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61 Among the institutions characteristic of the Eastern Catholic Churches are the Patriarchal Churches. These belong to those groupings of Churches which, as the Second Vatican Council states,249 by God's Providence, were organically constituted with the passage of time and enjoy both proper discipline and liturgical usages, and a common theological and spiritual heritage, even as they continue to preserve the unity of faith and the one divine constitution of the universal Church. Their particular dignity comes from the fact that they, somewhat like mothers of faith, have given birth to other Churches which are in some sense their daughters, and have remained linked to them by a close bond of charity in the sacramental life and in mutual respect for rights and duties.
In the Church the institution of the Patriarchate is truly ancient. Already attested to at the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, it was recognized by the first ecumenical Councils and remains the traditional form of governance in the Eastern Churches.250 In its origin and particular structure, however, it is of ecclesiastical institution. For this reason the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council expresses the desire that: ''Where there is a need, new patriarchates [are] to be set up. This is reserved to an ecumenical council or to the Roman Pontiff ''.251 Those in the Eastern Church who exercise supra-episcopal and supralocal power – such as the Patriarchs and the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Churches – participate in the Church's supreme authority which the Successor of Peter has over the entire Church and they exercise this power with respect not only to that of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff,252 but also to that of the office of the individual Bishops, without intruding into their areas of competence or limiting the free exercise of the functions proper to them.
Relations between the Bishops of a Patriarchal Church and the Patriarch, who for his part is Bishop of the Patriarchal Eparchy, develop on the foundation already laid down in antiquity in the Canons of the Apostles: ''The Bishops of each nation should know who among them is the first and should consider him as their head and do nothing of importance without his assent. Each should be concerned only with what regards his own district and its dependent territories; but at the same time he should do nothing without the assent of all. In this way concord will reign and God will be glorified through Christ in the Holy Spirit''.253 This canon expresses the Eastern Churches' ancient practice of synodality, while presenting its theological basis and its doxological significance, for it clearly affirms that the synodal action of the Bishops in concord gives worship and glory to the Triune God.
The synodal life of the Patriarchal Churches must therefore be acknowledged as an effective implementation of the collegial dimension of the episcopal ministry. All legitimately consecrated Bishops take part in the Synod of their Patriarchal Church as the pastors of a portion of the People of God. Nonetheless, the role of the ''primus,'' that is, the Patriarch, is acknowledged as an element which in its own way is constitutive of the collegial action. There can be no collegial action without a ''primus'' who is recognized as such. Synodality does not destroy or diminish the legitimate autonomy of each Bishop in the governance of his own Church; rather it affirms the spirit of collegiality of the Bishops who are coresponsible for all the particular Churches within the Patriarchate.
The Patriarchal Synod is recognized as possessing true power of governance. It elects the Patriarch and the Bishops for offices within the territory of the Patriarchal Church, and chooses candidates for the episcopacy for offices beyond the confines of the Patriarchal Church who are then proposed to the Roman Pontiff for appointment.254 In addition to the consent or consultation needed for the validity of determined acts within the competence of the Patriarch, the Synod can also issue laws which are binding within – and in the case of liturgical laws even beyond – the confines of the Patriarchal Church.255 The Synod is also, without prejudice to the competence of the Apostolic See, the superior tribunal within the confines of the Patriarchal Church.256 For the handling of more important affairs, especially those regarding the updating of the forms and modalities of the apostolate and ecclesiastical discipline, the Patriarch and the Patriarchal Synod will make use of the consultative collaboration of the Patriarchal Assembly, which the Patriarch convenes at least once every five years.257
62 One concrete way of fostering communion between the Bishops and solidarity between Churches is to restore vitality to the ancient institution of Ecclesiastical Provinces, in which the Metropolitan is an instrument and sign both of fraternity between the Bishops of the Province and of their communion with the Roman Pontiff.258 Given the similarity of the problems encountered by individual Bishops and the fact that their limited number can enable greater understanding, common pastoral undertakings will certainly be better planned in meetings of Bishops from the same Province and especially in Provincial Councils.
