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Mission countries

It was at the end of a terrible summer of war when on 12 September 1943 in Lyons a little book came out. Its title : La France, pays de mission ? would become as famous as it was emblematic of the Church’s situation at the time. The authors were perfectly aware of that situation, two chaplains of the Jeunesse ouvrière catholique whom the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, had commissioned to write a report on the religious situation among Parisian workers. “Make no mistake: tomorrow it will not just be our country but the whole world that will be called ‘mission territory’; what we are living today, the people will live in their turn”, wrote Henri Godin and Yvan Daniel.

It was that analysis, lucid and impassioned that Benedict XVI recalled, effectively summarizing the sense of this Synod Assembly which has just ended and underscoring the uninterrupted journey of the Church in the modern world. On the basis of that awareness and the convergence of the different trends that developed in Catholicism throughout the 20th century, John XXIII’s intuition came to fruition to convene a Council his Predecessors had long pondered. And among the most fruitful outcomes of Vatican ii — whose 50th anniversary we have just celebrated — is without a doubt the institution, desired by Paul VI, of the Synod of Bishops, a real expression of that collegiality inherent in the Christian Tradition.

The entire Catholic community worldwide was “represented and, thus, involved” around the Successor of the Apostle Peter. He attended the Synod’s debates assiduously, and “listened and gathered much food for thought and many propositiones ”, as Benedict XVI himself said. One can never stress enough how the Greek term sýnodos refers to the idea of a journey travelled together; this is a concept that the Pope made explicit speaking of “the beauty of being Church, of being so precisely today, in this world just as it is, in the midst of this humanity with its toil and its hopes”. Using language that meant to take one back to the time of the Council, the Bishop of Rome confirmed that the journey of Christians is not only characterized and witnessed to by their communion, but is actually completed in openness and friendship, together with the men and women of our time.

Nothing is circumscribed, therefore there is no pessimism in Benedict XVI’s words only his awareness that humanity today is like the blind man Bartimaeus in the Gospel, who St Augustine speculated “had fallen from some position of great prosperity” and who, according to the Pope “could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God”, becoming in this way “beggars for the meaning of existence”. This Synodal Assembly reflected on and discussed the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel which needs new methods and a “new language attuned to the different world cultures” and “pastoral creativity” as Benedict XVI concluded. At the end he prayed with the words of Clement of Alexandria, referring to that light that had shone once for all, “purer than the sun, sweeter than life on this earth”.

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