Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005 at 9:52 a.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #7:
Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and peace, social justice

Liturgies need to be shaped by local cultures, they say

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Given the mega-trend in contemporary Christianity of a shift from North to South, with two-thirds of the Catholic population today found in the developing world, the 21st Synod of Bishops offers an intriguing opportunity to hear something of the Southern voice.

Bishops from the developing world again on Friday and Saturday hammered away at the link between Eucharist and peace, Eucharist and social justice, the need for liturgies to be shaped by local cultures, the challenges posed by aggressively missionary Protestant movements, and the problems created by the priest shortage.

Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist
  • Report #17: Final draft rebuffs Latin Mass; priest shortage, divorce squarely on church’s pastoral agenda Posted Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #16: Gregory: Little change expected but synod had honest talk of pastoral realities Posted Oct. 19, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #15: Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #14: Women’s voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
  • Report #13: Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals Posted Oct. 17, 12:00 p.m.
  • Report #12: Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message Posted Oct. 15, 9:32 a.m.
  • Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15 p.m.
  • Report #10: Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod. Posted Oct. 12, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #9: Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive. Posted Oct. 11, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #8: Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops. Posted Oct. 10, 11:30 a.m.
  • Report #7: Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and justice, local cultures. Posted Oct. 8., 9:52 a.m.
  • Report #6: Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage. Posted Oct. 7, 10:21 a.m.
  • Report #5: Environment, social justice emerge as eucharistic themes. Posted Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m.
  • Report #4: Divorced, remarried Catholics topics of frank synod discussions. Posted Oct. 5, 3:00 p.m
  • Report #3: Priest shortage continues to roil synod of bishops. Posted Oct. 4, 2:01 p.m.
  • Report #2: Movements appeal for changes to make Eucharist more accessible. Posted Oct. 4, 2:00 p.m.
  • Report #1: Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day. Posted Oct. 3, 3:04 p.m.
  • Read The Word From Rome columns
  • The final set of propositions; The case of viri probati; Some worry the synod lacked theological heft. Posted Oct. 21, 2:07 p.m.
  • Latin Mass a non-issue; Interview with Bishop Skylstad; Scola's 17 questions to guide the synod. Posted Oct. 14, 10:46 a.m.
  • The synod so far; How to report on a synod; A view from Moscow; Document on homosexuals in seminaries will not create an absolute ban; Catholic left and right square off. Posted Oct. 7, 11:55 a.m.
  • Preview of the synod on the Eucharist. Posted Sept. 30, 8:05 a.m.
  • At the same time, bishops from parts of the world with a direct experience of a married priesthood, including members of the 21 Eastern Rite churches in union with Rome, warned that relaxing the celibacy requirement could create as many problems as it solves.

    The theme of Eucharist and social justice surfaced repeatedly.

    "If the Eucharist leads to fraternal union in the Body of Christ, then the ever-growing gap between a society of well-being and the millions of poor who undeservedly live in hunger and misery is today a cause of great scandal," said Bishop Lucius Iwerjuru Ugorji of Umuahia, Nigeria.

    "If Christians share the broken bread on the altar of the Lord, they must also be prepared to commit themselves to a better and more just world for all. They must be prepared … to share bread with a broken world," Ugorji said.

    According to United Nations statistics, Nigeria is one of the 40 most impoverished nations in the world, despite vast wealth from natural resources such as oil; an estimated 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. The infant mortality rate, considered a leading indicator of poverty, is 71 for every 1,000 live births, resulting in an average life expectancy of 51 years.

    "Such sharing must involve a break with political and economic models that provide security for those who are well off, while constricting millions of people to the darkest misery and to gratuitous suffering," Ugorji said. "Among other things, this sharing means living simply so that others can simply live."

    Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, issued an appeal on behalf of the nations of the horn of Africa, "not considered important by the powerful of the earth."

    Souraphiel described the social reality of these nations, including Somalia, which he said has not had a central government for 14 years, and where the four religious [sisters] in the country maintain a single hidden tabernacle in Mogadishu.

    Souraphiel spoke about the difficulties faced by Christians in these nations, who often emigrate to other majority Muslim nations in search of work, where they are forced to take Muslim names, sometimes to convert to Islam, and are subjected to "every kind of abuse and oppression." He urged the members of the synod to provide pastoral care to these Christians, and to intercede with Muslim nations to provide religious liberty.

