Inside the Vatican Synod on Family: 3 Questions About Catholics and Evangelicals (Day 22)

With the Pope and an African friend, World Synod of the Catholic Church, Vatican City, October 23, 2015.
With the Pope and an African friend, World Synod of the Catholic Church, Vatican City, October 23, 2015. | (Photo: Thomas Schirrmacher)

Editor's note: The Christian Post has arranged with noted evangelical Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, an expert on and friend of The Catholic Church, to provide exclusive and rare coverage of the World Synod of the Catholic Church scheduled for October 3-24.

This Vatican Synod is generating great interest among Catholics and Evangelicals alike as Pope Francis continues to make overtures for increased cooperation with Evangelicals to protect religious freedom in a world of increased persecution of Christians.

Schirrmacher is president of the International Council of the International Society for Human Rights und Ambassador for Human Rights and executive chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, the largest evangelical association in the world.

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Only one evangelical was invited to this year's three-week Synod: Dr. Schirrmacher. Below is his exclusive CP blog post from this historic meeting:

October 25, 2015

Here are three final questions on a set of three totally different issues regarding differences between Catholics and Evangelicals, which I have been asked again and again.

What is the most obvious difference between Catholics and Evangelicals from your experience at the Vatican?

That is easy to answer: Prayers to Mary.

They are very much a part of the daily fabric of prayers. When praying together in private, the Catholic leaders and even the Pope will not pray to Mary when Evangelicals are present. But it is so much interwoven into the small and larger liturgies of the day, that this politeness cannot concede for liturgical prayers, and the best known prayer to Mary, the so called "Angelus" (angel), is prayed often during the day, e.g. after meetings or meals. It is called "Angel," because the first words mention the angel approaching Mary announcing the birth of Jesus.

Prayers to the Saints shows up much less in liturgical format and you normally need to know Latin or Italian well to realize it. Even in a standard Papal Mass, if you leave aside for the moment the different view of communion and there is no special topic involved, like the elevation of a saint, it can happen, that you cannot object to the words, if you are not against liturgy as such.

But you see a huge picture of Mary left of the Papal seat and altar all the time and in the end, there will be prayers to Mary; and when everything is over, the Pope will have some short minutes praying before the large picture of Mary.

Is the result of the synod a real move or just a big media event?

History will tell.

The Catholic Church is like a very large tanker. It is hard to move, but if you only move it a bit, in the long run you move millions of people and a small move finally can get the tanker into another direction.

It is not easy to understand that the Catholic Church does not change just by voting for something new, but tries to find a way, that proves, that the new was there always or at least was the thing really meant in earlier times.

So in our German group the major source and argument for being more open to remarried couples whose first marriage was a canonical marriage, was Thomas Aquinas from the 13th century. Evangelicals are often on the opposite extreme. You are somebody if you are founder and president of an entity with a totally new idea and you might secure a trademark for it.

History will tell whether this was a major breakthrough or just a media event. My feeling is that it is the first, if the Pope stays in office long enough to see to its implementation.

What would a man or woman from the street feel is most different from real life at the Vatican Synod?

You get into a world which does not exist elsewhere.

Among Evangelicals, I often feel old (I am 55). Here I am a youngster.

All delegates are male and most of them beyond or far beyond retirement (in normal jobs). In most of the sessions they are dressed in colorful church robes, something you otherwise would see in Hollywood movies on historic events only. Everything is in strict and liturgical order, everyone has his fixed seat, a fixed time of 3 minutes to speak, a fixed calendar etc.

To be frank: Most Evangelicals would get nervous and either go outside to talk or try to take the floor anyway. You need to have some experience and openness to see the often friendly people and relations behind this. We are all just humans longing for communion.

It is even more amazing that Pope Francis has brought so many changes to the normal rituals in this ceremonial event.

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