Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s visit and talk to Vinh Thanh Seminary
On 22 January, 2015, Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge, on his way to the Philippines to participate in the International Eucharistic Congress, paid a short visit to Vinh Thanh Seminary where he gave a very fascinating talk to the seminarians of two dioceses of Thanh Hoa and Vinh.
The Most Reverend Mark Coleridge is an Australian Catholic bishop. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II in 2002, and was named Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 June 2006. Since 11 May 2012, he has served as the seventh Archbishop of Brisbane. In 2015, he was one of the two bishops (out of 45 Australian bishops) to have been elected to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which was preceded by an Extraordinary Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2014, on the same topic (it can therefore be said that there were two synods on the topic related to the family). As a synod father who had the chance to work in the synod and experience the synod atmosphere, he was invited by Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Vien, Rector of Vinh Thanh Seminary, to deliver a talk to the seminarians on the topic synods on the family.
To help the seminarians understand what happened in the synods, the Archbishop recommended making a sketch of our Papa Francesco (Pope Francis), the first pope from American Continent, who usually does very unusual, unplanned and surprising things. Therefore, his grace Archbishop began his talk by telling the seminarians of Pope Francis and his deep impression on the Holy Father. Right after being elected Pope, while the vast audience in St. Peter’s Square thought to themselves that the newly-elected pope must be speaking something very great, he bowed down and invited the faithful to pray for him. That came as a big surprise to the large gatherings in the Square. The Archbishop added, ‘our pope continued taking us by surprise when he declared to hold in October 2014 an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic related to the family.’
Family is a complicated matter, causing many controversies and misunderstandings among the Church as well as between the Church and the world. The synods are therefore, as the Archbishop pointed out, expected to discover an appropriate way of communicating to the world. The truth is always the truth and must not be changed. The truth on the family and marriage is the truth we received from God, but we have to speak that truth in such a way that it can be conveyed to many people and that they may accept it unreluctantly. We must not cease the communication to the world, because when the communication between us and the world is broken down, then the communication between God and the world collapses too. In fact, the two synods are the continuation of the second Vatican Council which is a journey and has not finished. Coleridge also insisted that the synods should not only be the affair of cardinals and bishops, but of the whole church. That is the true meaning of “synod,” which is etymologically a Greek word (σύνοδος – pronounced sýnodos), meaning “journey together” or “on the road together.” The faithful can raise questions or suggestions, to which the synods should listen. We cannot recognize God’s voice if we don’t listen to our people. The synods should listen to the people although some questions are hard und even clumsy to answer. We should not treat the facts as we want it to be, but as they really are, even though some facts may be uncomfortable.
The Archbishop continued, a good pastor should not always stay inside a fence of safety, but go out to make himself informed of the fact of the wounded sheep. Like a doctor, the pastor should firstly provide them diagnoses to find out what the problem is and why they are sick, and finally offer a remedy to make them better. A similar method was found in the two synods, the first one is like the diagnosis, and the second provides the remedies. In the second synod, the bishops already had working documents (instrumentum laboris) from the first one and after listening to one another, praying and reflecting, the synod fathers entered the synod just like continuing the journey. The Archbishop shared a memorable experience about one of his friends, to whom it is ridiculous that a gathering of only unmarried men (bishops) talks over such matters as family, marriage and divorce. The Archbishop explained that although these single men do not get married, they are near the faithful to listen to their sorrows and pains. Moreover, the bishops, after dwelling themselves in prayer and hard work, are inspired by the Holy Spirit and helped by God to find out solutions to the problems facing today’s family.
Very humorously he said that the travel to Rome, contrary to common knowledge, is no holiday. The synod fathers worked very hard on many issues and some final reports were made. People may always think that all the bishops are the same and that they are mild and may never argue or do something like that. The fact is however different. In the synods, the bishops debated very enthusiastically. There are discussions, arguments, agreements and even disagreements. Sometimes it seemed that no conclusion could be drawn, because the “final document” had nearly hundred paragraphs and each paragraph must be voted separately. Luckily, everything went smoothly. Nevertheless, it’s yet unknown if an official final document from the synod will be released, or if there will be an apostolic exhortation or not. The Archbishop presumed in an interview made by National Catholic Reporters on 13 October 2015, ‘if not, it’s because Pope Francis does not want to give the impression that the synod journey is complete.’
Also in his talk, the Archbishop urged the present seminarians: “In many ways, the seminary, before becoming anything else, must be a school of listening. You are here to learn to listen. God gave you two ears and one mouth. So we have to become a more learning church.” He also drew the seminarians’ attention to the virtue of humility. Humility helps us to be able to hear God’s voice while pride leads us to only listen to ourselves and hence prevents us from connecting with God. Also, the Church must be humble to listen. He reminded the audience of the universality of our Church where all of us are children of God, though we may be different with regards to skin colours, languages or cultures. Since he is an expert in the Bible, the Archbishop did not forget to give the seminarians some precious instructions in terms of the Bible and Bible reading: When we read the Bible, we should raise such questions as “where am I in the story or in the text?” or “how does this text/story concern me?” When we succeed in doing so, we can explore the voice of God in the Bible and then Bible reading is no longer boring.
More about Archbishop Mark Benedict Coleridge[i]: Archbishop Mark (born 25 September 1948 in Melbourne, Victoria) is a worldwide well-known scholar in Bible and is famous for his knowledge and contributions to the Church, especially to the Synod on the family. He graduated from University of Melbourne and then gained his Doctorate of Sacred Scripture (D.S.S.) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome in 1992, becoming the first diocesan priest from the Archdiocese of Melbourne to receive this degree. Although he didn’t expect to be elected to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, he was very pleased to be part of it when elected. Before going to the synod, he had worked hard to get himself well prepared for it. That is also the reason why he was in Vinh Thanh Seminary to tell the seminarians as well as their priest-professors of the synods.
Section of Communications of Vinh Thanh Seminary
[i] Further information about Archbishop Coleridge and the synod can be read at his blog: http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/archbishop/synod-blog/