Wherever it is considered appropriate for the common good to erect Ecclesiastical Regions, a similar function can be carried out by meetings of Bishops of the same Region or by Plenary Councils. Here it is necessary to reaffirm what was stated by the Second Vatican Council: ''The venerable institutions of Synods and Councils should flourish with renewed vigour, so that by this means more suitable and effective provision may be made for the increase of faith and the maintenance of discipline in the different Churches as required by the circumstances of the times''.259 In these assemblies the Bishops will be able to act in expressing their communion not only with one another but with all the components of that portion of the People of God entrusted to them; in Councils these components are represented by the norm of law.
Particular Councils, precisely because they involve the participation of priests, deacons, men and women religious and lay persons, albeit with a consultative vote only, are an immediate expression not only of communion between the Bishops but also of communion between the Churches. As a solemn ecclesial occasion, Particular Councils also demand careful thought in their preparation, which involves all the categories of the faithful, so that they can be a fitting place for decisions of greater importance, especially regarding the faith. The place of Particular Councils cannot therefore be taken by Episcopal Conferences, as the Second Vatican Council made clear when it expressed the hope that Particular Councils would take on renewed vigour. Episcopal Conferences can however be most helpful for the preparation of Plenary Councils.260
63 The foregoing is in no way meant to play down the importance and usefulness of Conferences of Bishops, which were given an institutional configuration by the Council and more precisely determined by the Code of Canon Law and the recent Motu Proprio Apostolos Suos.261 In the Eastern Catholic Churches, comparable institutions are the assemblies of hierarchs of the different Churches sui iurisprovided for by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In these assemblies, ''by sharing the insights of wisdom born of experience and by the exchange of views, the pooling of resources is achieved for the common good of the Churches, so that unity of action is fostered, common works are facilitated, the good of religion is more readily promoted and ecclesiastical discipline is preserved more effectively''.262
Today, as the Synod Fathers observed, these assemblies of are a valuable means for giving expression and practical implementation to the Bishops' collegial spirit. Episcopal Conferences should therefore be used to their full potential.263 Indeed, ''they have developed significantly and have become the preferred means for the Bishops of a country or a specific territory to exchange views, consult with one another and cooperate in promoting the common good of the Church; 'in recent years they have become a concrete, living and efficient reality throughout the world.' Their importance is seen in the fact that they contribute effectively to unity between the Bishops, and thus to the unity of the Church, since they are a most helpful means of strengthening ecclesial communion''.264
Since membership in Episcopal Conferences is limited to Bishops and all those equivalent in law to Diocesan Bishops, even if not possessing the episcopal character,265 the immediate theological foundation of Episcopal Conferences, unlike that of Particular Councils, is the collegial dimension of responsibility for episcopal governance. Only indirectly is it communion between the Churches.
