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Inside NCR: Synod for Asia could be historic event

The Synod for Asia will begin in Rome April 19. It’s odd how we become immunized and eventually take for granted the most incongruous status quo -- such as a Synod for Asia not being in Asia or a Synod for America not being in America. One suspects that church leaders at all levels would learn more about and be better able to help far-flung areas of the church by getting closer to them than by moving the discussion so far away from them, especially to a place like Rome where the rusty wheels of centuries move so slowly toward new vision or action.

There are startling signs, however, that this synod may mark the end of business as usual. NCR publisher Tom Fox’s article (page 9) on the Japanese bishops’ response to Rome’s plans, followed by the full text of the bishops’ document, hint that this will be no rubber-stamp synod. Serious issues about collegiality and the very nature of the church that have been floating about unresolved since Vatican II may be brought into sharp and perhaps controversial focus.

Subsequent NCR articles will deal with other Asian countries’ responses and Rome’s reply to these, and of course we will follow the synod itself blow by blow.

Fox, though busy enough being publisher, has been coaxed back into service for this occasion. He brings a couple of credentials that make him the obvious choice to cover the synod. He attended enough Vatican events, from synods to conclaves, to ensure that he knows the Roman ropes better than most. And he has a superior personal knowledge of Asia, including an MA from Yale in East Asian studies, several years in Vietnam as a volunteer with International Voluntary Services and as a journalist, marriage to a Vietnamese wife, Kim Hoa, and various journalistic peregrinations throughout Asia.

I admit it -- we at NCR are excited about this ongoing synod story.

In the Feb. 27 NCR we published readers’ lists of the century’s greatest Catholics (and others). But there’s yet more, from folks with strong opinions that can’t be ignored.

“There was an egregious omission,” writes Sr. Yolanda T. DeMola from the Bronx, N.Y. “He’s Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who led the Society of Jesus during a most difficult time of the church’s history. And did it with grace, brilliance, holiness.”

And Msgr. Daniel B. O’Brien from DeWitt, N.Y., “Must we not add those 1920s London, Ontario, choir boys, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians,” who, says O’Brien, produced “the greatest music this side of heaven”?

“I searched in vain for Charles Davis’ name,” adds R. J. Reinkober from New Brighton, Minn.

Sr. Pat Prunty of Kyle, S.D., drew up a roster of 20 and filled the first 19 slots. Apart from those mentioned in the last roundup (and I’m working from memory, folks), she includes: Sr. Martha Raleigh, Sr. Raphael McCarthy, Victoria Prunty, Magdalena Schmit and Jesuit Fr. Joe Sheehan.

And Leo Luke Marcello from Lake Charles, La., adds Shusako Endo, Georges Rouault, Dominique de Menie, Fr. Carl J. Peter.

Finally (our next such list will be a century from now), Rita Moran from Maynooth, Ontario, names (over and above the many aforementioned) Che Guevara, Mikhail Gorbachev, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Jimmy Carter, U Thant and Craig Kielburger, a fitting final nominee because he stands for the next century: When he was 12, two years ago, he spoke before the members of Congress of both Canada and the United States, challenging them on child labor laws. Writes Moran, “After visiting sweatshops in Asian countries, he took to task some multinational corporations over the obscene conditions their companies were condoning. That puts him very close to the top of the list in my book.”

Over young shoulders like that, one could look with confidence into the next millennium.

National Catholic Reporter, March 27, 1998