Three weeks of intense work, exchanges of insights and sharing of experiences. The thirteenth Synod of the Bishops, dedicated to the new evangelization, concluded with a solemn mass in St Peter’s square. From 7th to 28th October, speaking about the challenges met today in proclaiming the Word of God, bishops from all over the world met together with 45 experts, 49 auditors and fraternal delegates, representatives of 15 Churches and ecclesial communities. Everyone of them spoke and Pope Benedict XVI was present nearly the whole time. He listened, took notes, welcomed all that was said. A synod, he said when greeting the assembly ‘is always a powerful moment of ecclesial communion … [where we] experience the beauty of being Church and of being Church today, in this world as it is, in this humanity with all its struggles and its hopes.’
The Focolare Movement participated in the synod through the presence of three auditors: the Movement’s President, Maria Voce, Ernestine Sikujua Kinyabuuma from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gisèle Muchati from Syria. The three representatives brought with them the experience and life of the Focolare in the field of evangelization which is ‘often on the frontiers, together with the whole Church,’ as Maria Voce put it. It is a commitment that involves people of every age, that penetrates ‘everywhere, homes, factories, government buildings, hospitals, schools and universities’ making ‘visible’ the ‘relationships of brothers and sisters brought about by the Gospel.’
‘We come away from the synod,’ Maria Voce said in an interview on an Italian national news programme, ‘with the great hope of being able to see in the demands, the questions and the challenges of our times not so much the problems themselves as the chance of witnessing in a new, living and joyful way. The encounter with Christ is always something beautiful to be able to proclaim and it is something that can satisfy the thirst for the infinite which all human beings have.’ Ernestine Kinyabuuma shared her personal experience of teaching at the Maria Malkia University Institute of Lubumbashi. She spoke the day after three religious from the Democratic Republic of Congo had been kidnapped. She said, ‘In the midst of the changes brought about by globalization, Africa is going through a crisis at all levels, political, economic and cultural. For this reason, seeking a way out, people are reacting everywhere.’ It is in this context that Christians experience how much ‘the hand of God intervenes in the little things of our lives, at the points where our lives seem most at risk. We have courage given by faith in the words of Jesus who tells us that whatever we do to the least we do to him.’ This is what has generated the Focolare community’s commitment to the central prison of Lubumbashi where it has been possible to build three dormitory blocks, a tailor’s workshop and a small shop selling essentials.
The pain of the Syrian people also touched the synod through the words of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State: ‘We cannot be mere spectators of a tragedy like the one consuming Syria.’ This is the reason for sending a delegation ‘convinced that the solution to the crisis cannot be other than political and thinking of the terrible sufferings of the populace, of the fate of the evacuees as well as of the nation’s future.’ In an interview to Radio Vatican Gisèle Muchati, who is responsible for the Focolare’s New Families Movement in Syria, said ‘I wish to express my gratitude to the Holy Father for sending a delegation from the Holy See to Syria. It is something special, because it will help the Syrian people feel that all the people of God are with them.’ Gisèle told the synod of the experience of the Focolare Movement in a land torn by war, caring for families and refugees. Its commitment was, she said, ‘at all costs to maintain faith in God to whom nothing is impossible. In Aleppo, since August, in various neighbourhoods small spontaneous prayer groups have sprung up. Thus the voice of prayer is often lifted up despite the sound of gunfire and bombs. The experience of unity strengthens and gives peace in the midst of danger, faith in God’s love is stronger, hope is alive.’
In conclusion, the synod handed over to the Pope 58 ‘final recommendations’ – proposals that emerged from all that had been said and which will help Benedict XVI to compose his Post-Synodal Exhortation to be published in the coming months. The ‘word’ of the synod will now be taken into the world by those who took part in it.