Christmas always conjures up stories and images of children waking up excitedly on Christmas Day to open presents that have mysteriously arrived in stockings, pillow cases and under brightly decorated trees. It is a time of smiles and laughter; of fun and games. Lavishly made TV specials add to many peoples’ and families’ celebrations. For most people Christmas is a time of rest, and of joy. It is good to celebrate and enjoy time together with family and friends. It is also the season of goodwill towards others whom we see as less fortunate than ourselves; charities are well supported at Christmas. Many people volunteer to bring some joy to others through meals, parties, visits and surprise presents. Generous giving to others in need should be part of Christmas for us all. We miss part of the season’s joy if we do not catch something of the joy of giving.
Yet we all know that for some Christmas accentuates loneliness; it heightens grief; it creates unpayable debts and it opens wounds. Sadly it will not be ‘Happy’ for everyone. Some children will go hungry, even on Christmas Day. The rising reality of child hunger in this, still one of the richest nations on earth, causes increasing concern. Child poverty is not just a scandal now it anticipates long term issues for those children’s overall life chances and expectancy. It is not as horrific as scenes of slaughter of children in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan; innocent lives taken away so cruelly. Nor is it as awful as the desperate plight of children in refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and elsewhere; nor the deep long term hunger of children in South Sudan. But it is a serious wrong. All of these should make us weep, cry out in anguish, yearn for justice and some hope in the face of it all, and play our part in bringing about change.
The true story on which all of Christmas is founded speaks both to our joy and our sorrow. It leads us to celebrate and to weep.
Jesus’ birth is caught up in both. There is joy for Joseph and Mary at the birth of the God promised child. A joy shared by angels and shepherds. There is the lack of room for a pregnant mother in an inn and the use of a feeding trough for a cot. There is the anguish at what it might all mean. Later it became worse with the flight into Egypt fleeing the horror of Herod’s slaughter of so many innocent children whilst in jealousy and rage he tried to destroy the most royal baby ever born.
Christmas celebrates this extraordinary birth that changed the world. It is filled with pain and yet also joy. Joy at the good news that God is involved with us; that in and through everything God does care.
May this Christmas be one of much joy but also of deep awareness of where joy is missing. May it be one where generosity marks us all. May it be one where together we commit to a better future, especially for those in most need in our society and across the world.


So at the end it all came down to 62 minutes of secret electronic voting on the text of the Relatio Synodi.one minute for each paragraph. All the talking and debating done; simply Synod Fathers ‘is this paragraph Placet or Non Placet?’. Two thirds needed for it to be Placet. It was a strange experience sat there watching all these men quietly and studiously voting. No reaction at any point, even when a paragraph did not receive the necessary two thirds (3 paragraphs did not do so). The previous day’s cheerful lively discussion on the Message, and the morning’s equally cheery simple majority vote on it seemed a long time past. When all was done there was a stillness; work done. Now for a year of further exploration and a return to the subject at next year’s Ordinary Synod. Then the make up will be different as larger churches will have more representatives rather than the simple 1 per bishop’s conference this time. This could be significant when it comes to voting on formal propositions next year.
The usual thanks for all who had helped then followed and it was time to hand back to the Pope. Some clearly thought he was just going to lead us in prayer as they stood ready to join in. But no, he motioned them to sit and pulled out his papers ready to speak. He had listened studiously for the whole Synod, and now he spoke.
We had already been told that the whole relatio with voting figures would be published. It was not clear if this meant those failing to get two thirds; it became clear it would include these. Openness is to continue; the whole story is to be heard.
The Pope spoke quietly. He spoke of the temptation to live by the rules and the book; he spoke of the temptation to throw teaching and tradition away. He spoke of all the temptations that had been present for Synod members and, as 1 Cardinal said to me afterwards, all those given into in one way or another. It was very powerful. There is no doubt who is leading this church. The applause at the end was very long and very warm. There is a serenity about this man. In the morning I had spoken with him again. He spoke of the Ugandan martyrs, made saints 50 years ago that day. He wanted me to be clear that he knew that Anglicans were martyred too, and that we are bound by the blood of martyrdom. Given my previous reflection you will understand why this was a poignant conversation.
After he left the synod hall at the end of this final session he went over to the Press and chatted with them. He talked with a Mum and her baby. He was all smiles. As a journalist said, ‘He always has time for people.’
I have been deeply impressed by many that I have met here; bishops, archbishops, cardinals, my fellow fraternal delegates and the splendid lay witnesses for whom it has been an up and down ride in some ways. But most deeply I have been impressed by Francis, Bishop of Rome, a saintly man.