In any event, since Episcopal Conferences are permanent bodies which meet periodically, they will be effective if their role is considered auxiliary vis-à-vis the role which the individual Bishops carry out by divine law in their Church. On the level of the individual Church, the Diocesan Bishop, in the Lord's name, shepherds the flock entrusted to him as a proper, ordinary and immediate pastor, and his acts are strictly personal, not collegial, albeit prompted by a spirit of communion. Consequently, on the level of groupings of particular Churches by geographical areas (nations, regions, etc.), the Bishops set over the individual Churches do not jointly exercise their pastoral care through collegial acts comparable to those of the College of Bishops, which as a theological subject is indivisible.266 The Bishops of the same Episcopal Conference, assembled at their meetings, exercise jointly, for the good of their faithful and within the limits of the areas of competence granted them by law or by mandate of the Apostolic See, only some of the functions deriving from their pastoral ministry (munus pastorale).267
Certainly the more numerous Episcopal Conferences, in order to carry out their service to the individual Bishops who are members, and consequently to the individual Churches, require a complex organization. Even so, ''an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions'' 268 is to be avoided. ''Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the Bishops and not to substitute for them'',269 and even less to create an intermediate structure between the Apostolic See and individual Bishops. Episcopal Conferences can provide valuable assistance to the Apostolic See by expressing their views with regard to specific problems of a more general nature.270
Episcopal Conferences also express and encourage the collegial spirit of union between Bishops and, consequently, communion between the different Churches; they establish between Churches, especially neighbouring ones, close relations in the pursuit of a greater good.271 This can be done in various ways, through councils, symposia and federations. Of particular importance are continental Bishops' meetings, which nonetheless never assume the areas of competence belonging to Episcopal Conferences. Such meetings are of great help in fostering between the Episcopal Conferences of different nations that cooperation which in this time of ''globalization'' is particularly necessary for meeting challenges and for bringing about a true ''globalization of solidarity''.272
64 The Lord Jesus' prayer for unity between his disciples (ut unum sint: Jn 17,21) is for every Bishop a pressing summons to a specific apostolic duty. This unity is not to be looked for as the fruit of our own efforts; it is first and foremost a gift of the Holy Trinity to the Church. This however does not dispense Christians from making every effort, beginning with prayer itself, to hasten the journey towards full unity. In response to the Lord's prayers and his will and to the offering he made on the Cross in order to gather together the scattered children of God (cf. Jn Jn 11,52), the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the ecumenical dialogue, which is crucial for the effectiveness of her witness before the world. It is essential to persevere on the path of the dialogue of truth and love.
Many Synod Fathers mentioned the specific vocation of each Bishop to promote this dialogue in his Diocese and develop it in veritate et caritate (cf. Eph Ep 4,15). The scandal of division between Christians is felt by all to be a sign which contradicts Christian hope. The practical means for promoting ecumenical dialogue have been shown to consist in a better mutual understanding between the Catholic Church and the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities which are not in full communion with her, in suitable meetings and initiatives, and above all in the witness of charity. Indeed, there exists an ecumenism of daily life, made up of mutual acceptance, listening and cooperation, the last of which is singularly effective.
On the other hand, the Synod Fathers also noted the danger of ill-considered gestures, signs of an ''impatient ecumenism'' which can do harm to the journey being made towards full unity. For this reason it is most important that the correct principles of ecumenical dialogue be accepted and practised by all, and emphasized in the seminary training of candidates for the sacred ministry, in parishes and in other ecclesial structures. The inner life of the Church must offer a witness of unity in respect and a greater openness to the acceptance and growth of the great treasure represented by the different theological, spiritual, liturgical and disciplinary traditions.273
65 As members of the Episcopal College, Bishops are consecrated not just for a single Diocese but for the salvation of all mankind.274 This teaching of the Second Vatican Council was recalled by the Synod Fathers in order to emphasize the fact that each Bishop needs to be conscious of the missionary character of his pastoral ministry. All his pastoral activity should be marked by a missionary spirit capable of awakening and maintaining among the faithful a zeal for the spread of the Gospel. It is the duty of the Bishop to bring about, promote and direct missionary activities and initiatives in his Diocese, including the provision of financial support.275
As was stated in the Synod Hall, it is no less important for him to encourage the missionary dimension in his own particular Church by promoting, in accordance with different situations, fundamental values such as the acknowledgement of one's neighbour, respect for cultural diversity and a healthy interaction between different cultures. On the other hand, the increasingly multicultural character of cities and societies, especially as a result of international migration, is creating new situations which present a particular missionary challenge.
During the Synod there were also interventions which raised certain issues about the relationship between Diocesan Bishops and missionary Religious Congregations, and which stressed the need for deeper reflection in this regard. At the same time, there was an acknowledgement of the wealth of experience which a particular Church can receive from Congregations of consecrated life, as a means of keeping the missionary dimension alive among the faithful.
