October 2, 2005

Pope opens synod, says keep God in public life

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, opening the first
major Church meeting since his election, said on Sunday that
trying to keep God out of public life was "not tolerance but

The Pope, during a solemn Mass in St Peter's Basilica
opening a synod of more than 250 bishops from 118 countries,
also said that too many Catholic lives could be compared to
"vinegar rather than wine" because of the indifference to God.

He homed in on concerns dear to him since his election on
April 19 -- the health of the faith of individual Catholics and
the entire Church and God's place in the public life.

"The type of tolerance which permits God as a private
opinion but refuses to allow him in the public arena, is, in
the reality of the world and our life, not tolerance but
hypocrisy," he said in the homily before the bishops.

"There can be no justice where man makes himself the only
master of the world and of himself," Benedict said during the
Mass attended by thousands of people.

The official theme of the synod is the sacrament of the
Eucharist, which Catholics believe is Christ's body and blood.

But discussion is expected on issues such as the shortage
of priests, the decline in Mass attendance and whether
Catholics who back abortion rights should be able to receive

The U.S. Catholic community was divided last year over
whether they should support presidential candidate John Kerry,
himself a Catholic who supported abortion rights.

Some Catholics say they personally would not have an
abortion but, in pluralistic societies such as the United
States, feel obliged to support a woman's right to choose.

But the synod's working document says Catholics cannot back
politicians who openly support abortion.

There also have been legal conflicts in the United States
and Italy about whether religious symbols such as crucifixes
and the tablets of the Ten Commandments can stay in public


The three-week-long synod will offer advice to Benedict,
who is expected to attend all or most of the sessions, giving
him a chance to meet many of the bishops for the first time.

In another part of the homily, the Pope elaborated on the
Biblical story of the vineyard which produced bad grapes.

"Is our Christian life often perhaps much more vinegar than
wine? Is it self-commiseration, conflict, indifference?"

Since his election Benedict, who last August in Germany
said there was much to criticize in the Church, has urged
Catholics to take their faith much more seriously.

The synod's working document says that an increasingly
secularized society had weakened the sense of mystery in the
sacrament of communion.

"I hope the synod leads to a deeper appreciation of the
Eucharist and what it means for us as a sacrament. We have to
make sure we are faithful to that celebration on Sunday despite
the cultural pressures against it," said Bishop William
Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Skylstad told Reuters he expected some talk on the shortage
of priests but was not expecting any substantial discussion
about the Church rule on priestly celibacy. Some groups believe
the shortage could be eased if priests are allowed to marry.

Benedict had invited four bishops from China but the
communist government has not yet given them permission to