your current configuration in terms of solidarity for formation, personnel and finance? Which aspects of the Synod were less helpful? Do you have some suggestions to make regarding content and process for another Synod? What have you learnt personally during this Synod? Do you have any other comments? The written responses to these questions were to be returned today and would be collated by the Synod Secretariat but, as a shared evaluation before the Synod would close, the members were now invited to give their views.

Among the opinions expressed were the following: I want to recall what Fr Michael Mullins said about the role of the leadership group as a resource for moving the process forward and his underlining of the need for us to work in a systemic way. The Synod has been a time of critical distance which has strengthened us for going forward, filling us with hope and expectation as Passionist believers, convinced of the importance of the process. The strengthening of the Solidarity Fund is a very positive step and help our presence in Africa and other parts of the global south. The diversity of cultures and apostolic experiences in the configurations is a blessing, teaching us to live with differences in a changing world; the open mind, open heart and open will referred to by Sister Christine will help us in this. I am glad I was able to bring a translator with me; this helped with understanding what people said, but there is another task to be accomplished: that of understanding the situation and culture out of which people speak. It was good that we made some progress on solidarity but we did not look sufficiently at the question of a common mission at the service of the Kingdom of God.
Some of the remarks were directed at the way in which the Synod was conducted: The method lacked a clear way of proceeding. The timetable did not give the topic for each day, after the initial period of receiving input and reports, so it was impossible to prepare for the day’s session. During the final days we failed to centre on the important themes. Yesterday, Sister Christine gave us tasks for the next two years, but these should have been the main tasks of this Synod. Language was a problem, especially for interaction with people from other regions. The Synod seemed to come to an abrupt ending; the decisions we were asked to take did not flow from our discussions; the reports from the configurations did not influence the drawing up of the norm for the configurations, which ignored the paths already being followed by CPA and PASPAC. The Synod did a good job in agreeing on solidarity in finance, but I hope it does not take ten years to reach agreement on the other two areas of personnel and formation.

Various people were recognised for their contribution to the work of the Synod, including the facilitators, Fr Francisco Ó Conaire OFM and Fr Aquilino Bocos Merino C.M.F. Fathers Don Webber, Patrick Duffy and Robert Joerger who formed the panel for the session on sexual abuse were thanked by members of the Synod for the sensitivity and clarity with which they spoke. The various members of the ‘staff’ of the Synod were also thanked for their work.

Father Ottaviano D’Egidio, Superior General, then gave his concluding remarks. The evaluation has been useful and helpful. There were perhaps some moments of confusion in the Synod, with texts not being sufficiently prepared before being submitted to the assembly. During this Synod we evaluated the viability of the configurations. It was useful to hear the strengths and weaknesses not just of the configurations but also of some of the provinces and vicariates. The General referred to no. 37 of the second part of his report, where he had highlighted the two crucial points which the Synod needed to clarify: 1) the viability of the configurations, and 2) the legislative and executive capacity required by the councils of the configurations. Fr Ottaviano now referred to the four principles of nomads, which can be useful in a time of restructuring: 1) adapt to nature: 2) adapt to other people; 3) practice openness to others; 4) practice reciprocity of life, which means not helping someone so that they will help me, but helping another so that someone in the future will be helped. In one of his novels, Flaubert wrote, ‘Do you love this person enough to give up your happiness for their happiness?’ Jesus did this for us. The General then went on to thank all those who had worked to support the Synod and all the Synod members for their participation. He said that yesterday had been a disappointing day for him but that now he was more hopeful, and he encouraged the Synod members to go forward in the process of restructuring, without putting a brake on things. It was their task as superiors, he said, to let people know what had happened at the Synod; no one should try to obstruct the move forward, but all should consider themselves bound by what has been decided together. This was the time to go forward joyfully, under the guidance of Saint Paul of the Cross who is smiling down on us.

The session was followed by Mass presided over by Fr Ottaviano, during which he preached the final homily and formally closed the 14th General Synod of the Passionist Congregation.

A Synod Marches on its Stomach

At the Passionist General Synod, one of the compensations for sitting in the aula for hours on end is the food. In Italian monasteries the food is always good, but during the Synod the Servants of the Passion and of Our Lady of Sorrows, who have a convent in the grounds of Saints John and Paul, have spoiled us.

Breakfast


Tea (There’s coffee too, of course; we’re in Italy.)


Bread


Rolls


Marmalade


Cheese


and Fruit.

Now for the mid-morning break:


Pizza


Fruit and Nuts


Mineral Water and Soft Drinks


or Fruit Juice.

What’s for Lunch?


Everything is ready…


but most people aren’t here yet.


Begin with pasta…


or rice,


followed by meat…


and potatoes,


with salad and cheese, some fruit and a glass of wine.

It’s a hard life at the Passionist General Synod.

(How anyone is able to go out for gelato after that, I do not know.)