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 CNS Story:

SYNOD-PRIORITY Oct-9-2008 (820 words) xxxi

Some bishops tell synod reverence for Bible is not seen as priority

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In its rules for celebrating Mass and in the postgraduate training it gives some of its scholars, the Catholic Church sometimes gives an impression that reverence for the word of God is not one of its top priorities, several members told the world Synod of Bishops.

Correctly interpreting Scripture and giving priority to proclaiming the word of God continued to be points of focus at the synod during its Oct. 8-9 sessions.

Bishop Colin Campbell of Dunedin, New Zealand, told the synod Oct. 8 that it has an obligation to find ways to help people hear the Scriptures as a "letter of love" addressed to them.

"We as a church need to foster greater opportunities for people to hear, see and experience the word so as to experience God's love," he said.

The bishop told the assembly that Vatican offices "shouldn't be caught up with rules and regulations of how many candlesticks should be on the altar or who cleans the chalices after the Eucharist -- all those minutiae can be left to local bishops' conferences. Our task ought to be to concentrate on the Gospel message and how to share it."

When Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London, Ontario, addressed the synod Oct. 9, he said Canadians are hungering for the word of God and parishes must find ways "to foster a prayerful listening" to the Scripture.

However, he said, "a great obstacle to developing a living relationship with the risen Lord is formalism, which characterizes much of our parish life. Formalism in this context means going through the motions of religious practices without deep, engaging faith, without the passion of loving, without a living personal relationship with the Word of God made man."

He also told the synod that when Catholics are in solidarity with the poor "our hearts are opened in fresh new ways to the word, which we listen to in Scriptures. The poor make us aware of our own poverty and vulnerability before God."

French Bishop Emmanuel Lafont of Cayenne told the synod he has a degree in sacred Scripture from Rome's Pontifical Biblical Institute, "but the poor have helped me see the power of the word."

"The poor are profoundly open to the word of God, and the church has an obligation always to read it alongside of them," he said Oct. 9.

Bishop Lafont told the bishops and other synod members that those to whom the Bible refers as "the little ones," the poor and the uneducated, historically "are not the ones who have made the heresies, but rather it has been bishops and theologians. The little ones have profoundly adhered to the teaching of the church, and they receive the word with a great submission of faith."

"I beg this synod to show great trust in the little ones and laypeople as they welcome the word of God into their lives," he said. "My deepest fear is not that they will make a mistake when they read the Bible, but that we will prevent them from reading it because of all of our precautions" and warnings.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa focused his Oct. 8 remarks on the difficulty many Catholics experience in reading the Old Testament and on the reluctance of many priests and deacons to refer to the Old Testament readings in their homilies.

"Many are reluctant to take up passages of the Old Testament which appear incomprehensible, leaving them to be arbitrarily selected or never read at all," he said. "Rarely does the homilist explain the meaning of the text itself. Priests and deacons ... do not know what it means to break open the bread of the word."

He also asked the synod to try to find ways to address "the loss of confidence among Catholics that Scripture truly communicates God's revelation," looking at the possible connection between such doubt and modern biblical scholarship that focuses so much on dissecting the text that it sets aside the spiritual message the text communicates.

Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam raised a similar concern about biblical scholarship when he spoke to the synod Oct. 9.

"In some cases," he said, "modern exegesis (interpretation) seems to be neutral, almost suspicious of the given truth of the sacred texts. Not rare are the cases where the more an exegete contradicts the truth of the sacred texts, the more he is regarded as an objective exegete."

Cardinal Pengo said treating "the sacred text just like an ordinary piece of literature" is one thing that "frightens many ordinary Catholics out of the church," which is creating "an appalling phenomenon covering a great part of the African continent."

Many African Catholics, he said, are turning to fundamentalist sects because they believe that is where they find true reverence for the word of God.


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