Last night I took up my residence for the next two weeks in the International Center for Missionary Animation, located on the campus of the University Urbaniana on the summit of the hill known as the Janiculum, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica. Indeed, this rather modest residence has a most remarkable view of St. Peter's Square. Go to this site - http://www.ciam-va.com/foto.html - to see various photographs that will help you discover my new, temporary residence. Click on 'camera' to see my simple room... and on 'vista del terrazzo' to enjoy the view.
It's the Secretariat of the Synod that assigned the various residences to the participating bishops. I'm discovering this one for the first time. It's part of a university complex that the Vatican has built up over the centuries to ensure the specific formation of priests from what we used to call 'missionary countries'. In fact, the majority of the twenty bishops residing here come from these countries. At lunch, I conversed with Benjamin Ndiaye, bishop of Kaolack in Senegal, where the Christians make up barely one percent of the total population, a few drops in a Muslim ocean; with Samuel Kleda, archbishop of Douala in Cameroun, who worries about the corruption and avariciousness of the leading classes of his region; and with Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of Jos in Nigeria, caught in the struggle with the terrorist group Boko Haran. I'm quickly growing in my awareness of the universality of our Catholic Church; of the diversity of cultural, political and economic experiences that mark us; of the very particular - and minority - viewpoint that I bring, coming from North America with its wealth, secularism and liberal mindedness. I believe we'll be living a truly international encounter during the coming weeks, in the fullest sense of the word.
The event that gathered us on this festive day, a kind of forward to the Synod, was Mass with Pope Francis. In the short and poignant homily he gave - the kind he specializes in! - he drew a parallel between the Gospel of the day and our own synodal journey. In this Gospel passage, Jesus presents the parable of the vine, whose managers seek to control the profit in spite of the master's plan. Following the old tradition of the Psalms and of the prophets, Jesus reminds his audience that the vine is God's people. The master is God's very self, who tends his People 'with a love which is patient and faithful, so that they might become a holy people, a people that will bear many fruits of justice'. Who are the managers? Today, we could say it's the bishops. But here's the key question: are we like the managers of the parable, betraying the master's dream because of our own cupidity or pride, in order to make of it what we want? The Pope continues: 'We can 'disappoint' God's dream if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. May the Spirit give us that wisdom, which is so much beyond knowledge, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.'
Love of the people, wisdom, freedom and creativity: these are the kew-words to remember as we enter into the synodal process proper. I hope with all my heart that these words will indeed be characteristic of our work in the days to come.