Today, we started the work of the Synod. To give you a sense of the rhythm of such days, let me share with you my schedule : 6 a.m.: rise, individual morning prayer and office of readings; 7 a.m.: Mass, followed by breakfast; 8:15: departure for the Vatican, where the morning session started at 9:30. Coffee break at 11:00 and continuation of morning session until 12:30. Return to the residence for lunch and rest. At 4:00 p.m., departure for the Vatican, where the evening session ran from 4:30 to 7:00 without a break. Return to the house for the supper at 7:30. Here I am in my room at 8:30 p.m., answering my e-mails of the day and preparing the text you are now reading. I think I'll sleep well today.
I've already mentioned that this is my second Synod. This morning, I witnessed a first difference: Pope Francis arrived twenty minutes before the beginning of the session to welcome the participants with a warm handshake. He came down to the bar to share the coffee break with us, speaking with all those who approached him. What a breath of fresh air!
The Synod's procedure is friendlier. The presidents speak their own language, rather than Latin. Moments of humour lighten the process. There's a feeling of true fraternity in the hall.
This morning, the Pope spoke out to invite us all to speak openly and frankly; and to listen attentively, with humility. These are the two qualities necessary for the true synodality, a word which litterally means 'walking together'. My feeling is that the bishops are taking this invitation seriously.
Two long speeches followed: the first, by the secretary of the Synod, outligned the work of the secretariate since the last assembly three years ago; the second, of a theological slant, presented some of the questions that we will be discussing during the next two weeks.
The afternoon sessions saw the beginning of the interventions of the delegates. Each can speak for four minutes on one point or another of the Working Document. (which you can find at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20140626_instrumentum-laboris-familia_fr.html.
One improvement during this synod: the interventions must follow the order of the Working Document. Since the topic I wanted to speak about is found in the first paragraphs of the Working Document, I was one of the first to speak. I presented a few thoughts connected to number 15 of the document: Some reasons for the difficulty in receiving the teaching of the Church in today's world.
What I expecially wanted to say was that we should not only focus on what is negative in the world which is ours. True, there are many broken families, abandoned children, deeply wounded individuals. It is true that sexuality is often lived more as a leisure activity than as a true loving language of deep self-giving to another. It is also true that less and less couples are choosing marriage today. However, there are also positive realities in our world today. I named the commitment to equality between men and women in marriage, the refusal of all violence to children and women, the growing role of fathers in the affective life of their children, the place given to communication, mutual respect and healthy relationsihops. All of this is good and should be recognized and celebrated by Church leaders, creating openings for dialogue with society where the Church can proclais its humanizing teaching on family, marriage and sexuality.
I also expressed my conviction that the Church herself can be enriched in its theological reflection on marriage by such a dialogue with the modern world. Bishops made such a move fifty years ago at the Second Vatican Council. We should imitate them in encountering others, as Pope Francis invites us to do.
And thus did I finish my four minutes of great nervousness (my hands were shaking) and adrenaline rush. Many of my brother bishops shared words of encouragement with me. However, let's remember that this was only one of sixteen interventions this afternoon. There followed an hour of free discussion where each speaker was allowed three minutes.
This is how one bishop summarized the afternoons talks:
1. We have a lot of work to do in renewing the Church's language about sexuality, marriage and family life. We need to move from a theological and moralizing language to one which is more biblical and more inspiring, which will raise up spirits and hearts and invite us all to the our better natures.
2. We need to appreciate the gradualness of the Christian experience as it grows in time, often very slowly; whence the importance of welcome, pastoral accompaniment and patience.
3. We need to look at today's world with friendship as we seek those openings (my words!) which will allow a true dialogue between Church leaders and those who experience the challenges of family life.
And so ends the first day, intense, rich, tiring. I think it's time for bed!