The first phase of the Synod-- the presentation of 8-minute addresses by each of the bishops participating in the event-- will continue through November 28, at which point the Synod will be broken down into discussion groups, divided by linguistic groups.
To date, the three most prominent theme of the bishops' presentations have been: the desire for ecclesial communion and collaboration throughout the Americas; the need for a "new evangelization," and the pursuit of more lively parish life and liturgy.
Bishop Padron Sanchez of Maturin, Venezuela, touched on the first theme when he urged his brother bishops in North America to underwrite the seminaries of Latin America-- as European bishops have subsidized seminaries in Africa. Bishop Jaime Chemello of Pelotas, Brazil, thanked the North American bishops for the $5 million his diocese has received, but pointed out that Protestant sects in his diocese have received $500 million from their own North American supporters.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, during his intervention yesterday, stressed the theme of the "new evangelization." The fundamental challenge, he said, is always to work toward "conversion" and "profound communion with Christ," which is the basis of all further Christian activities and attitudes. This challenge, he added, is not primarily a question of "economic, political, or social realities" but of total commitment to Christ. A "renewed Christological catechesis," he concluded, is "at the heart of evangelization."
Another top Vatican official, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin-- the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops-- also drew applause when he pointed to the need for evangelization among black Americans. There are substantial communities of African-Americans, he pointed out, in Brazil, Haiti, Panama, and Colombia as well as the United States. They should be brought into the fullness of the Catholic faith, he said, and the Church, through evangelization, could help them to realize their innate dignity.
Concerns regarding parish life and liturgical practices were expressed frequently during the first week of the Synod, although the variety of different perspectives offered made it difficult to summarize those concerns. In Latin America, parish life is hampered by a shortage of priests; in North America, the problem is more frequently apathy or theological dissent.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan wrote a pastoral letter, entitled "To Honor the Dead," which reaffirms the Church's teachings on proper respect for the dead after odd practices have increased since cremation was approved in the archdiocese in the 1980s. The Church teaches respect for human life and for the body after the soul leaves it in death. Remains, either the body or its ashes, must be buried or placed in a mausoleum blessed by a priest, he said.
The archbishop recalled reports that the cremated remains of the Catholics were being sprinkled on mountains, rivers, oceans, and other places or being divided among family members and mixed with clay to make memorial plots.
The Lutheran Brotherhood reported that people spend an average of 16 hours shopping and 16 hours in worshipping between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which some see as beating back the commercialization of Christmas and others see as denigrating the birth of Christ. Leslie Nestingen of the Luther Brotherhood preferred to see it from a positive perspective. "Despite a barrage of consumer-oriented messages to spend, taking time to worship is still important for people," said Nestingen. "It seems that many people haven't allowed commercialism to overshadow the spiritual basis of the holidays."
Eighty-nine percent of the respondents said the Christmas is too commercial. And 71 percent said they would prefer a handmade gift, compared to only 12 percent who said they preferred a store-bought gift. Respondents earning less than $20,000 a year spent the greatest amount of time worshipping -- 22 hours -- and the least amount of time shopping -- only a reported 13 hours during the season. Meanwhile, those earning more than $50,000 a year reported spending only 12 hours worshipping, while spending 17 hours shopping.
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