- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Church in the World
Pope Francis’ hand-picked group of eight cardinals pressed on with its sweeping programme of Vatican reforms this week as he praised John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, as “the Pope of openness to the Spirit”.
The so-called C8, who are advising Pope Francis on reforming the governance of the Church, met earlier this week after the historic dual canonisations of John XXIII and John Paul II, which were concelebrated with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on what became dubbed “the day of four Popes”.
At the cardinals’ three-day meeting – their fourth since October – they appraised the work of the 12 pontifical councils. The Pope attended most of the meetings and the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, participated regularly, the Vatican said.
Its statement added, “there is still much work to be done”, and the C8’s tasks would not be completed this year but in 2015, suggesting that the scale is larger than initially thought. The council has already reviewed the work of the Vatican’s nine congregations, with emphasis on reforming financial structures, and on Tuesday heard from Maltese economist Joseph F.X. Zahra, the head of an office Francis established last July to critique the Vatican’s organisational and economic issues.
At the end of this week, two bodies set up as a result of the C8’s deliberations were to hold their first meetings: the Secretariat for the Economy and a Vatican commission to advise on safeguarding and abuse issues. The Pope was to address the economics group and greet members of the abuse commission.
In his homily to the crowds of 800,000 pilgrims gathered for the canonisations, Pope Francis said the Second Vatican Council had provided a vision of the Church that captured the joy and hope of the first disciples.
“John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries … In convening the council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader … He was the Pope of openness to the Spirit.”
He went on: “John Paul II was the Pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the Pope of the family.” He said he was sure the new Polish saint would guide the Church as it prepared for October’s synod on the family.
There were 93 government delegations present, as well as 100 cardinals, 750 bishops and 10,000 security officials. A delegation of 18 Jewish leaders from around the world also attended. Rabbi David Rosen, international director for interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and adviser to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, told the Vatican Insider website: “No two Popes did more to transform the teaching of the Catholic Church towards Jews, Judaism and Israel from one of hostility to love and respect.” Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Zion Evrony, noted that John Paul II was the first Pope to visit the Yad Vashem memorial and pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and John XXIII had furthered the writing and the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the document that overturned the Church’s centuries-old charge that the Jews were guilty of deicide.
In Melbourne, Archbishop Denis Hart, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, compared the two new saints, saying: “It was [Pope John’s] intention to be a pastoral Pope, since all other human gifts and accomplishments can enrich pastoral work but not replace it.” He described John Paul II as “a fascinating intellect – he understood the challenge of forgiveness, healing and bringing about peace in the world.”