The Swiss Guard are a very colourful part of the Vatican. Behind the scenes this week I have seen them relaxing, having a glass of water on a short break, cooling off. When they stand to attention they click their heels very loudly, and their right arm rises in a fixed salute. There have been 2 on the gate, 2 on the main door and 1 inside for every session. They salute every Cardinal, archbishop and bishop on their way in, and way out. This includes the English Anglican. I don’t think I shall be seeking a way to introduce such respectful behaviour anywhere in Durham. These guards act as a clear reminder of the Vatican being a separate state. Whilst ceremonial they also remind us all that the Pope is a vulnerable person, open to attack.
The theme of the cost of being a Christian, even to martyrdom, has never been far from my mind during this Synod. We have heard and spoken of Christians in Iraq and Syria on several occasions. The Archbishop of Iran flew to Jordan to talk with the King there about Christian refugees and their care. We have heard of the struggles in Northern Nigeria with Boko Haram. OMany of us gathered at San Bartolomeo to remember martyrs from all over the world of the 20th century. The English College reminded us of 41 martyrs in their early years. In the Anglican calendar we remembered Latimer and Ridley’s martyrdom. Then in Rome the thoughts of Peter and Paul’s martyrdom and the many other ordinary Christians under Nero and Domitian especially are never far away.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ has never been easy or straightforward. The gospel is glorious good news of freedom, yet it is centred on the Cross and living the way of the cross. This is part of what the Synod has been wrestling with; it is a gospel of mercy and truth. It is good news. It is welcoming to all. Yet it is deeply challenging to any lifestyle that is self centred; to any society that makes an idol of wealth and economics, or political power. God must come first and last. This is not because he is a domineering ogre but because He is the gracious, merciful, loving One who gave himself fully in Jesus for us all. It is a response of love to Love.
This is why Pope Francis gives those around him, including the Swiss Guard, regular palpitations. He wants to model the loving openness of Jesus. This means being with the people, touching them, talking with them. It places him at risk. But this is Jesus’ way.

Rome is hot and humid so I have been very grateful that in our small groups we have not had to wear cassocks. Now to those who know me there will be a wry smile that for all the Congregations last week I was sat in a black cassock, with purple sash, throughout. Yes I even walked through the streets every morning dressed this way.
The more relaxed nature has not lessened the intensity of the work. 17 delegates along with myself as a fraternal delegate, 5 of the lay presenters and 1 priest have been ensconced in our room, along with 2 priests assisting the mechanics of it all, for 2 sessions (6 hours) each day; although we finished our deliberations by lunchtime Wednesday so took the afternoon off. In between some worked very hard as well on alternative wordings. We systematically worked through the text (Relatio post Disceptationem) that was produced as a summary of last week’s discussions. This was done with great care and thought. Every voice that wanted to speak was allowed to do so and was very respectfully treated by all. We were extremely well chaired (moderated) by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky). Our Rapporteur Archbishop Stephen Brislin (Archbishop of Cape Town) has patiently and brilliantly worked to ensure the group’s decisions are clear, recorded and reported. Whilst we were all welcome to speak and comment, only delegates could make formal revisions and vote on them. A sign of how well our group worked was that almost all proposed revisions were worked to a place where all with a vote could agree.
It has been wonderful being part of such an international group; every continent has been represented. I love working cross culturally this way.
I have deeply appreciated the warmth with which I have been treated by all.
Now every groups suggested changes go to the central writing group who have to see how much consensus has emerged and produce a final Relatio Synodi. This then has to be agreed on Saturday. It will then become the document from which every Bishops Conference around the world will work with their local churches from which the Instrumentum Labori for next October’s synod will be created. Only at the end of that synod will there be formal proposals voted upon.
This leads to reflecting on the media storm on Monday and Tuesday. It has been common, I understand, for the Relatio post Disceptationem to be published during previous synods. But never before has it attracted so much media attention, or thus effectively be misrepresented in the media as if it is a statement of what Rome now thinks. It is a working document that everyone in the Synod knows will be refined and even changed as that is the process. I think that here the new more open approach that has been happening may not have been fully thought through at this point. I may be wrong but I don’t think there had been the anticipation of quite so much media traffic about an interim, able to be revised and changed, document. As ever the headlines, though not necessarily the articles, shocked many of the participants. Once over the shock I think those in my group were able to simply leave the headlines aside and get on with the task. Whether or not that will be true of the Synod as a whole we shall have to wait and see.
A final note for this reflection is on hospitality. The Italians are famed for their food, rightly. The hospitality at every point has been excellent. However I have to note that the English College (where priests from England train) excelled itself in entertaining around 50 of us at the invitation of the wonderful Cardinal Vincent Nicholls. It is a beautiful college and the food and wine were extremely good. It also offered a great opportunity to talk with a few of the delegates about all manner of issues not being covered by the Synod.

The middle weekend has been free time. So I have had the privilege of seeing some of Rome’s great sites. There has also been space for more informal conversations with priests who live where I am staying; most of them work in the Vatican, some are students. So insights from different angles.