In his zeal for mission, the Bishop should be seen as the servant and witness of hope. Mission is the sure index of our faith in Christ and his love for us: 276 men and women of all times are thereby inspired to a new life motivated by hope. In proclaiming the Risen Lord, Christians present the One who inaugurates a new era of history and announce to the world the good news of a complete and universal salvation which contains in itself the pledge of a new world in which pain and injustice will give way to joy and beauty. At the beginning of a new millennium marked by a clearer awareness of the universality of salvation and a realization that the Gospel daily needs to be proclaimed anew, the Synodal Assembly raised an appeal that our commitment to mission should not be lessened but rather expanded, through ever more profound missionary cooperation.
66 In sacred Scripture the Church is compared to a flock ''which God himself foretold that he would shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are continuously led and nourished by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of Shepherds''.277 Does not Jesus himself call his disciples a pusillus grex and exhort them not to fear but to have hope (cf. Lk Lc 12,32)? Jesus often repeated this exhortation to his disciples: ''In the world you will have fear; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!'' (Jn 16,33). As he was about to return to the Father, he washed the feet of the Apostles and said to them: ''Let not your hearts be troubled,'' and added: ''I am the way... No one comes to the Father, but by me'' (cf. Jn Jn 14,1-6). On this “way” which is Christ, the little flock, the Church, has set out, and is led by him, the Good Shepherd, who, ''when he has brought out all his own, goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice'' (Jn 10,4).
In the image of Jesus Christ, and following in his footsteps, the Bishop also goes forth to proclaim him before the world as the Saviour of mankind, the Saviour of every man and woman. As a missionary of the Gospel, he acts in the name of the Church, which is an expert in humanity and close to the men and women of our time. Consequently, the Bishop, with the strength which comes from the radicalism of the Gospel, also has the duty to unmask false conceptions of man, to defend values being threatened by ideological movements and to discern the truth. With the Apostle he can repeat: ''We toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe'' (1Tm 4,10).
The Bishop's activity should thus be marked by that parrhesía which is the fruit of the working of the Spirit (cf. Acts Ac 4,31). Leaving behind his very self in order to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Bishop takes up his mission with confidence and courage, factus pontifex, becoming in truth a ''bridge'' which leads to every man and women. With the burning love of a shepherd he goes out in search of the sheep, following in the footsteps of Jesus who says: ''I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will hear my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd'' (Jn 10,16).
67 Within this missionary context, the Synod Fathers described the Bishop as a prophet of justice. The war of the powerful against the weak has, today more than ever before, created profound divisions between rich and poor. The poor are legion! Within an unjust economic system marked by significant structural inequities, the situation of the marginalized is daily becoming worse. Today, in many parts of the world, people are starving, while in other places there is opulence. It is above all the poor, the young and refugees who are the victims of these dramatic cases of inequality. In addition, women in many places are demeaned in their dignity as persons, victims of a hedonistic and materialistic culture.
In the face of, and often in the midst of these situations of injustice which inevitably open the door to conflicts and death, the Bishop is the defender of human rights, the rights of human beings made in the image and likeness of God. He proclaims the Church's moral teaching by defending life from conception to its natural end. He likewise proclaims the Church's social teaching, based on the Gospel, and he shows profound concern for the defence of all who are poor, raising his voice on behalf of the voiceless in order to defend their rights. The Church's social teaching is able to offer hope even in the worst of situations, because, if there is no hope for the poor, there will be no hope for anyone, not even for the so-called rich.
