Far from being 'far from the madding crowd' the bishops curriculum was not all Synod. Fr Michael Sharkey explains THERE was a flurry of activity last Saturday morning as the extraordinary Synod completed its business. While the bishops were busy voting on the sections of the Final Report, three Latin scholars were standing around a Vatican word-processor translating the Holy Father's speech from Latin into Italian.
The Pope had listened to almost all the Synod before composing his final remarks. At gam his Latin text was rushed to the translation team so that by the time the Pope delivered his Latin speech at 11am, the Vatican press office would have at least one vernacular version available.
Earlier in the week there had been a variety of developments. The first version of the Synod "message" was rejected by members, because they fell that it was the sort of statement that could be made on any occasion, and what they wanted was something which would reflect what had actually been going on in the Synod Hall. They soon found a version that pleased them, and at the end of the Mass on Sunday it was read out in five languages.
One of the nicest, warmest moments of the week had been the formal response to the Synod by the ten ecumenical observers. When Professor Henry Chadwick rose to speak on their behalf, the Synod fathers were particularly attentive and expectant, and Dr Chadwick was at his professional best in language, sentiment and delivery. His speech was received with enthusiastic applause from all the bishops, including the Pope.
Much work had to be done to prepare the Synod's final "report". The language groups had reported back to the w hole Synod in plenary session. Professor Walter Kasper and his team of theologians working with Cardinal Danneels synthesised all these reports. The collated suggestions were then prepared for the vote.
Each bishop was given a copy on Friday evening, and the voting took place on Saturday, each proposition receiving overwhelming support. The most negative votes came when "subsidiarity" was voted on: but of the 165 voles, only 12 in fact were non place, (negative). , When the voting was complete, the Pope delivered his final address. Responding to the speeches and the debates of the whole Synod, and seemingly accepting the criticism that the Synod had been called at too short notice, he agreed to promote a study of the nature and authority of episcopal conferences, to speed up the publication of the Code of Canon Law for oriental churches, and to set in motion the preparation of a universal Catechism.
This last matter had been first requested by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Some immediately expressed their support, though others had their misgivings. However, as the Synod progressed support grew quickly and extensively. When it is ready, the catechism will he a compendium of Christian doctrine, a summary of what the
After his final address, the Pope took all the Synod members to lunch, a very happy and relatively informal occasion which concluded with a bit of a sing-song. The meal was served in the Vatican's "St Martha" refectory.
John Paul 11 was present for nearly all the Synod, listening, not interfering. He shared his meals with the Synod members in turn, and even during the morning break, when the bishops flocked to the coffee bar, the Pope went to one of the side rooms and received in formal audience those who wished to see him privately.
The language of the Synod is officially Latin. It is evident that a large number of bishops still understand Latin. English and Latin are probably the best understood of all the languages spoken at the Synod. (Fewer prelates put on their headphones to tune into the translation service when these languages are being spoken).
Without being triumphalisitic, there is a very real feeling of quiet satisfaction among the Synod members. They feel they have recaptured the atmosphere, the spirit of Vatican II. Their final "report" is really shaped by the four great constitutions of Vatican 11: the Church (Lumen Gentium) under the word of God (Del minim) celebrating the mystery of Christ (Sacrosanctum concilium) for the sake of the world (Gaudium et spes).
Many of the bishops attending the Synod have used their time in Rome to fulfil other duties as well. There have been some swift journeys from the Synod hall at the end of each morning to various offices of the Curia, Cardinals have attended their titular churches, bishops have made a point of seeing their seminarians who are studying in Rome, old friendships have been renewed and new ones established.
Many of the presidents of conferences have addressed their national seminaries on the work of the Synod. Cardinal Hume did so on Sunday evening after supper in the Venerable English College. In the low lighting that characterises a common room in Rome, the Cardinal settled into an armchair and shared the experience of the two week's Synod with the staff and students.
Cardinal Hume told the students, "there is no Pope in history, except perhaps St Peter, who has had such a close relationship with his bishops as John Paul II."
As the Synod ended and its members packed their bags and made their way to the airport, their final "report" was made available to the press. Many of the bishops will go home to warm welcomes and peace, some will go home to persecution, to poverty, to earthquake, floods and famine. They leave a Rome that is getting ready for Christmas. The shepherds have come down from the hills and are playing their bagpipes in the streets and piazzas. The huge crib is being erected in St Peter's Square. The Synod, as it were, disappears from public sight.