    During the open discussion Friday night, a bishop from South America urged the synod not to get bogged down in discussion of "norms and theological distinctions," but to engage the burning problems of injustice and violence.

    The priest shortage surfaced again in the intervention of Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Imus in the Philippines, who called for a "serene analysis" of what to do about the lack of priests.

    "While we look at the world for threats to the priesthood, we should also ask if the church knows how to manage this gift well," Tagle said.

    Tagle argued that it's not enough to insist on maintaining a clear distinction between the ordained priesthood and the common priesthood of all believers. In fact, he said, his faithful are clear on the difference.

    Instead, Tagle argued, the church must focus more on the fact that these two forms of priesthood are ordered to one another.

    At the same time, an Eastern Rite bishop told the synod during open discussion Friday night that a married priesthood "is not the solution" to the shortage.

    Reflecting a commonly heard theme from Eastern rite bishops and those in majority Orthodox nations, this bishop said that a married priest often finds himself divided between obligations to his family and his parish. Further, he said, when a priest has a large family, the need to support that family puts economic pressure both on the priest and the diocese.

    "If Jesus Christ wanted priests to be married, he would have gotten married himself," this bishop said.

    His remarks drew applause from the synod.

    Bishop José Agustin Ganuza García of Bocas del Toro, Panama, said that despite the staggering variety of ethnicities and languages in his territory, one thing everyone agrees on is the desire for "inculturation of the liturgy in the Eucharistic celebration."

    He called on the synod to support greater inculturation of the liturgy for indigenous populations, and asked participants to read a study on the subject prepared by the Panamanian bishops.

    Bishop Rafael Massahiro Umemura of Yokohama, Japan, made a similar argument, asking that greater freedom be given by Rome to local bishops conferences to adapt the liturgy to local cultural norms, to reflect elements of local festivals, and to make decisions about the translations of liturgical texts.

    "Since the Eucharist must be an authentic celebration of the local church, above all adequate inculturation is required," Umemura said.

    Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil, took up the issue of the impact of the Protestant "sects" in the developing world, noting that 83 percent of Brazilians called themselves Catholic in 1991, while today the number is 67 percent. Roughly one percent of Brazilian Catholics a year, Hummes said, are leaving the Catholic church, many to enter charismatic and Pentecostal groups.

    "How long will Latin America be a Catholic continent?" Hummes asked.

    In response, he called for a new level of missionary energy in the Catholic church, fueled by deep Eucharistic faith.

    Several European bishops, by way of contrast, took up the issue of inter-communion with Protestants.

    Bishop Amédée Grab of Chur, Switzerland, president of the European Council of Bishops Conferences, called for a more generous application of existing rules that allow Catholic priests to administer the sacraments of Eucharist, penance and anointing of the sick to Protestants under limited circumstances, most notably when these non-Catholics share the Catholic faith about the sacraments.

    Cardinal George Cottier, on the other hand, a French Dominican who serves as the theologian of the papal household, largely defended the existing discipline on the grounds that the Eucharist is not a "point of departure" for unity, but rather presupposes unity "in the faith of the apostles."

    Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, struck something of a middle ground.

    Without challenging the existing discipline, Kasper noted that the working document of the synod places the issue of inter-communion solely in the context of the unity of the church, while the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) added another consideration -- the desirability of access to the means of grace, based on the dignity of every human person.

    In cases where the danger of scandal is remote, Kasper said, a bishop may make a prudential judgment about admitting non-Catholics to the sacraments. To some extent, Kasper said, there has been a development in church thinking on this question since the 1983 publication of the Code of Canon Law, and he urged the synod to address the question, which he said would be of great pastoral use in many parts of the world.

    American Cardinal Edmund Szoka, head of the Vatican city-state, issued perhaps the most blunt diagnosis of the day.

    "One of my greatest preoccupations and worries is that, I believe, some of our priests and even some bishops today have lost their faith in the Holy Eucharist, and celebrate the Holy Mass simply as a professional responsibility," he said.

    Szoka called for renewed dedication, and recommended reading the book The Spirit of the Liturgy by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    John L. Allen Jr. is NCR's Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

    October 7, 2005, National Catholic Reporter    corrected [10/11/2005]

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