Roman Catholic bishops from throughout the world have ended a three-week gathering at the Vatican by underlining commitment to the unity of the Church and by suggesting that women be given the right to preach in Catholic parishes.
In a final message to the world’s Catholics, the 253 bishops urged that bonds with other Christian communities be reinforced. This should be done through joint translations of the Bible, ecumenical biblical prayer, dialogue about the meaning of the biblical texts and "common witness of the word of God in a secularised world".
The 6-26 October meeting, known as a synod of bishops, took place on the theme, "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church", and focussed on the relevance of the Bible. The gathering also included 10 representatives of non-Catholic churches as fraternal delegates.
For the first time at such a synod, the gathering was addressed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, often described as the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
"We regard this as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit leading our churches to a closer and deeper relationship with each other, an important step towards the restoration of our full communion," Bartholomeos told the bishops on 18 October.
Earlier, a representative of the (Orthodox) Church of Greece told the synod it was the task of the Pope to be "a visible and paternal sign of unity and to lead under the guidance of the Holy Spirit". The role of the bishop of Rome, who is the Pope, is one of the main issues that has divided Catholic and Orthodox Christians for almost 1000 years.
Archimandrite Ignatios Sotiriadis said that the world was looking to Christians of different traditions to join forces to respond to its needs. "Our society demands of us Christians – Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans – a common witness, a unified voice," he stated.
Ignatios acknowledged that "the history of the Christianity is full of crimes, sins and errors" but, he added, with the help of God, the Church can teach to the world "pardon, reconciliation, peace, justice, equality between man and woman".
In a set of 55 "propositions" presented to Pope Benedict, the synod proposed that women be allowed to preach in Catholic parishes by being instituted "lectors".
Many centuries ago, the "lectorate" was one of the four and separate "minor orders" of the Catholic Church conferring on lectors the possibility to read the Bible in the liturgy. Until recently, it has been seen as a step towards the priesthood, reserved only to men.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II said that according to the will of Jesus Christ only men could be ordained priests.
Cettina Militello, a Catholic theologian, was quoted by Italian newspapers as saying that opening the lectorate to women would have "great symbolic value". But another female Catholic theologian, Maria Caterina Jacobelli, said the proposal represented "only a small step".
(c) Ecumenical News International
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