From a Rome Correspondent
As the Synod moves into its second quarter the event begins to take shape. Last week over 80 bishops addressed the assembly, giv ing brief eight-minute pictures of the church in their home countries.
On Friday their speeches were collated by a special secretariat and the recurring themes and dominant concerns were listed as suggestions for discussion by the bishops in the 12 discussion groups which began on Saturday.
The cut and thrust of the discussion groups will define and refine the topics that have been aired in plenary session. The headings suggested for discus sion in the small groups include the role and future of bZisic communities. These are small, often spontaneous groupings of Christians which have sprung up in the Church in many parts of the world.
They are formations distinct from traditional parishes and bring together Christians who are moved to join in the exploration of their shared faith and live out the Gospel message in their lives as a sign of hope and love in a secularised world, Many bishops here mentioned these somewhat spontaneous groupings as being a most valuable means of reinvigorating the local church.
Another topic suggested for the bishops' group discussions is
the pastoral care of the lapsed. Ironically, in the topics listed for more detailed discussion, the. subject of what is now being called "frontier evangelisation' or preaching to those who have not yet heard the Gospel. was omitted. This was quickly noted by Cardinal Conway's English group A and they decided that it should be included and indeed considered first of all.
The way this fourth Synod is evolving is interesting. The pre sent meeting, with its wide terms of reference, is turning out to be a stocktaking of the Church's situation a decade after the release of the new energies and perspectives generated by the Second Vatican Council.
The previous three Synods did not provide this balance sheet ,opportunity. First,
because they were too close in time to the Council itself to
really see the effects of con ciliar thinking. Secondly, because all three previous
Synods were dealing with more limited topics such as the priesthood and collegiality.
This time the Synod fathers can see and sense the implications of the Council coming home to roost as it were. and the result is a vast examination of conscience and efforts to set new directions.
They can evaluate what has worked as a result of the Council and what hasn't. What have
been the pastoral advantages of conciliar theology and what have been the empty hopes.
The early fascination with new structures, the multiplicity of commissions and committees in the church are now seen, though necessary, not to have been the panacea for all ills that some had euphorically expected.
Good management techniques do not wipe out sin and injustice. The cross still stands at the centre of the Church and the Church still has to grapple with the pain of rejection that Christ himself experienced.
Also in ten years there has been a definite development in the universal thinking of the Church. The place of Women in the Church's mission is now looked on differently. Again and again bishops have said that women are still awaiting their due recognition in the life of the Church and now ministries specifically for women have been strongly suggested.
Up to a few years ago the term "liberation" and the theology of "liberation" was confined to Latin American theologians; now it is part of the universal vocabulary of the Church. This means that the Gospel message which saves from sin also inescapably implies criticism of unjust political and social regimes. The Gospel must set itself to redeem or liberate the whole man, body and soul.
The Synod experience which enables the world's bishops to understand each other's thoughts and priorities is obviously a necessary exercise in Christian solidarity and is generating an impulse towards concerted action on the out standing common problems which face the Church in her mission to make disciples of all. nations, Bishop Vv °flock of Portsmouth and Bishop Holland of Salford will report on the Bishops' Synod in Rome at the autumn conference of the Bishops of England and Wales.
The conference, which usually lasts at least four days, begins on November 11.