The Catholic Church in the Middle East:
This Bulletin is only a working instrument for
02 - 08.10.2010
- PRESENTATION BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL
- SYNODAL WORKING CALENDAR
- GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE SYNOD
- THE SYNOD CHAPEL
- PRAYER FOR THE SPECIAL ASSEMBLY FOR THE MIDDLE EAST OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOP
PRESENTATION BY THE SECRETARY GENERAL
On Friday, 8 October 2010 at 11.30 am in the John Paul II Hall in the Press Office of the Holy See, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops H.E. Most Rev Nikola Eterović held a “Briefing” to give information about the meaning and development of the Synod Assembly.
Below is the text of the presentation by the Secretary General:
“The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). This verse from the Acts of the Apostles describes the life of the primitive community, the ideal for every Christian community. This was chosen as the motto for the fast approaching Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops which will take place between 10 and 24 October 2010, on the theme of The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. The choice of the motto is very meaningful since it illuminates with the light of the Gospel the theme of the Synodal Assembly and because it recalls the close bond between the Church in the Middle East and Holy Scripture. The Holy Father Benedict XVI underlined this as well during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus, from 4 to 6 June 2010. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration in Nicosia, in giving the working document, the Instrumentum laboris, to the representatives of the Middle Eastern episcopacy, the Bishop of Rome underlined that the “motto chosen for the Assembly speaks to us of communion and witness, and it reminds us how the members of the early Christian community ‘were of one heart and soul”’ (Acts 4:32). With this meaningful gesture the Supreme Pontiff ideally opened the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops that will in reality begin its work on 10 October 2010. The Special Assembly for the Middle East is the result not only of the request formulated by various bishops of the region, but also of the Apostolic visits of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to Turkey from 28 November to 1 December 2006, to the Holy Land (Jordan, Israel and Palestine) from 8 to 15 May 2009, and to Cyprus in 2010, during the course of which he was able to see personally the joys and sufferings of the members of the Catholic Church who are in need of particular attention at this moment of history.
I am delighted to briefly introduce this important ecclesial event that will see the bishops of the Middle East united around the Holy Father Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome and Universal Shepherd of the Church.
Catholic Church in the Middle East
In the first place, it is helpful to specify that by Middle East we mean the following states: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Palestinian Territories, and Yemen. This vast region of 7,180,912 square kilometers is home to 356,174,000 people, of whom 5,707,000 are Catholics, representing 1.6% of the population. At the same time, the number of Christians is about 20,000,000, that is, 5.62% of the population.
It is necessary therefore to remember the particularity of the Catholic Church in the Middle East that is expressed in a multifarious unity. Other than the Church of the Latin tradition, since earliest times there have been 6 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, each with its own patriarch, father and head of the Church : Coptic Church, Syrian Church, Greek-Melchite Church, Maronite Church, Chaldean Church and Armenian Church. These are “Churches distinguished for their venerable antiquity, in which remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church” . The variety of traditions, spirituality, liturgy and disciplines is a great source of wealth to be conserved not only for the Eastern Catholic Churches, but for the whole of the Catholic Church presided over in charity by the Bishop of Rome and the Universal Shepherd of the Church.
Calender of work
From a careful look at the Calender of the Special Assembly it becomes clear that the synodal assembly will be characterized by the prayer of the Synodal Fathers, who, in turn, will be accompanied by the spiritual union of the members of their communities in the Middle East and the Diaspora, as well as by the numerous Christians who care deeply about the conditions of the Church that makes its pilgrimage in the Holy Land and the Middle East.
The opening of this important event will take place with the solemn Eucharist on Sunday 10 October. It will be presided over by the Holy Father Benedict XVI and will be concelebrated by all the Synodal Fathers and participating priests at the Synodal assembly. It will close too in the sign of the Eucharist which is at the center of Church unity and is the inestimable gift of Christ to his people. Both celebrations will take place in the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter’s following the Latin rite, but significant elements, such as the Gospel and some of the hymns, will follow Eastern traditions. In the middle of the synodal assembly, Sunday October 17, six Blessed will be canonized: Stanislaw Soltys (Kazmierczyk), André (Alfred) Bessette, Cándida María de Jesús Cipitria y Barriola, Mary of the Cross (Mary Helen) MacKillop, Giulia Salzano and Battista (Camilla) Varano. The Synodal Fathers will not miss taking part in such an important ecclesial event that highlights the call to sanctity, pronounced in the Holy Land in the Old Testament: “Be consecrated to me, for I, Yahweh, am holy” (Lv 20:26) that Jesus Christ brought to fulfilment in the Beatitudes: “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). The words of the Lord Jesus have a universal importance, just as the call to sanctity is universal: “All the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state” .
