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Help bishops answer Vatican questions

The Vatican has given the bishops until mid-December to respond to the lineamenta for the proposed Synod on the Americas (NCR, Oct. 25). It appears the Vatican, through the synod, will once again pit against each other two visions of church and Latin American reality. As Gary MacEoin, who attended and reported on Vatican II and the Latin American bishops conferences at Medellin, Puebla and Santo Domingo, has written: "One [vision] flows out of the Vatican Council, Medellin and a recognition of widespread structural injustices and class conflict. The other comes out of pre-Vatican II theology, stressing the need for individual holiness and calls for greater generosity and acts of charity. The former embraces liberation theology; the latter denies it."

With this in mind, we thought it would be useful to NCR readers to know the questions the bishops of the Americas have been asked to respond to in preparation for the synod. We thought some readers might even answer these questions to assist their local bishops in coming up with their own responses. We would further appreciate it if NCR readers who responded to their bishops would send us copies of their responses. We would consider publishing some of these.

What follows is the last section of the Synod of Bishops' lineamenta as printed by the Vatican. From the episcopal responses the final document will be written for the yet to be scheduled synod. Italic emphasis is contained in the document.

Encounter with the living Christ

1. How is the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Evangelizer, proclaimed and presented to the men and women of the present era, so that they might have a true encounter with him in the concrete situations of life? Describe the ways in which the church can maintain the centrality of the living Jesus Christ in the various manifestations of the church's life: liturgy, systematic catechesis, formation in the faith, apostolic and charitable activities?

Conversion in church and in society

2. List and describe concrete signs of the religious awakening in the local church. On the other hand, what are the most urgent aspects needing conversion within the church?

3. What elements in contemporary society in your area can be considered positive with regard to the gospel message? What elements of society call for conversion?

Communion in the church

4. In your area, what are the factors causing significant divisions in the church with regard to: bishops, priests, men and women religious, ecclesial movements, the faithful in general? How can these elements which damage communion be overcome?

5. Evaluate to what measure the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, especially in relation to ecclesial communion, have been faithfully applied in your particular church. In what ways can all the doctrinal and pastoral richness of this council be proposed in response to the Holy Father's invitation to make an "examination of conscience" which "must consider the reception given to the council, this great gift of the Spirit to the church at the end of the second millennium" (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adventiente, 36).

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue

6. What is being done concretely in the particular churches or at the interdiocesan level to promote ecumenical dialogue, prayer and cooperation in acts of solidarity with our Christian brethren? How are pastoral workers prepared to develop ecumenical activities oriented toward building up the unity of the one People of God?

7. Evaluate the relations which your Christian community maintains with other non-Christian religions.

The church faced with problem of sects

8. Describe briefly the religious situation concerning sects, syncretistic religious movements and other spiritual currents. What are they? What type of activities are they developing? What can the church do to confirm believers in their faith in light of this situation?

Evangelization and culture

9. What is the church doing to evangelize the world of culture (the arts, literature, science, etc.)? How is the church involved through programs of evangelization in the various fields of education: primary or elementary, secondary or middle school, university, etc.?

10. What are the most significant elements in the cultures of indigenous groups, African-Americans or immigrants found in the territories of your country or local communities which deserve to be reconsidered or utilized as "seeds of evangelization"? To what measure do these elements enrich Christian spirituality? To what measure must they be purified of elements which are alien to the Christian faith?

11. What are the more significant characteristics of popular piety in your area and to what extent are those aspects taken into consideration in pastoral planning? What place does the Blessed Virgin Mary hold in popular devotion?

The church and means of social communication

12. What is the church in your area doing at present to promote the proper use of the means of social communication and to make them useful tools at the service of the new evangelization? Describe the church's presence in the many forms of the so-called modern areopagus.

The church and social solidarity

13. What activities are promoted by the church in your area to offer assistance in solidarity to those most in need, and how do the faithful respond in general to these initiatives? What external collaboration, at the ecclesial or civil level, does the church receive for this aid of solidarity? Are there programs for forming a consciousness of solidarity in persons or groups having a significant role in society?

The church and social problems

14. What use is being made of the church's teaching in your area in the new evangelization in light of the diverse situations which demand social action, e.g., human development and promotion, migration, the problems of the world of work, etc.? What means are being used to spread an awareness of the church's social teaching within the church and beyond the ecclesial dimension?

The church and promotion of human life

15. How does the church promote respect for human life in all its phases, from conception in the mother's womb to the point of natural death? Give concrete examples of the sensitivity of the Christian community in your area concerning this aspect.

Other common themes

16. In light of the topic of the special assembly, give any remarks and suggestions on matters common to the whole American continent which, in your opinion, have not been treated sufficiently in the lineamenta, or not included in the above series of questions.

Good news from Brazil. The sentencing of Fr. Anastacio Ribeiro and his six codefendents has been canceled.

Last summer Ribeiro and his codefendents were sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison for protesting conditions of landless peasants in Brazil (NCR, Sept. 6). Last week we received the following message from the office of the Franciscan Service of Justice, Peace and Ecology of the Conference of Friars Minors of Brazil: "Pleased to inform you the sentence handed down by the Judge of the County of Alhandra in Brazil, who condemned Fr. Anastacio Ribeiro and other six rural workers to four years and 10 months in jail, was canceled. It happened last Tuesday, Oct. 22. More than 500 people were present. ...

"We believe this is a big victory for the land struggle and for the justice. We know the national and international pressures made against the Brazilian officials was very important. We want to thank all those who sent messages and collaborated on our solidarity action."

Franciscan Fr. Albert Haase in Kowloon, Hong Kong, rhetorically asked (NCR, Oct. 25) whether Beijing or Rome would appoint the eventual successor to 71-year-old Hong Kong Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung.

Rome answered him this week with the announcement that Wu now has a new coadjutor with right of succession, Salesian Fr. Joseph Zen, a Shanghai-born priest who has been teaching in mainland China seminaries.

Zen is 64, which means Rome has covered its Hong Kong and China bases for at least 11 years until Zen, at 75, would be required to submit his resignation. If Rome did not have him step down, Zen might be head of Hong Kong into his 80s while the Vatican waits for a thaw.

Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha, Neb., running against the mood of the day, has taken the laudable and courageous step of asking Catholics in the archdiocese who support the death penalty to rethink their position (NCR, Nov. 1). He said his request followed the growing awareness in the church that capital punishment is no longer justified. It is the kind of request -- to think and reconsider based on an informed conscience -- that should more often be a part of the relationship between bishop and people.

-- Tom Fox

National Catholic Reporter, November 8, 1996