(Vatican Radio) The XIII Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation began its second week of deliberations on the Transmission of the Christian Faith in today’s world Monday with over 250 participants gathering in the 11th General Congregation. Pope Benedict XVI was present for proceedings, which were moderated by President delegate Cardinal John Tong Hon, bishop of Hong Kong. Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen is a special Synod correspondent and was inside the Synod Hall to gauge the atmosphere as the working sessions gather pace Listen:
Up in the Vatican synod hall it’s not all about listening to endless speeches on the problems of the Church in different parts of the world. Sometimes participants get free gifts – Pope Benedict on Monday gave them a book about the 2001 synod on the role of bishops as servants of the Gospel. Sometimes they get to see films – this evening they’re invited to stay late for a film about Bell Ringing in Europe, featuring interviews with the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Holy Father himself. Ecumenism, is seems, is alive and well after all.
On Saturday, the synod fathers were treated to another short film from YouTube, a four year old, fear-mongering presentation of statistics attempting to show how Islam is conquering Europe and the rest of the world. Scary music, stark white words on a black background and the warning that dropping fertility rates in Europe, plus high birth rates among immigrant Muslim families, means our children face a threatening world of Islamic domination in the very near future.
Why one of the Curial cardinal chose to show this piece of anti-Islamic propaganda is quite unclear – no one seems to know who made the video and the BBC produced an article shortly after showing many of the facts were at best exaggerated and at worst, completely made up. Was it to provoke more animated debate than is normally heard in the august synod hall? It certainly seemed to do that, with other cardinals questioning the facts and suggesting bishops would do better to consult the work of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, which discusses relations with Islam regularly and produced an important message on interfaith relations in 2008.
There’s no doubt that many church leaders here do feel threatened by Islam, by the fervour of its followers, by the lack of freedom to convert to Christianity and by the fundamentalist minorities who can make life hard for Christians in many African, Asian or Middle Eastern nations. But as plenty of participants are pointing out, an open, honest dialogue, in love and respect for the others, is the only effective way to avoid conflict and promote a greater understanding between peoples of different religious beliefs.
Certainly, a solid faith formation is essential to begin any genuine interfaith dialogue, but as Cardinal Tauran, head of the Vatican’s Council for Interfaith Relations, reminded the synod fathers ‘God is at work in each individual, thus a believer of another faith is not an adversary, but rather a pilgrim on the same journey towards the truth..