The Bishops vigorously condemned terrorism and genocide, and raised their voice on behalf of those who cry out because of injustice, those who are being persecuted and those who are unemployed, as well as children who are being abused in various and increasingly serious ways. Like holy Church herself, which is in the world the sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race,278 the Bishop is the defender and the father of the poor, concerned for justice and human rights, and one who brings hope.279
The words of the Synod Fathers, and my own, were explicit and forceful. ''During this Synod, we could not close our eyes to many other collective tragedies... A drastic moral change is needed... Some endemic evils, when they are too long ignored, can produce despair in entire populations. How can we keep silent when confronted by the enduring drama of hunger and extreme poverty, in an age where humanity, more than ever, has the capacity for a just sharing of resources? We must also express our solidarity with the flood of refugees and immigrants, who, because of war, political oppression or economic discrimination, are forced to flee their homeland in search of employment or in the hope of finding peace. The ravages of malaria, the spread of AIDS, illiteracy, the hopelessness of so many children and youth abandoned to life on the streets, the exploitation of women, pornography, intolerance and the unacceptable exploitation of religion for violent purposes, drug trafficking and the sale of arms: the list is not exhaustive! Still, in the midst of all this distress, the humble take new heart. The Lord looks at them and strengthens them. 'Because they rob the afflicted, and the needy sigh, now I will arise,' says the Lord'' (Ps 12,5).280
The dramatic picture just painted can only evoke an urgent appeal for peace and a commitment to building peace. The hotbeds of conflict inherited from the past century and from the whole past millennium continue to smoulder. Numerous local conflicts are creating profound wounds between different cultures and nationalities. And how can we fail to mention forms of religious fundamentalism, a constant enemy of dialogue and peace? In many areas the world resembles a powder-keg ready to explode and shower immense suffering upon the human family.
In this situation the Church continues to proclaim the peace of Christ who in the Sermon on the Mount proclaimed blessed those who are peacemakers (cf. Mt Mt 5,9). Peace is everyone's responsibility, a responsibility which passes through the thousand little acts which make up everyday life. It awaits its prophets and builders, who should be found especially in the ecclesial communities of which the Bishop is the pastor. Following the example of Jesus, who came to announce freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord (cf. Lk Lc 4,16-21), the Bishop will be ever ready to show that, as the Church's social teaching makes clear, Christian hope is deeply linked to zeal for the integral promotion of individuals and society.
In the midst of tragically frequent situations of armed conflict, the Bishop, even as he exhorts people to assert their rights, must always remind them that Christians are obliged in all cases to reject vengeance and to be prepared to forgive and to love their enemies.281 There can be no justice without forgiveness. Hard as it may be to accept, for any sensible person the matter seems obvious: true peace is possible only through forgiveness.282
68 As I have insisted on various occasions, dialogue between the religions must be put at the service of peace between peoples. The different religious traditions possess the resources needed to overcome divisions and to build reciprocal friendship and respect. The Synod appealed to Bishops to promote meetings with the representatives of the world's peoples, in order to reflect carefully on the conflicts and wars which are tearing our world apart, and to identify the paths which can be taken towards a common commitment of justice, concord and peace.
The Synod Fathers strongly emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue for peace, and asked the Bishops to commit themselves to engage in this important activity in their respective Dioceses. New paths to peace can be blazed by defending religious freedom, which the Second Vatican Council discussed in the Decree Dignitatis Humanae, and by working for the education of the younger generation and the proper use of the communications media.283
The horizons of interreligious dialogue, however, are surely wider, and so the Synod Fathers stated once more that such dialogue belongs to the new evangelization, especially in these times when people belonging to different religions are increasingly living together in the same areas, in the same cities and their daily workplaces. Interreligious dialogue thus has a place in the daily life of many Christian families; for this reason too the Bishops, as teachers of the faith and shepherds of the People of God, must give it proper attention.
When Christians live side-by-side with persons of other religions, they have a particular obligation to testify to the oneness and universality of the saving mystery of Jesus Christ and to the consequent necessity of the Church as the means of salvation for all humanity. ''This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that 'one religion is as good as another' ''.284 It is clear, then, that interreligious dialogue can never be a substitute for the proclamation and propagation of the faith, which constitute the primary goal of the Church's preaching, catechesis and mission.
A frank and unambiguous affirmation that human salvation depends on the redemption accomplished by Christ is not an obstacle to dialogue with other religions. In the context of our profession of Christian hope, it cannot be forgotten that it is precisely this hope which is the basis of interreligious dialogue. As the conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate states: ''All nations are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the whole face of the earth. They also have one final end, God, whose providence, manifest goodness and plan of salvation extend to all, until the elect be gathered together in the holy city which the glory of God will illuminate and where the peoples will walk in his light''.285
69 The pastoral activity of the Bishop cannot fail to manifest particular concern for the demands of love and justice arising from the social and economic situation of the poor, the abandoned and the mistreated. In every poor person believers see a special image of Jesus. Their presence within the ecclesial and civil communities is a litmus test of the authenticity of our Christian faith.