The Liturgy of the Hours then will precede the daily work. This will mirror the richness of the liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris who will take turns each day leading the common prayer in their own tradition. One of the bishops from each tradition will then lead the reflection on the passage of the Gospel that was proclaimed. Furthermore, each session will begin and end with a brief prayer.
The work foresees 14 general congregations and 6 sessions of the minor circles. Information on the Synodal activity will be provided by 4 operators in Arabic, French, English and Italian who will meet with journalists every day, apart from Monday 11, Monday 18 and Saturday 23 October, when there will be press conferences with the participation of the Synodal Fathers.
The Synodal Fathers will also have the opportunity to attend the concert in honor of the Holy Father Benedict XVI which will take place in the Paul VI Hall on Saturday October 16 at 6pm.
Information about the nature and activities of the Synod of Bishops can be found on the website of the Synod of Bishops. Vatican Radio has also prepared appropriate information on the synodal event under the title of “Vatican Radio’s News on the Synod”, www.vaticanradio.org/synod.
Assembly participants at the Special Assembly for the Middle East will number 185 synodal fathers of whom 159 will take part ex officio. Among these there are 101 Ordinaries of the Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions of the Middle East, as well as 23 from the Diaspora, who take care of the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches who have emigrated from the Middle East to various parts of the world. We also have to highlight the presence of 19 bishops from the neighboring countries of North and East Africa, as well as from countries with significant communities of Christians of Middle Eastern origin, in particular from Europe and the American continent. Also taking part in the synodal assembly are 14 heads of departments of the Roman Curia most closely connected with the life of the Church in the Middle East. Furthermore the Holy Father Benedict XVI has nominated 17 Synodal Fathers. Then there are 10 representatives from the Union of Superior Generals. Among the Synodal Fathers there are 9 Patriarchs, 19 Cardinals, 65 Archbishops, 10 titular Archbishops, 53 Bishops, 21 auxiliary Bishops, 87 religious 4 of whom were elected by Union of Superior Generals. As for their duties, there are 9 heads of the Synods of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, 5 Presidents of the International Gatherings of Episcopal Conferences - their presence underlines the solidarity of the worldwide episcopate with the beloved Churches of the Middle East - 6 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, 1 Archbishop coadjutor, 4 Emeritus, 2 of whom are Cardinals, the Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem and 1 Patriarchal Vicar.
As we know, on 24 April 2010 the Holy Father Benedict XVI nominated the members of the Presidency of the Special Assembly for the Middle East: 4 delegate Presidents, of whom two are ad honorem: His Holiness Card. Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon, and His Holiness Card. Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq; His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect for the Congregation of the Eastern Churches and His Holiness Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon; the Relator General His Holiness Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Coptics, Egypt; the Special Secretary, His Excellency Mons. Joseph Soueif, Archbishop of Cyprus of the Maronites, Cyprus.
Representatives of 13 Churches and ecclesial communities that are well-established historically in the Middle East will take part in the Assembly as Fraternal Delegates. Their presence is an eloquent sign of the will to continue the ecumenical dialogue that has already given so many positive results in the region.
The Middle East is also the home for our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, because it also represents the birthplace of two other monotheistic religions. Therefore during the course of the work, we will have the opportunity to listen to the address by Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the Department of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee and the Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding, Israel. Along with the Synodal Fathers, two illustrious representatives of Islam will speak: Mr. Muhammad al-Sammak, Political Councillor for the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, for Sunnite Islam, and Mr. Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and Member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, for Shiite Islam. They are here by special invitation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, and their presence is very significant, a sign of the openness of the Catholic Church to continue the dialogue with Judaism, with which Christians have a very special relationship, as well as with Islam, present in the region of the Middle East.
