UST professor among 10 Americans chosen as Synod experts

January 15, 2013

HOUSTON - Sister Paula Jean Miller, F.S.E., founder and director of Catholic Studies and professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, served as an expert, adiutrix secretarii specialis, for the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Italy, on the topic, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” The adiutrix, feminine, or adiutor, masculine, offers expert assistance and collaboration to the special secretary in the preparation of the Synod documents and reports.

Sister Miller was appointed Sept. 22 by Pope Benedict XVI, and was among 10 people who were appointed from the United States.
As an expert, Sister Miller attended all sessions of the Synod during the Oct. 7 to 28 gathering, listened to the presentations and discussions, and was available during afternoon meetings for any assistance. Experts are present at all plenary sessions and meetings of the various language groups, where the groups’ reporters can enlist their services.

Sister Miller spoke with the Texas Catholic Herald about her experience:

Texas Catholic Herald: What was your role at the Synod? 
Sister Miller: My participation was entitled “Adiutrix,” i.e., “theological expert” to be available to the bishops on an “as needed” basis throughout the Synod. We were required to be present at all Synod sessions. We were allowed to speak in the small group sessions, but our proposals had to be adopted by a member bishop before the bishops could vote on them. I was privileged to be in the same small group as cardinals [George] Pell and [Timothy] Dolan — both truly great leaders of the Church and inspiring men. Each day we submitted key point summaries of all interventions and discussions, which were then integrated into the daily session summaries and the final summary presented to Pope Benedict XVI for his Apostolic Exhortation.

TCH: How did you prepare prior to the Synod? 
Sister Miller: By reading the Lineamenta and the working document that summarized all the responses to the Lineamenta. Also by reviewing key Vatican II documents and papal letters that helped to define the “new evangelization” and an excellent book by Bishop Rino Fisichella, head of the dicastery on the new evangelization: The New Evangelization: Responding to the Challenge of Indifference. It is now available in English.

TCH: Having had time to process and reflect on your experience at the Synod, what still stands out for you from the event? 
Sister Miller: So many things! 1) An intimate awareness of the situations, challenges, and difficulties of each diocese around the world, as shared in the five-minute intervention of each Bishop. 2) Being in close proximity to Pope Benedict XVI on a daily basis and watching him listen so intently to each intervention. 3) Experiencing the working process of the Church, particularly in the small group sessions. 4) Listening to the bishops and grasping how each has assimilated the theology of Vatican Council II into his daily approach to shepherding the Church.

TCH: Was there anything you heard or saw that excited or inspired you? 
Sister Miller: On the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, 40,000-plus young people re-enacted the spontaneous candlelight procession into St. Peter’s Square when Pope John XXIII came to his window and spoke at length with them from his heart. The Square was literally filled to capacity once again in 2012 with young people bearing candles, listening to John XXIII speak on video, and then clamoring until Pope Benedict XVI appeared at the window and spoke to them of that night 50 years ago when he was among the crowd in the Square, filled with hope by John XXIII. He spoke to them of the changes in the world and the Church since then; of hopes fulfilled and unfulfilled; of the serious challenges still to be faced. He spoke to them with fatherly love and he blessed them. It was a very moving time to be with all the young people in the Square.

TCH: Was there anything you heard or saw that changed your perspective on any issue? 
Sister Miller: Because I have lived in the Holy Land, love it, and frequently return to guide pilgrim groups, I was particularly keyed into the interventions of the Patriarchs of the Near East. From the first day of the Synod crises were erupting, particularly in regard to Syria, and the Patriarchs were speaking passionately of the problems and challenges they are facing, particularly in relation to various Islamic groups that encompass a broad spectrum of reactions/responses to the Church. The Patriarch of Syria approached me at coffee break the last day and begged that our country let Syrians settle their own problems and not provide weapons for their self-destruction. This “window” into the concrete daily struggles the bishops of the Middle East face gave me far deeper insight into the complexity of the political-cultural-religious situation there.

TCH: Since you work with college students, how do you see the “young Church” playing a role in the new evangelization?
Sister Miller: Young people characteristically are more idealistic; they see new “visions” more clearly that are not yet warped by disappointment and disillusionment. They have energy and physical strength to take on demanding challenges. I believe they see how our culture is not living up to the vision of America, of religious freedom, of the dignity of every human person from conception to death, of the call and fulfillment of every human person revealed in Jesus Christ. Theirs is the mission to the secular, temporal culture which Pope John Paul II challenged the laity to embrace in his document, “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity.” It is for them to witness to the integration of faith and life and to destroy within themselves the separation that exists between what they believe and how they live. When they do that — one person at a time — we will have a new evangelization and a new world order.

TCH: As the Body of Christ, what can we all do to better evangelize in our everyday lives? 
Sister Miller: Pope Paul VI taught us in the first encyclical on evangelization that it must be primarily through WITNESS — simply LIVING WHAT WE BELIEVE. The Synod bishops reiterated that principle. What we often don’t put together is that witness and martyr are equivalent terms. To be a martyr is to be a witness to and a confessor of the faith. As we face the reality of the HHS Mandate this year we must confront directly the repercussions of witness, confession of faith, and, yes, martyrdom in whatever concrete forms that will take. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians” still remains true in the 21st century.

TCH: As we begin a new year, what advice do you have for those seeking to dive more deeply into the “Year of Faith”? 
Sister Miller: Take some quiet time every day to encounter Jesus Christ, to talk with him about your life and where it’s going; what you’re happy about and where you are a disappointment to yourself and what you can do to “measure up.” Find good friends to help you LIVE your faith and discover it every day. Many dioceses of the world are developing “base communities” within their parishes or geographical or social communities; small groups that meet to listen to Scripture, discuss its challenge to their lives, celebrate the Eucharist, and set goals for themselves — including ways to expose others to life in Jesus Christ. I believe we need to put more effort into these “base communities” here in the U.S. and the Year of Faith is an excellent time to begin.