VATICAN CITY — In a solemn Mass in the flood-lit splendor of St. Peter's Basilica, Pope John Paul II on Sunday closed an international assembly of bishops, declaring that the Roman Catholic Church stands ready to meet the challenges of modern society.
"At the end of the second millennium after Christ, the church . . . truly desires to be the church in the modern world," the Pope said in his sermon, spoken in Italian. "She desires with all her strength to serve, so that human life on Earth may be ever more worthy of man."
The ceremony marked the formal end of a two-week synod of Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops who head national hierarchies. The Pope had summoned them to assess the impact of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, which inaugurated far-ranging reforms and modernization in the previously monolithic and change-resistant church.
A 14-page report on the synod's findings and recommendations, approved by an overwhelming majority of the 165 prelates at their final working session Saturday, is to be officially made public in all major languages today.
According to summaries of the Latin text, a major goal of the document is to pull together diverse elements of the 800-million-member church and check dissent from church teachings and doctrine.
The document calls the church to a greater commitment to social justice and the poor and stresses the need to promote Christian unity and interfaith dialogues with other religions.
It also proposes that a new universal guidebook or compendium of church doctrine and morals be prepared to help the various national hierarchies write their own catechism, or teaching material, for educating Catholics.
The recommendations, which the Pope approved for publication without change--a precedent for synod documents--include a request that uniform teaching texts be devised for seminary training of candidates for the priesthood. Another calls for further study of the authority of national bishops' conferences.
"The synod has accomplished the purposes for which it was convoked: to celebrate, verify and promote the council," the Pope said in his 23-minute sermon, noting that Vatican II, after four years of work, had closed exactly 20 years earlier on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.
Dignitaries and the faithful packed the basilica for the elaborate morning Mass. The three co-presidents of the synod, Cardinals John Krol of Philadelphia, Joseph Malula of Zaire and Johannes Willebrands of the Netherlands, joined the pontiff at the high altar, set under Bernini's massive, carved bronze canopy and over what is believed to be St. Peter's tomb.
Women Scripture Readers
The service was conducted in a variety of languages and included women Scripture readers. The Lord's Prayer was sung in Latin. Representatives of various races, including a young woman with a long pigtail and dressed in red slacks, brought flowers to the altar.
The most lively congregational participation occurred during a guitar-accompanied song of praise to Mary, whose Feast of the Immaculate Conception the city of Rome lavishly celebrates each Dec. 8.
The 65-year-old Polish-born Pope, while stressing the modern agenda of the church, said it should also be like the early church of the Apostles.
"At the end of the second millennium after Christ, the church earnestly desires only one thing: to be the same church that was born of the Holy Spirit," he said.
The pontiff, clad in a flowing gold and white robe and a white miter, said that a desired outcome of the synod was "to ensure that the Second Vatican Council is more widely and more thoroughly known; to ensure that the orientations and directives that the council left us are assimilated into the very heart of all the members of the People of God and translated into the way they live, with consistency and love."
"As we come out of the synod we wish to offer to the whole of humanity, with a renewed power of persuasion, the proclamation of faith, hope and love that the church draws from her perennial youthfulness, in the light of the living Christ, who is the 'way, the truth and life' for the people of our time and of all times," John Paul concluded.