Sunday morning I took up the suggestion of worshipping with the ‘Caravita’ congregation at their english service. They don’t start until 11 so I decided to walk and visit beforehand. The streets are very quiet at 8.30 on a Sunday but by the time I reached the Piazza Venezia a few early starters like me were around. The Victor Emmanuel II monument is impressive but I found myself wondering what bits of it would remain and survive if it were ever to be broken down like the splendour of the Fori Imperiali now laid wonderfully bare for us all to walk by. The colosseum was already busy. Looking down imagining my Christian predecessors fighting for their lives in this vast arena is humbling. Yet I thought too of how little stadia have changed. The shape; the steep sides and steps; the cheap seats high up and the wealthy and powerful closest to the action; the cheering as the ‘combatants’ appear from the tunnels onto the ‘pitch’; the to-ing and fro-ing of the contest and the cheers and jeers from the crowd. Stadia have had a common purpose for millennia. They are designed to entertain. They allow all walks of life to attend but economics and influence keep different social classes apart. The performers have to entertain, or they fail. We may not have fights to the death in our stadia anymore but we still love the contests that are held in them. Stadia remain symbols of strength for those who build them and run them.
Here I was a rarity. The vast bulk of visitors were with at least one other person; many were family groups or large tour groups. Back on the now busy streets large numbers of families were out enjoying time together on this sunny Sunday morning. The Via de Fori Imperiali was closed and a cycle circuit had been established. Young teenagers were racing hard; learning the art of road racing young. There were interval points races and the young gladiators were watched and cheered on by their families. It was exciting to watch. Here were families together. Others were buying at the Farmers Market; many were sat drinking coffee. One of the small churches was being prepared for a wedding.
I found (eventually) San Francesco Saverio where ‘Del Caravita’ worships in English every Sunday at 11am. We were truly an international community, and an ecumenical one. The delegates of the Methodist-Catholic dialogue were all present. Terrific bible exposition from Bishop Donald Bolen (Bishop of Saskatoon and co chair of the dialogue). Well done, simple liturgy, with excellent music and very friendly afterwards. Here was church family together in worship and prayer. Here was God’s family recognising one another, yet living with the pain of not yet full communion.
Then in the evening I joined with a large congregation and ecumenical leaders at San Bartolomeo. This church is looked after by the St Egidio community. It is specifically run to commemorate the martyrs of the twentieth century. The chapels dedicated to each continent are powerful in who they remember and the artefacts used to do so. It was a powerful example of Christians from many nations and backgrounds standing together in remembrance and praying for the suffering church around the world today. United as one family in prayer.
The whole day spoke to me of family. The joy of seeing families out together enjoying being together. The pride of family in their sporting daughter or son, and the willingness to give up time and energy to do so. The family of humanity walking side by side; marvelling at the same historic places and cultures. The extraordinary family which is the people of God bound together in Jesus Christ, in the joy of the morning and the pain and sorrow of the evening.
Family means so many different things to us all. There is an absolute core basis for life and society which is found in the domestic family; built on the covenant love and commitment of the couple to one another, and to their children. The willingness to say ‘I do not come first, you do. I give myself to you for your wellbeing and growth. I lay myself down.’ In this setting children discover who God intends them to be; here in being loved they discover how to love. Here too husband and wife find, not lose themselves.
Yet this family has to be a part of the bigger family of society and of humanity. Here the church family matters enormously. In the church family becomes so much bigger and in a place like the Caravita Community its bigness can be clearer still; it is a worldwide family that seeks to help the whole human family discover how it can love and serve by being loved. Gathered around broken bread and out poured wine we were called afresh to go out to the highways and byways and make known to all that God welcomes us all to his amazing banquet, and into his family as friends, and beloved children.

So the first week of interventions is over. A small group is hard at work over the weekend producing a new document that seeks to summarise all that has been said ready to be shared on Monday morning. The small groups (circoli minori) will then spend 5 and a bit sessions discussing this and offering feedback ready for a final version to be drafted. As this is an Extraordinary Synod there will be no propositions, just a paper. Over the next year in every country this will be considered further ahead of the full Synod next October, following which propositions will emerge. So do not expect any changes immediately.
My small group had a really excellent start after the formal process of electing a moderator and a rapporteur were completed. There was real openness in sharing, good humour and good listening. So I am hopeful of fruitful discussions.