During the Synodal Assembly, 36 Experts and 34 Auditors, men and women, will also participate. Their experiences will represent an important contribution to the synodal reflections.
Considering also the members of the General Secretariat, the translators and assistants, as well as other persons dealing with technical services, approximately 330 persons will participate in the Synodal Assize.
Particular characteristics of the Synodal Assembly
The Special Assembly for the Middle East has some particularities that distinguish it from other Synodal Assemblies. In the first place, for the first time almost all the Ordinaries of the Middle East will meet with the Bishop of Rome. In 1995, the Servant of God John Paul II gathered the Bishops of Lebanon in a Special Assembly, in which 69 Synodal Fathers participated, 36 from Lebanon. Nine Bishops of the Diaspora were also included. During the Special Assembly for the Middle East, 23 Bishops of the Diaspora will also participate. Therefore, the Ordinaries belonging to the sui generis Eastern Catholic Churches will be 123. There will be representatives of other 6 Eastern Catholic Churches: the Ethiopian Church, the Greek Church, the Romanian Church, the Syrian-Malabarese Church, the Syrian-Malankarese Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Of the 185 Synodal Fathers, the vast majority (140) are of the Eastern Catholic Tradition. Therefore, the Bishops of the Latin Tradition will be 45, of whom 14 from the Middle East. During the Special Assembly for Lebanon, 53 Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Tradition were present, as well as 16 of the Latin Tradition.
This will be the shortest ever Synodal meeting, lasting only 14 days. The Special Assembly for Lebanon lasted 19 days, from November 26 to December 14 1995 and before that, the Assembly for the Netherlands, in which 19 Synodal Fathers participated, lasted 17 days, from January 14 to 31 1980. The short period of the celebration is not only the result of the relatively lower number of participants, which during the Ordinary General Assemblies reaches 250 Synodal Fathers; this was also requested by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to speed up the procedures, which is further adapted for the present Synodal Meeting. Considering the rather complex situation in the Middle Eastern Countries, we do not want to keep the Shepherds from their flocks for too long. For this reason the work will be concentrated into14 days.
One of the official languages of the Synod will also be Arabic. During the Special Assembly for Lebanon, the official language was French, even if, during the interventions in the Hall, the other three languages were used: Arabic, English and Italian. During the present Synodal Assembly, these are the four official languages and, therefore, for the first time, Arabic as well, the most common language for Middle Eastern Christians. There will also be two Working Groups in Arabic.
For the first time, the Holy Father nominated two ad honorem Delegate Presidents. With this gesture, His Holiness wished to underline the importance of the pastoral ministry that they have, however saving them from the demanding daily activities of the detailed workings of the Synodal Assembly, which are the duty of the two younger Delegate Presidents.
Pastoral goals of the Synodal Assembly
The aims of the Special Assembly for the Middle East are mainly of a pastoral nature. While unable to ignore the social and political picture in the region, the Synodal Assembly has above all ecclesial aims. This fact is also contained in the theme of the Synodal Assembly which insists on Communion and on witness within the Catholic Church, in its relationships with other Churches and Christian communities, other religions and, in general, with their own societies. With reference to the Instrumentum laboris , the goal of the Assembly can be shown in two points:
1) To enliven communion between the venerable sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches that they may offer an authentic, joyful and attractive witness of Christian life. Thanks to Divine Providence, as has already been stated, in the Middle East, apart from the Church of Latin Tradition, there are 6 Catholic Eastern Churches with a true Patriarch at their head. Therefore, 7 practicing Patriarchs will participate in the Synodal Assembly. The Synod workings, in a climate of prayer, reflection and dialogue, should be useful in further intensifying the ties of communion within each of these Churches and between the Patriarch, the Bishops, the priests, the members of consecrated life and lay persons. Obviously, the ties of communion between the single Catholic Churches and the Churches of the various other Traditions should be reinforced. Positive results from this would benefit the entire Catholic Church, underlining the fruitfulness of its unity which is expressed in the multiformity of the respective, venerable Traditions.
Communion then should spread to other Churches and ecclesial communities present in the Middle East - 13 representatives of these will be present during the Synod workings as Fraternal Delegates, as already pointed out. Dialogue and collaboration are also extended to members of non-Christian religions and to all men of good will.
