Church in the World
Pius XII honoured at bishops’ synodRobert Mickens
- 4 October 2008
Pope Benedict XVI has thrust the figure of Pope Pius XII to the forefront of the opening week of the Synod of Bishops by calling participants to a solemn Mass on 9 October to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his predecessor's death.
The synod assembly on the "Word of God in the Life of the Church" begins tomorrow with an opening Mass at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, followed on Monday by three weeks of daily working sessions at the Vatican.
But sources close to the liturgical planning told The Tablet that Pope Benedict had personally decided to suspend Thursday morning's working session and convene the more than 200 bishops and other participants to the special commemoration Mass for Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli).
The late addition of the Mass to the synod's programme has fuelled speculation that Pope Benedict plans to make a "special announcement", perhaps declaring his intention to soon beatify Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958. The beatification cause has been bogged down by longstanding criticism, especially from Jewish groups, that the Second World War-era pope did not speak out sufficiently against the Holocaust. The controversy has overshadowed other aspects of his 19-year pontificate, including the publication of the landmark 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, which opened up modern methods of biblical scholarship to Catholics.
On Tuesday, just two days before the special Mass, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, will address the Synod assembly on the centrality of Jewish scriptures in daily life and the education of children. It is the first time a non-Christian has been asked to speak at a Synod gathering and it is meant to highlight the growing rapprochement between Catholics and Jews.
The soon-to-be 81-year-old Ashkenazi rabbi has long been a co-chairman (with a Vatican cardinal) of the Catholic-Jewish bilateral commission. Chief Rabbi of Haifa since 1976, he has apparently never expressed his views publicly on the controversies surrounding Pius XII. His talk comes one day before the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Rabbi Cohen is apparently one of about 15 non-Catholic "fraternal delegates" who will be attending the 5-26 October Synod assembly. As of this week the Vatican had still not published the final list of participants. Six women, three of them Scripture scholars, will be among the 41 "experts" at the Synod and 19 others will join the same number of men as observers.
The Pope is the "president" of the Synod, but three cardinals will serve as presidents-delegate and rotate in chairing the daily sessions. They are Cardinals William Levada (prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Odilo Scherer (Archbishop of São Paulo) and George Pell (Archbishop of Sydney).
Synod Fathers with the right to vote on documents and statements include all bishops (representatives from bishops' conferences, Roman Curia office heads and papal appointees) and several heads of men's religious orders that represent the Rome-based Union of Superiors General. The format consists of a marathon of speeches/lectures followed by several small-group discussions. In 2005 Pope Benedict also added an hour of "open discussion" to the end of each day's session.