Synod briefing: Prayers for victims of war and voice of those saving lives at sea

Synod briefing: Prayers for victims of war and voice of those saving lives at sea

At the Synod briefing on Wednesday, journalists hear from Canadian Cardinal Lacroix, Grace Wrackia from Papua New Guinea, and Luca Casarini, an Italian migration activist, about the General Assembly’s discussions on the issues of poverty, migration, abuse, the role of women, and sexual identity.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

The Sixth General Congregation of the Synod underway at the Vatican opened with a meditation by Cardinal Arthur Roche, who evoked the “danger of a bloody war” with the violence in Gaza and Israel in recent hours.

Reporting on the work between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, which centred on topics such as conflicts in the world, poverty, abuse, and sexual identity, were the president of the Commission for Information, Paolo Ruffini, and Commission secretary, Sheila Pires, in the daily briefing in the Holy See Press Office.

The guests were Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Québec (Canada), who reported on his experience of “enrichment” these days in the Paul VI Hall; Grace Wrakia, witness to the Synod process in Oceania, who made the voice of the “small” communities of Papua New Guinea heard; and Luca Casarini, activist and founder of “Mediterranea Saving Humans”, an NGO born in 2018 from the “indignation” in the face of the thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean, and today dedicated to saving lives at sea.

A special invitee to the Synod, Mr. Casarini shared a strong testimony on this work carried out in the Mare Nostrum [“Our Sea”]. He called his experience an “encounter” between two poverties: the material poverty of those who are forced to leave “the only wealth in their possession”, their own land; and the spiritual poverty of a West that seems to have lost the ability to mourn and reject the “horror”.

A small ‘Working Group’ in Santa Marta

Dr. Ruffini was the first to take the floor at the briefing, reporting on a “small ‘working group’” held on Tuesday at the Casa Santa Marta, where some of Rome’s poor were invited to lunch with Pope Francis and Papal Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.

Those who took part in the meal were also asked what they expected from the Church. “Their answer,” said Dr. Ruffini, reporting from the General Congregation, “was: ‘Love. Only love’.”

The briefing in the Vatican Press Office

In the wake of the Council

339 members were present at Tuesday’s General Congregation, while 345 attended the Congregation on Wednesday morning.

They prayed together the Angelus led by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (whose birthday occurred on Wednesday). The Cardinal asked for the intercession of St. John XXIII, whose liturgical memorial is observed 11 October, which is also the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

The historic moment for the universal Church was evoked by Cardinal Lacroix in his remarks. “What we are living is a continuity of all that,” said the Canadian cardinal. John XXIII was “prophetic”, he added: although elderly and ill, Pope John XXIII was “inspired” by the Spirit on the need to “live an Ecumenical Council”, the end of which he did not live to see.

Cardinal Lacroix read John XIII’s address for the opening of the Council, which is extraordinarily topical in this synodal time that the Church has been living since October 2021. “The methodology we are using is directed towards listening to the Lord, His Word, His presence in every baptized person, and this allows us to be open to the other and to the others.”

Listening and changing how we think

By listening to the Word of God, to our brothers and sisters, “we can find nuances, change what we think, and that is how we see that God is working and is working in all people,” said the Archbishop of Québec, who said that living all this on a personal level “leads me to adjust, to refine, to change my thinking a little.”

The voice of the ‘small’ islands of Oceania

On the other hand, the idea behind the Synod on Synodality itself “is to let oneself be challenged by what emerges in the other interventions in a free manner”, as well as to give voice to those who have so far remained in the background.

Grace Wrackia, in this regard, expressed gratitude to the Pope for inviting representatives from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to the Synod.

“For so many years,” she said, “we have been listening and now we’d like to speak and we’d like you to listen to that. We have something to give to the world. And what we give is from our heart is our way of living, living in communion, living together and building relationship.”

The work of the Synod in the Paul VI Hall

Strong appeals for peace

Listing the topics addressed by small groups and congregations, Dr. Ruffini explained that many speeches touched on the theme of peace and the people suffering from war.