2) To reinforce Christian identity through the Word of God and the celebration of the Sacraments. The Synodal Assembly should confirm the conscience of the faithful in the Middle East as regards each one’s vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ in the land where He was born, lived, and preached and achieved His Paschal mystery. To live in the Holy Land should be increasingly discovered as a privilege connected to a special mission. It is in the best interests of all the Church that the Land of Jesus not become a museum full of monuments and precious stones, but continue being a living Church, built with living stones (1 Pet 2:5), Christians who continue the uninterrupted tradition of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land for almost 2,000 years.
Numerically, Christians are a minority in the Middle East. However, they have a unique vocation: being witnesses of the Lord Jesus in a prevalently Muslim environment, except for the State of Israel, where the majority of the citizens are Jewish. This fact requires openness and dialogue with those belonging to the other two monotheistic religions: Judaism and Islam. The experience, very positive from many points of view, of this dialogue could become very important for the whole Church.
The Special Assembly for the Middle East represents a joyous occasion to present the riches of the Eastern Catholic Churches to the entire world, especially for Christians, that they may offer greater support spiritually and materially to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, in particular those who live in difficult situations because of violence, including terrorism, emigration and discrimination. The Christians of the Middle East are often the artisans of peace and the promoters of forgiveness and reconciliation, which are needed so badly in the area. They wish to live in peace with their neighboring Jews and Muslims with respect for their common rights, including the fundamental one of freedom of religion and conscience.
In union with the Holy Father Benedict XVI, all Christians are invited to pray for the Special Assembly for the Middle East, that it may achieve its goals. This invitation is addressed in a special way to the members of consecrated life and, in particular, the cloistered monasteries. Prayer will reinforce the ties of faith, of hope and of charity among the believers of the Church of God, so that the ideal of the primitive community where the multitude of believers is “united, heart and soul” (Acts 4:32) can be achieved in the best way possible.
 Benedict XVI, Giving the Instrumentum laboris, L’Osservatore Romano, 6-7 June 2010, p. 9.
 Cfr Vatican Council II, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, Orientalium ecclesiarum, 9.
 Ibidem, 1.
 Cfr Benedict XVI, Giving the Instrumentum laboris, L’Osservatore Romano, 6-7 June 2010, p. 9.
 Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 42.
 Cfr Special Assembly for the Middle East, 3.
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SYNODAL WORKING CALENDAR
10 October - Sunday
Solemn inauguration with Concelebration of the Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica
11 October - Monday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.First General Congregation
Greeting by the President Delegate
General Secretary’ s Report
REPORT BEFORE THE DISCUSSION
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Second General Congregation
General Discussion begins
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
12 October- Tuesday
9:00 a.m. - 12.30 p.m.
Third General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
Election of the Commission for the Message
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Fourth General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
13 October - Wednesday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Working Groups (First Session)
Election of the Moderators and the Relators
Interventions about the Report before the Discussion
Meeting of the Moderators and the Relators
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Fifth General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
14 October - Thursday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Sixth General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.Seventh General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
15 October - Friday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Eighth General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Ninth General Congregation
Continuation of the General Discussion
Reports by the Auditors and the Fraternal Delegates
6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
16 October - Saturday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Tenth General Congregation
Presentation of the Draft of the Message
Discussion of the Message
Election of the Council (I)
17 October - Sunday
Holy Mass with Canonizations in St. Peter’s Basilica
18 October - Monday
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Eleventh General Congregation
REPORT AFTER THE DISCUSSION
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Working Groups (Second Session)
Formulation of the Propositions
19 October - Tuesday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Working Groups (Third Session)
Formulation of the Propositions
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Working Groups (Fourth Session)
Formulation of the Propositions
Consignment of the Propositions to the General Secretariate
20 October - Wednesday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Collation of the Propositions by the General Relator, the Special Secretary and Relators of the Working Groups
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Collation of the Propositions by the General Relator, the Special Secretary and Relators of the Small Groups
21 October - Thursday
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Twelfth General Congregation
Presentation of the LIST OF PROPOSITIONS
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Working Groups (Fifth Session)
Preparation of Amendments to the Propositions
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Working Groups (Sixth Session)
Preparation of Amendments to the Propositions
Consignment of the Collective Amendments to the General Secretariat
22 October - Friday
9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Examination of the Collective Amendments to the Propositions by the General Relator with the Special Secretaries and Relators of the Working Groups
4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Thirteenth General CongregationPresentation and voting on the Message
Election of the Council (II)
23 October - Saturday
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Fourteenth General Congregation
Presentation of the FINAL LIST OF PROPOSITIONS
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Voting on the Propositions: Placet - Non Placet
Fraternal meal with the Holy Father
24 October - Sunday
Solemn Concelebration of the Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to conclude the Synod
Vatican City, 27 march 2010
+ Nikola ETEROVIĆ
Titular Archbishop of Cibale
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GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE SYNOD
During the work of Vatican Council II, the Fathers at the Council explored the idea (manifested in the Decrees Christus Dominus [N. 5] and Ad Gentes [N. 29]) of enlivening the true spirit of collegiality, that is to say the conviction that the Pope, in his work as Universal Shepherd of the Church, could exercise his union with the Bishops, Members of the same episcopal order as the Bishop of Rome, in a more obvious and efficient way.
