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.
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 4, 2015
Today the Pope opened the Vatican Synod with a service in St. Peter's Church. The more than 300 delegates came in order of rank – all covered in green robes. They were seated in a huge semi-circle around the altar. Only three fraternal delegates showed up, representing the Baptists, the Anglicans and the Evangelicals. The ordinary Bible reading happened to center on love and on family. This is why the Pope preached on one of those texts, 1 John 4:12, stating, that if we love, God stays in us and his love will be fulfilled in us. The Pope stressed that humans have not been created to live in isolation. Nevertheless, despite globalization, wealth and independence, the number of people that feel lonely is growing. God's major answer has been in Adam's time and still is: marriage and family. It is the truth, that marriage is made for fidelity and without a time line. But this truth has to be said and acted out in love again and again. By pointing to the complementarity of truth and love, the Pope spelled out the central challenge of the Synod, which is not only true for the Catholic Church, but has to be thought through again and again by Evangelicals and all Christians, too: The truth states the ideal, but reality and the hardened heart of humans destroy those ideals. So we again and again have to speak in love, act in love and prove, that Christianity is not only a religion of truth and order, but also of forgiveness, new life and love for God and one another.
Typically Synod openings are not the type of services that draw the millions to Rome, thus St. Peter's Church was rarely filled and not all parts of St. Peter's Square were filled, as it was a much lower number compared to other events like Easter or elevation of saints. Having visited a lot of masses in the Vatican already, it probably was my first time to just hear the regular liturgy without extras, only the sermon mentioned the Synod. To compensate the visitors outside the church, that only followed the service on the screen, the Pope went out and gave an extra message on family to those waiting there.
I instead took the chance to meet many old friends among the delegates, e.g. Patriarch Gregory III Laham from Damascus, Patriarch of the so-called Melkite Catholics, that is those 15 percent of Catholics – mainly in the Middle East – that do not follow Roman/Western liturgy and church law, but Byzantine/Eastern liturgy and church law. Patriarch Gregory III Laham's heart is heavy, as he is responsible for nearly all Catholics living in those areas of the Middle East where persecution is exploding. But even though he speaks up on this and challenges all Christians with the call to evangelize the Muslim world, he has an exceptional love for Muslims, including those that are persecutors.
Monday morning will see the start of the first plenary discussion. The Pope has at the last minute strengthened the small discussion groups. Their results will be recorded and collected and made public, so that a clear picture evolves, what the delegates think – something new here in Rome.