I would also like to mention briefly the complex phenomenon of globalization, which is one of the features of our world today. Certainly there exists a ''globalization'' of the economy, finances and culture which is expanding as a result of the rapid progress of information technology. As I have observed on other occasions, this phenomenon calls for careful discernment in order to identify its positive and negative aspects and their consequences for the Church and the whole human race. Bishops can make an important contribution to this discernment by insisting on the urgent need for a globalization in charity, without marginalization. In this regard, the Synod Fathers spoke of the duty of promoting a ''globalization of charity'' and considered issues associated with the cancellation of foreign debt, which compromises the economies of entire peoples, holding back their social and political progress.286
Without entering into the details of this serious problem, I would only repeat several fundamental points already indicated elsewhere. The Church's vision in this area has three essential and concomitant points of reference: the dignity of the human person, solidarity and subsidiarity. It follows that ''the globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good''.287 When globalization is joined to the dynamism of solidarity, it is no longer a source of marginalization. Indeed, the globalization of solidarity is a direct consequence of that universal charity which is the heart of the Gospel.
70 The Synod Fathers also addressed the ethical dimension of the ecological question.288 In the deepest sense, a call for the globalization of solidarity also involves the urgent question of the protection of creation and the earth's resources. The ''crying out of all creation'' spoken of by the Apostle (cf. Rom Rm 8,22) seems today to occur in a reversal of perspectives, since it is no longer a matter of an eschatological tension which awaits the revelation of the sons of God (cf. Rom Rm 8,19), but rather of a paroxysm of death which strives to grip humanity itself in order to destroy it.
Here in fact we encounter the ecological question in its most insidious and perverse form. In effect, ''the most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductive vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man''.289
Clearly, what is called for is not simply a physical ecology, concerned with protecting the habitat of the various living beings, but a human ecology, capable of protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations and of leaving behind for future generations an environment which conforms as closely as possible to the Creator's plan. There is a need for an ecological conversion, to which Bishops themselves can contribute by their teaching about the correct relationship of human beings with nature. Seen in the light of the doctrine of God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, this relationship is one of ''stewardship:'' human beings are set at the centre of creation as stewards of the Creator.
71 Human concern leads the Bishop to imitate Jesus, the true ''Good Samaritan'', filled with compassion and mercy, who cares for others without discrimination. Health care represents one of the outstanding challenges of the present time. Tragically, many forms of sickness still persist in different parts of the world, and although science is making tremendous strides in the search for new solutions and better treatments, there are always new situations which pose a threat to physical and mental health.
Within his own Diocese each Bishop, with the help of qualified persons, is called to work for an integral proclamation of the ''Gospel of life''. When Christians try to humanize medicine and the care of the sick by showing personal concern and closeness to the suffering, they become for everyone a powerful image of Jesus himself, the healer of bodies and souls. Among the instructions which he gave to his Apostles, the Lord included an exhortation to heal the sick (cf. Mt Mt 10,8).290 The organization and promotion of adequate pastoral care for health-care workers should thus be a priority close to the heart of every Bishop.
In a special way, the Synod Fathers felt the need to give forceful expression to their concern for the promotion of an authentic ''culture of life'' in contemporary society: ''Perhaps what most upsets us as pastors is the contempt for human life, from conception to death, as well as the breakdown of the family. The Church's 'No' to abortion and euthanasia is a 'Yes' to life, a 'Yes' to the fundamental goodness of creation, a 'Yes' which can move every person in the depths of his conscience, a 'Yes' to the family, the most basic community of hope, which so pleases God that he calls it to become a domestic Church''.291
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