Christ always wins: Pope opens Bible Synod in style

08 Oct 2008

By The Record

Scripture is essential to Church’s evangelizing mission, Pope says.

Papal visit: Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the Quirinal Palace for a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in Rome on October 4, the day before he opened the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. The next day, Oscar-winning Italian actor Roberto Benigni, right, reads from the Book of Genesis for a live TV broadcast inside the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI kicked off a Bible reading marathon that day on Italian television. The Pope read for several minutes from the start of the Book of Genesis live from his apartment at the Vatican while other speakers read in the Basilica of Holy Cross.
Photos: left: CNS/Antonio Di Gennaro/Italian Presidency Press Office, Reuters, and bottom: Alessandro De Meo, Reuters





By John Thavis

ROME (CNS) — At a Mass to open the world Synod of Bishops on the
Bible, Pope Benedict XVI said knowledge of Scripture was essential to
the church’s evangelizing mission in an increasingly godless society.

"It is indispensable that the church know and live that which
she proclaims, so that her preaching is credible, despite the
weaknesses and poverty of her members," the pope said Oct. 5 at the
Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

"Only the word of God can profoundly change the heart of man,"
he said. The need for such conversion is great in today’s confused
society, in which human beings sometimes proclaim themselves "the only
masters of creation," he said.

Following the papal liturgy, the pope kicked off a marathon
reading of Scripture on Italian television. The next day, at the first
Vatican assembly of the three-week synod, about 300 synodal
participants listened to a report outlining the main themes of

Key topics included the need to strengthen religious formation
and remedy "the ignorance of the Scriptures," the improvement of
preaching based on Scripture, and greater guidance on biblical
interpretation — perhaps through a new papal encyclical.

The pope convoked the 12th general assembly of the Synod of
Bishops on the theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the
Church." He was to preside over most of its twice-daily sessions and
accept its conclusions as the basis for a likely papal document on the

He celebrated the opening Mass in the basilica dedicated to St.
Paul in part because the church is marking the 2,000th anniversary of
the saint’s birth, and in part to highlight the connection between
Scripture and evangelization.

The pope, dressed in gold and green vestments, processed into
the basilica with bishops from around the world. Also in attendance
were synod delegates from other Christian churches.

In his homily, the pope said the purpose of the synod was to
consider "how to render more effective the proclamation of the Gospel
in our own time" and to underline the need to "place the word of God at
the center of our life."

Like St. Paul, who evangelized with enthusiasm and urgency, the
church today senses new opportunities for spreading the Gospel, he
said. But it also recognizes that in some parts of the world,
Christians have fallen away from the practice of faith, he said.

The pope’s homily centered on the image of the vineyard in the
day’s liturgical readings. The prophet Isaiah described the divine
project of salvation as a vineyard that was planted and cared for with
love, but which brought forth only "wild grapes."

In a New Testament parable related by St. Matthew, Christ describes a struggle over a vineyard to illustrate unjust behavior and the rejection of God, the pope said.

These images remain relevant today, he said, especially for Christians who have been given the gift of the Gospel.

"If we look at history, we are forced to notice the frequent
coldness and rebellion of incoherent Christians. Because of this, God,
while never shirking in his promise of salvation, often had to turn
toward punishment," he said.

The pope noted that some flourishing early Christian
communities have disappeared, and asked: "Could this same thing not
happen in our day and age?

"Today, nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing
their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a
certain modern culture. There are those who, having decided that ‘God
is dead,’ declare themselves ‘god,’" he said.

The pope, turning to a dominant theme of his pontificate, asked
whether people who remove God from their lives can truly be happy, and
really can build a just and peaceful world.

"Is it not more likely — as demonstrated by news headlines
every day — that the arbitrary rule of power, selfish interests,
injustice and exploitation, and violence in all its forms, will extend
its grip?" he said.

The pope then returned to Scripture, pointing out that the
biblical passages promise that God "does not abandon his vineyard," and
that "if in some areas faith weakens to the point of vanishing, there
will always be other peoples ready to embrace it."

He said the message from Scripture is ultimately a
positive one: "the certainty that evil and death will not have the last
word, but it will be Christ who wins in the end. Always."

At his noon blessing at the Vatican the same day, the pope asked
Catholics around the world to pray for the success of the synod. He
said synodal assemblies were particularly important because they
brought together representatives from every culture and population, in
a direct exchange of information about local realities.

On the evening of Oct. 5, the pope read from the Book of
Genesis as he led off a Bible-reading marathon on the Italian state
television. He was followed by Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of
Vienna and Austria.

After the famed tenor Andrea Bocelli sang Johann Sebastian
Bach’s "Lodate Dio" ("Praise God"), the Italian actor Roberto Benigni
read the next section of Genesis.

The inauguration of the unprecedented initiative, "The Bible,
Day and Night," was broadcast on the main channel of RAI, Italy’s
state-owned broadcasting company. Most of the remaining 138 hours were
to be shown on a sister satellite channel, RAI Educational.

Each of about 1,200 people from 50 countries — including
Catholics and other Christians, as well as several Jews and Muslims —
was to read for between four and eight minutes until all 73 books of
the Catholic edition of the Bible have been read.

The synod got down to business Oct. 6, with the reading in
Latin of a lengthy pre-discussion report. Prepared and presented by
Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, the synod’s recording secretary, it
synthesized the main themes that have emerged during months of
preliminary consultations.

Cardinal Ouellet told reporters afterward that the synod would
come up with concrete suggestions for helping Catholics learn to read
the Bible, to pray with it and to share its message with the world.

The synod’s first week was to be dedicated largely to
individual speeches by synod members and invited guests. In an
extraordinary move, one of the first speakers was a Jewish scholar,
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, Israel, who was to
talk about the role of Scripture in Jewish life.

In order to increase the opportunity for open discussion in the
synod hall, each of the 253 synod fathers will have a maximum of five
minutes to address the assembly. At the last synod in 2005 the limit
was six minutes and before that it was eight minutes.

The participants include the 253 voting members of the synod,
made up of cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and a dozen priests who head
religious orders; 12 "fraternal delegates" representing other Christian
churches; and 35 invited observers and experts.

The Vatican said the synod’s 253 voting members included
bishops from Hong Kong and Macau, but none from mainland China, because
Chinese authorities would not allow them to attend.