Reviewing Texts and on Pilgrimage

When some future historian of the Church looks back at the events of the past several weeks, he may appreciate the weariness many of us felt at the steady drone of first-world obsessions at the Synod, while Christians in real situations of persecution and life-and-death threats are in trouble all over the world.

And that sage future observer may even ask him/herself how people who repeatedly said that they wanted to avoid Eurocentrism and to underscore the plight of people at the margins, still couldn’t quite bring themselves truly to do so.

This reflection stems from what was probably the most salient question at Tuesday’s briefing. A writer from The Tablet, a progressive Catholic publication in London, asked the panel in the Vatican’s Sala Stampa: After all this discussion, if the term LGBT does not appear in the final document, don’t the Synod Fathers risk being accused of having said they wanted to listen, but in fact did not hear?

Let me confess that, personally, I’m tired of this whole subject. I don’t know whether this was an honest question or an implied threat. And I am further tired of the kind of “dialogue” that seems to compromise the Church’s moral stance in order to realize one of the woollier goals of the Synod, i.e., the obsessive drive to be, in some undefined but radical way, “inclusive.”

I am not a homophobe – silly term – and I feel no compulsion myself to keep bringing up this subject. It’s others who are tilting at those windmills. And it’s quite clear that many of the bishops participating in the Synod are cowed whenever this subject is mentioned.

A couple of them responded to the question with assurances that, whatever the verbal formulations in the final document, the substance of the question will be addressed.

A word of advice to our anointed prelates: Good luck with that. The gay lobby has already intimidated many of you. Others seem to think that they should bend to the opinions of young people because – well, because.

But be ready for the sound and the fury and the backlash if you don’t speak the words that you are supposed to have “heard.” Many of us have experience of these kinds of attacks – and know precisely how they will play out.

All of this is occurring in the foreground while in the background our bishops are still reading and commenting on the first draft of a final text (no leaks yet) and will be submitting suggestions to the drafting committee.

According to Paolo Ruffini, the head of the Vatican Communications Office, the draft they are looking over is shorter than the Working Document, but still substantial. And the Synod hall erupted in sustained applause after it was presented.


Pray that the bishops can get through the Italian – even those who don’t know the language themselves – in the short time allotted. In the nature of things, such documents mostly express goals and sentiments that few people would disagree with – in theory. It will all come down to a few sensitive paragraphs that the adults in the room will have to step up and grapple with in deadly seriousness.

Tuesday was a day for affirming, in a way, the wisdom of older adults. One of the panelists, a Samoan layman participating as an auditor, spoke of how the tribes describe the way they settled the Pacific Islands, one by one. The elders sat in the back of the boats and taught the young people how to deal with the sea, while the young people provided the muscle. Not a bad image of how the world, ideally, might work.

Elders were much present in other ways as well. The Vatican released (simultaneously in both Italian and English) a new, lavishly produced book of short texts and large color photos Tuesday tied to an event at which Pope Francis is appearing. Titled Sharing the Wisdom of Time, it contains interactions he’s had with people, young and old, perspectives of people in different cultures, and his own reflections on what one commenter has called the need for old people who are still “dreamers.” Without old people who dream (on the basis of their experience), the young will have no future – or so it argues.

Pope Francis has often spoken of the importance of grandfathers and grandmothers in handing down the faith. That’s quite true, of course – if young people were listening to grandparents or parents. It would be difficult to say that, outside of traditional societies mostly outside the developed world, anything like that is happening. Or is likely to.

And when you look at the problem from the other way around, you have to wonder what those very same grandparents, so warmly and rightly recommended as potential sources of wisdom, would say about the way that the Synod has fiddled over language like “LGBTs.” Odds are, they wouldn’t come out where the sensitive and progressive people in the room think they should.

On a lighter and more positive note, as the drafting committee continues its work, the Synod Fathers and young people are going to take a brief walking pilgrimage on Thursday. As currently planned, they’re going to begin on Monte Mario, the large hill to the right of the basilica, and walk the six kilometers along the Via Francigena, to the tomb of St. Peter, where they will celebrate a Mass.

That future historian may hesitate about what to make of such a walking pilgrimage at such a moment. But among so many controversies and uncertainties, it will be necessary to admit that it’s good at least to see the Synod practicing what is an undeniably Catholic thing.