Published October 6, 2005
For the next three and a half weeks, I will be composing my column in Rome where I am attending the 11th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Pope Paul VI established this process as an outcome of suggestions that he received from many people during the Second Vatican Council. These recommendations were for a permanent structure that would allow the Holy Father to convene a representative group of bishops from throughout the world to discuss with and advise him on important issues facing the Church. There have been Synods on the Sacrament of Penance, the Laity, the Consecrated Life, Priestly Formation, the Life and Ministry of Bishops, and this one is dedicated to The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.
Each Episcopal Conference of Bishops throughout the world is invited to send delegates to the Synod, according to their size. The United States of America as one of the largest Episcopal Conferences was entitled to select four delegates. Ordinarily, the Episcopal Conference chooses from its leadership. Thus I was elected along with Bishop William Skylstad, the current president. Cardinal Justin Rigali from Philadelphia and Bishop Donald Wuerl from Pittsburgh are the other two U.S. delegates. The Holy Father also routinely nominates additional delegates from countries so that the composition of the Synod is truly reflective of the diversity of a given nation. Pope Benedict XVI has also nominated Archbishop Basil Schott, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh of the Byzantine Catholics, and Cardinal Edmund Szoka, President of the Pontifical Council of the Government of Vatican City (and former Archbishop of Detroit). We will join about 270 other bishops from throughout the world during the next three weeks to discuss the theme of the Synod, which is the Eucharist.
In the past, the Holy Father has issued an Apostolic Exhortation after the Synod is completed which is distilled from the discussions and recommendations that took place at the Synod. Of course, Pope Benedict may choose to conclude the Synod in a new process since he is free to utilize this consultative process according to his own desires. He has already made some modifications in the way that the discussions will take place—having a free and open dialogue with more than 275 bishops is a complicated task—I know firsthand about some of the challenges he faces with just the U.S.A. Episcopal Conference workings.
Each delegate to the Synod is invited to offer a six-minute intervention on some aspect of the theme of the Eucharist taken from the working document that has been prepared. Six minutes is not a long time to introduce an issue and listening to 275 six-minute statements can be tedious. There are language groups in which we have small group discussion on the topics (Italian, Spanish/Portuguese, German, English, and French). There is a Latin small discussion group; usually it is the smallest and oldest in composition.
So tomorrow, Monday, October 3, the discussions will begin. I am interested in hearing what the other bishops have to say regarding the Eucharist in their own countries. What are the trends in Mass attendance; how do the conditions of each region impact the Eucharistic practices of a given nation? What is the relationship between Penance and Eucharist, what Eucharistic devotions are present in local Churches? What are the concerns that bishops have in helping to strengthen Catholics’ belief in and understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist?
Thanks to the relentless and faithful work of Archbishop John Francis Donoghue, my beloved predecessor, I can proudly boast of the increasing spiritual devotion of Eucharistic Adoration and the vibrancy of our annual Eucharistic Congress here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. But I must also reflect on the areas where we must also grow in our love and devotion to this most central Mystery of our Catholic Faith. The theme of our 2006 Eucharistic Congress will be Until He Comes taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and calling us all to see and to accept the Social Justice obligations that flow from being Christ’s own Eucharistic People.