Rome is hot and humid so I have been very grateful that in our small groups we have not had to wear cassocks. Now to those who know me there will be a wry smile that for all the Congregations last week I was sat in a black cassock, with purple sash, throughout. Yes I even walked through the streets every morning dressed this way.
The more relaxed nature has not lessened the intensity of the work. 17 delegates along with myself as a fraternal delegate, 5 of the lay presenters and 1 priest have been ensconced in our room, along with 2 priests assisting the mechanics of it all, for 2 sessions (6 hours) each day; although we finished our deliberations by lunchtime Wednesday so took the afternoon off. In between some worked very hard as well on alternative wordings. We systematically worked through the text (Relatio post Disceptationem) that was produced as a summary of last week’s discussions. This was done with great care and thought. Every voice that wanted to speak was allowed to do so and was very respectfully treated by all. We were extremely well chaired (moderated) by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky). Our Rapporteur Archbishop Stephen Brislin (Archbishop of Cape Town) has patiently and brilliantly worked to ensure the group’s decisions are clear, recorded and reported. Whilst we were all welcome to speak and comment, only delegates could make formal revisions and vote on them. A sign of how well our group worked was that almost all proposed revisions were worked to a place where all with a vote could agree.
It has been wonderful being part of such an international group; every continent has been represented. I love working cross culturally this way.
I have deeply appreciated the warmth with which I have been treated by all.
Now every groups suggested changes go to the central writing group who have to see how much consensus has emerged and produce a final Relatio Synodi. This then has to be agreed on Saturday. It will then become the document from which every Bishops Conference around the world will work with their local churches from which the Instrumentum Labori for next October’s synod will be created. Only at the end of that synod will there be formal proposals voted upon.
This leads to reflecting on the media storm on Monday and Tuesday. It has been common, I understand, for the Relatio post Disceptationem to be published during previous synods. But never before has it attracted so much media attention, or thus effectively be misrepresented in the media as if it is a statement of what Rome now thinks. It is a working document that everyone in the Synod knows will be refined and even changed as that is the process. I think that here the new more open approach that has been happening may not have been fully thought through at this point. I may be wrong but I don’t think there had been the anticipation of quite so much media traffic about an interim, able to be revised and changed, document. As ever the headlines, though not necessarily the articles, shocked many of the participants. Once over the shock I think those in my group were able to simply leave the headlines aside and get on with the task. Whether or not that will be true of the Synod as a whole we shall have to wait and see.
A final note for this reflection is on hospitality. The Italians are famed for their food, rightly. The hospitality at every point has been excellent. However I have to note that the English College (where priests from England train) excelled itself in entertaining around 50 of us at the invitation of the wonderful Cardinal Vincent Nicholls. It is a beautiful college and the food and wine were extremely good. It also offered a great opportunity to talk with a few of the delegates about all manner of issues not being covered by the Synod.