7 Fraternal Delegates shared our 4 minute talks on Friday afternoon. With 6 of us staying together we had laughed about our various ways of trying to ensure we stuck to our 4 minutes. We were all pretty good, although they actually turned the clock off for us. So there was no 30 and 15 second warning; no red flashing 0:00 or turning down of the microphone for serious overrunning that had been the case on previous days. We had not collaborated in any way although no date our frequent conversations in our journeys to and from the Vatican and over meals had rubbed off on each of our preparation. Our perspectives were meant to reflect our differing traditions, and they did. We each struggled with thinking how to summarise where our churches are on key matters of marriage and sexuality. Try explaining where things stand in the Anglican Communion in a couple of sentences! We all wanted to offer not simply a national perspective but a global one. We are after all representing world communions and alliances. But reflecting afterwards we were aware of the common agreement across orthodox, Coptic and Protestant denominations on birth control being appropriate but with serious questions on abortion. We all still hold doctrinally that marriage is between a man and a woman and is for life; but are open to divorce in some circumstances and thus remarriage. We are all wrestling with what is the appropriate pastoral response to committed monogamous same sex relationships. Amongst the Protestants we all found ourselves speaking of the importance of the equality of women and men, and of children being equally valued too. On communion we all have a conviction that sharing in the eucharist is for sinners not saints and a means of God meeting us and enriching us, so we want to welcome all followers of Jesus to his table.
Most of all we all wanted to celebrate family, in its varied forms. We all recognise the pressures and difficulties but believe family is good for society and to be celebrated. We all want to focus on the promise and hope that comes from family life rather than the threats to it. We want to help families flourish. It is fair to say that I have heard this too from the lay Catholics present, and from many of the synod fathers.
We all received gracious and generous responses from cardinals, archbishops and bishops after we had completed our talks. There is no doubt in my. Ind that in many there is a desire to hear those of us who are ‘outside’ and can make observations as ‘outsiders’. But here too for me is one of the greatest personal challenges of being here. I can critique both positively and negatively what I see before me but do I recognise it when I act in the same way when I am the insider? It is a privilege and a challenge to be placed on the outside for these 2 weeks for it is making me look very hard at how we work on the inside in the Church of England.

Sitting; listening intently, focussing on the speaker whilst coping with simultaneous translation in the ear. This is what I have observed Pope Francis doing these past three and a half days (except Wednesday morning when he held his General Audience in a packed St Peter’s Square).
I too, along with all the synod fathers, lay and fraternal guests have been seeking to do the same.
The mornings begin with Terce; my very poor, very old Latin is helping me a little here. The rhythm of the chanted psalms speaks even whilst understanding only a few words. Then we are into around an hour of 4 minute interventions before coffee and a further hour and a half after. Speakers are mainly highly disciplined with their 4 minutes; few use less; some cut short, a few overrun and if too long the microphones are simply cut. The Pope is formally in the chair with Cardinal Baldiserri as General Secretary overseeing proceedings. Each day has a managing chair; there are 3 rotating day by day. Each ‘congregation’ is considering a specific chapter or two of the Instrumentum Laboris (pre synod document which is a digest of all the response from around the world). Mainly speakers do stick to this. Apparently this is a new way of handling matters, and makes complete sense. It must help everyone developing a sense of opinion rather than anyone speaking to any part of the IL at any time.
As an outsider looking in there is something of a difference between the interventions from archbishops and cardinals representing their country and those who are permanently based in the Vatican. Far more stories are told from within countries; the pain of tough pastoral situations and of whole nations comes across. The realities of extreme poverty, war and violence, migration, domestic violence and being a minority under pressure are never far away. We are constantly brought back to the harsh realities ordinary Catholics ( and Christians more generally) face. There is an honesty about the reality of diverse family life in every nation.
There is passion in speeches. There are clear areas of disagreement, generally carefully stated but quite specifically so on occasions. There is deep wrestling going on with how the truth is maintained and upheld whilst offering mercy, compassion and care. A range of ideas are around, largely already cited in the IL. Most frequently noted are the questions of Christian formation, marriage preparation (from childhood onwards), the questions arising from cohabitation, divorce and same sex relationships. The questions of the annulment of marriages (and the procedures) and of the eucharist for some divorcees etc. are on very many minds. Quite where this synod will be, on any of these matters, by its end it is not possible to tell. (This I am told is also something new).
We break for lunch and siesta (or catching up with emails etc) and return for a further two and a half hours at 4.30. Another hour and a half of prepared interventions then one hour of shorter three minute interventions responding to matters raised during the day. Here the clearest debating takes place.
Another new aspect is the opening speeches from lay people who have a special engagement in aspects of marriage and family life. Most of these have been brilliant. Conversation with these participants is very stimulating too. It highlights for me the importance of lay voices not just sharing stories but offering guidance, insight and direction. I am unclear at present how deeply they are being listened to; next week will tell us more in this regard. But it has challenged me afresh on lay voices in my own church and diocese.
Finally I have to note Pope Francis relaxed style; he is in and around the Hall before sessions start; he mingles and meets people over coffee. I found myself walking down the stairs after yesterday evening just in front of him. He is Pope but he is of the people. His humility shines through. There may be much on which we differ but he inspires me to follow Jesus more closely and that is surely what Christian leadership is about.