“Reference was made to how Christians can be a sign of peace and reconciliation in a world disfigured by wars and violence,” he said.

“Strong appeals,” he added, were made for the countries plagued by conflict and for the “suffering in some Eastern Churches.”

A humble Church for the poor

Another theme that emerged, said Sheila Pires, was “the desire for a Church that is pro-poor, that is humble, that lowers herself, and that walks with the poor.”

Poor people who “have many faces”: the excluded, migrants, victims of climate change, and even women and sisters in some parts of the world, “who are second-class citizens, and should be protected from abuse,” Ms. Pires explained.

Reflections on abuse and sexual identity

Abuse was another central theme in the reflections. “There was talk of our credibility being questioned by scandals such as sexual abuse and the need to eradicate all sexual, power, and spiritual abuse and do everything, continue to do everything, to be close to the victims,” said Dr. Ruffini.

In the groups and speeches, the issue of sexual identity was then addressed. It was said that it must be tackled “with responsibility and understanding, remaining faithful to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church,” explained the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.

Some called for “greater discernment on the Church’s teaching on sexuality”; for others, however, “there is no need for further discernment”. Prompted by journalists’ questions, he went on to explain that “there was nothing that can be framed in the stereotype of polarisation. It is an experience of sharing.”

The question, he said, the Synod participants asked themselves is: “How to embody pastoral care regarding love among gay couples, among the divorced, while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Church.”

“More or less all those who spoke on these issues said that we must reject all forms of homophobia,” remarked Dr. Ruffini, explaining that several members said “that many difficulties arise from not knowing the reality and the personal journey of individuals.”

The issue of migrants

As for the issue of migrants, some bishops – it was explained at the briefing – have “asked for help from other bishops’ conferences” that are in better situations from the point of view of integration and reception.

They noted that this is a way “to be able to benefit” from the skills developed to ensure that the people received can integrate into society. “The need for migrants and refugees to respect the laws in the countries where they find themselves,” was also reaffirmed.

Luca Casarini

The testimony of Luca Casarini

On the subject of migration, Luca Casarini’s testimony was touching for most of those present at the briefing in the Holy See Press Office. He began by describing himself as “a privileged man”, because “in a world where there is a race to see who kills the most people, a world dominated by hatred, to come to the aid of a life, to embrace brothers and sisters in the middle of the sea is an infinite gift that changes lives. It has changed mine…”

The activist also reflected on the issue of poverty: “In the middle of the sea we meet these brothers and sisters, and at that moment you meet two poverties.”

On the one hand, there is the economic and social poverty that forces people “to leave their land, their family, their memory”, their only riches; on the other hand, the desolating poverty of a part of the world that now considers “horror normal”.

“We are no longer able to cry for a child who dies,” Mr. Casarini said. “These two poverties help each other and make room for something we should desperately seek today in the world of hatred: love. This is how I met Jesus and God.”

With grace and irony, the special guest answered questions from those who asked him if he felt “out of place” at an event like the Synod, punctuated by various rituals and spiritual moments.

“I always feel out of place and inadequate in every context”, he smiled. “I really do consider everyone present at the Synod my brothers and sisters, I am learning to turn anger and resentment into piety.”

The secret, said Mr. Casarini, that “I am trying to learn is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That we should not expect to solve everything ourselves, but it is the Holy Spirit who acts. So crazy things can happen… like the fact that I am at the Synod.”

The founder of Mediterranea was also asked about his “repentance” for his actions during the 2001 G8 meeting in Genoa, and the accusation of aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

“For Genoa, I underwent eight years of trial and was acquitted in all three levels of prosecution,” Mr. Casarini replied, while the other accusation “I could not understand”.

“For me, no human being is clandestine… I understood that I was under investigation because I rescued 38 people from 38 days in the middle of the sea. The biggest stand-off Europe has ever known. Among these people was a girl who was raped by five Libyan guards before going to sea. For 38 days she did not even see a doctor. Did I commit a crime? Arrest me, I’m glad I did it.”


Published On: 11/10/2023