By Ann Schneible
ROME, OCT. 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- "We have to find ways of touching people's hearts, as well as engaging their minds."
These are the words of Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, UK, Synod father for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly for the New Evangelization, which is currently in its third and final week here in Rome.
Archbishop Longley spoke with ZENIT about the prayerful sense of community which this Synod affords those who are participating, and about the work of the Holy Spirit in the mission of the New Evangelization.
ZENIT: We are now into the third and final week of the Synod. What have been your impressions up to this point?
Archbishop Longley: At the moment I have a range of contrasting impressions. First of all, regarding the first week of the Synod, it was a period of really intense listening, and the quality of our time together at prayer, reflection, and listening to one another was very beneficial. Especially for bishops: so often when we are at occasions in our own dioceses, people look to us to pass on a message, or some insight in our preaching, in our teaching and in what we say. But in these days, we have been called together in the presence of the Holy Father to listen to one another, and that requires an intense kind of listening, to be deeply obedient to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Synod fathers, and through the Holy Father. I think it models some of the things we're looking for in the new evangelization. The way that we have been listening to one another encourages us when we return to our dioceses, and in the future, to listen intently to what the Holy Spirit is saying within the communities we are seeking to serve, as well in those places where there is goodness and truth, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us: amongst our brothers and sisters who are baptized in other Churches, among people of good will of other faiths, and among people who are seeking truth in their own lives. My first impression, then, was one of gratitude for the opportunity to listen quietly and prayerfully to one another.
The second week, moving into the "circoli minori" [language groups] with the production of the propositions, has been very creative, and I've been uplifted by the insights of some of the experts, as well as some of my brother bishops and Synod Fathers: in particular, with regard to those things that concern young people, that concern the poor, and being able to see people not just as the objects of the new evangelization, but actually as the agents of the New Evangelization. The way in which the propositions have emerged has also been very impressive because these propositions have their roots in those first few days of listening, and a prayerful listening to one another. I think it has brought about a remarkable consensus. I was involved as a relator in the process of gathering together propositions, first of all in my own language of English, and then in the different languages. It was astonishing to see how there was a consensus beginning to emerge about the sorts of areas that we wanted to focus on in propositions.
That process now will continue as we enter the third and final phase of the Synod where there will be modifications and amendments to the proposals over the next few days.
ZENIT: What do you hope to take from this Synod to bring to the people back home, especially the laity?
Archbishop Longley: Above all, I want to bring back that sense of being at one with the Holy Father and with the bishops of the Church gathered in this Synod. I know there is an awareness of that in my own archdiocese in Birmingham in the UK, where the celebrations for the Year of Faith have already begun remarkably well. I was very uplifted, and I think my own contribution to this Synod has been sustained by the prayers of the parishioners and the priests, deacons, and religious in my own diocese at home. On the Sunday following the Holy Father's Mass opening the Year of Faith, I heard about the numbers being greater than our cathedral could hold at home, and having to be relayed to people in rooms outside the cathedral. There is that sense of enthusiasm amongst our own people to be the New Evangelizers, and I want to reinforce that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit Who is guiding this Synod of Bishops with the Holy Father, the same Spirit Who is drawing these good things up from the people within our parishes at home.
ZENIT: You delivered one of the interventions at this Synod, and recently you also presented at one of the group discussions. Could you outline some of the main points of these addresses?
Archbishop Longley: One of the central things, in my own intervention, was the way in which the Holy Spirit works through the mind and through the heart together. I gave the example of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, and how he himself was intellectually convinced of the claims of the Catholic Church, he knew that this is where the Lord was leading him, and yet for himself he needed his heart to be touched. His beautiful motto, "cor ad cor loquitur," ["heart speaks unto the heart"] is a very fitting motto for the process for the work for the New Evangelization. We have to find ways of touching people's hearts, as well as engaging their minds. The two must go together; we cannot neglect either.
But the thing that touches people's hearts is the example of Christian life within families, within marriages, reaching out to the poor and those who are in particular need in local societies, and a desire to actually love in the sense of being willing to give of ourselves, to spend our own energy for the good of others, whatever the return seems to be for ourselves, in the desire that this will show our faith. The example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which has come back from time to time to our own Synod here in images and in the interventions of the Synod fathers – from India especially – reminds us of the simplicity of a life of faith lived well, with concern for those who are in need, evangelizes so effectively. And it moves people, then, to want to explore the content of our faith.