Canadian prelates spark Synod debate

By  Kris Dmytrenko, Catholic Register Special
  • October 17, 2008
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - The bishops representing Canada here at the Synod of Bishops on Scripture have been gratified by the reception their words have received during the three-week long gathering taking place here.

Though more than 200 interventions (short presentations) have now been read at the Synod, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., can confidently expect that his topic will be discussed during the assembly’s subsequent phases. His thesis echoed those of several other bishops: that an overemphasis on historical-critical biblical scholarship has deprived students of the spiritual sense of Scripture.
“It’s obviously struck a chord,” said Prendergast, a Scripture scholar. “Not just my intervention that way, but quite a few of the bishops have talked about the difficulty of exegetical methods. So I think that this is going to be an issue that is going to keep coming back.”

Prendergast spoke on Oct. 8, during the first week of the Oct. 5-26 Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The Vatican generally hosts a Synod of Bishops every three years or so to advise the Pope and solidify church communion.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and secretary for the Synod, first raised the matter during his opening day report, where he described how the rupture of faith and exegesis (scriptural interpretation) has been a source of tension between exegetes, pastors and theologians. He also formulated the discussion points for the Synod’s second phase, when participants are divided by language into smaller groups.

Bishop Ronald Fabbro’s intervention reflected the “spiritual hunger” he has observed in his diocese of London, Ont. While numerous bishops have called for improved homilies as an evangelistic solution — including, most notably, the suggestion by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon for an ecclesial “year of preaching” — Fabbro instead recommends better listening.

“As Pope John Paul II observed in Novo Millennio Inuente, the call to holiness has to respond in a prayerful listening,” said Fabbro. “Our parishes need to be a locus where we teach our people methods where they can read the Scripture, listen to the Word of God and pray together with others.”

While he called parishes “our greatest resource,” the bishop praised Cursillo, Focolare and other ecclesial movements for modelling a deep experience of Scripture.

“A community — if it’s a genuine community listening to the Word of God — somehow engages you as a whole person. You can’t leave parts of your life out of that.”

Each Canadian bishop delegate received feedback on his draft intervention during September’s Canadian bishops’ plenary assembly. (The other representatives are Bishop Raymond St-Gelais of Nicolet, Que., and Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul, Alta.) Fabbro revealed that he was encouraged to underscore encountering Scripture communally, as opposed to solely through personal reading.

In terms of personal spiritual experience, the Synod bishops said they are continually edified by the mutual witness of their peers. Fabbro was struck by a comment that, as a preacher of the Word, he must first become a listener of the Word.

“I’ve got to be praying with the Word of God. That has to be the centre of the call to holiness.”

Prendergast extolled the diverse witnessing within the smaller discussion groups.

“We had the bishop from Tehran there. We had people from Congo. We had people from India suffering from persecution. We elected Cardinal (Philippe) Barbarin as the chair and Bishop (Pierre-Marie) Carré. . . . as the secretary.”

Prendergast affirmed that regardless of their different priorities, “We are all struggling with how to be church for our day. The Word of God is the foundation.”

(Dmytrenko is a producer for Salt+Light TV in Toronto.)

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