To achieve this, Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter "Motu proprio" Apostolica sollicitudo, dated September 15th 1965 (AAS 57  775-780), created the Synod of Bishops for the entire Church, the fruit of conciliar experiences, determining the structure and the institutional task: «The Apostolic concern leading Us to carefully survey the signs of the times and to make every effort to adapt the means and methods of the holy apostolate to the changing circumstances and need of our day, impels Us to establish even closer ties with the bishops in order to strengthen Our union with them "whom the Holy Spirit has placed [...] to rule the Church of God" (Acts 20:28)» (Introduction, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The Synod of Bishops, whereby bishops chosen from various parts of the world are to offer more effective assistance to the supreme Shepherd, is to be constituted in such a way that it is: a) a central ecclesiastical institution; b) representing the whole Catholic episcopate; c) of its nature perpetual; d) as for structure, carrying out its function for a time and when called upon» (Chapter I, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The general purposes of the Synod are: a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world; b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that should be carrying on in today's world; c) to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church» (Chapter II, Apostolica sollicitudo). «Its special and immediate purposes are: a) to provide mutually useful information; b) to discuss the specific business for which the Synod is called into session on any given occasion» (Chapter III, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The Synod of Bishops can meet in General Session, in Extraordinary Session, and in Special Session» (Chapter IV, Apostolica sollicitudo).
During the Prayer Angelus Domini, on September 22nd 1974, Paul VI himself gave the definition of the Synod of Bishops: "It is an ecclesial institute, which we, questioning the signs of the times, and even more so in trying to interpret in depth Divine plans and the constitution of the Catholic Church, have established after Vatican Council II, to promote unity and collaboration between the Bishops of the whole world in this Apostolic See, through the common study of the conditions of the Church and in agreement on the questions pertaining to her mission. It is not a Council, it is not a Parliament, it is a Synod with a special nature".
The theological foundation of the Synod of Bishops was given by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, who in the Speech to the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops on April 30th 1983, stated that the Synod of Bishops was the "expression and the very valuable instrument of episcopal collegiality". This is an assembly of the Members of the Catholic Episcopacy, whose job is to aid in advising the Pope on the governing of the Universal Church, as to her safe-keeping, and to increase faith and traditions, to maintain and confirm ecclesial disciplines and to study the problems concerning the Church's activities in the world. This occurs, as confirmed by His Holiness Benedict XVI in the Meditatio horae tertiae ad ineundos labores XI Coetus Generalis Ordinarii Synodi Episcoporum (AAS 97  951), in an atmosphere of mutual love, reciprocated assistance, also seen as co-sharing, "fraternal correction", consolation, which, inasmuch as the "function of collegiality", are a "great act of true collegial affection".
During the fraternal 'agape' at the end of the VII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 30th 1987, held at the nel Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican, John Paul II said: "Experiencing the Synod in itself bears something sacred within; something of the mystery of the Church. We may live the reality of the Church, even her 'ethnic' reality, her widespread reality, the spreading of the Word of God, received in many Nations, many cultures, many continents. This all is experienced; we experience the various speakers, their interventions, we live through the experiences of the local churches, very different experiences, sometimes, very painful experiences, other difficult experiences. And thus, from all the Fathers' interventions, and, at times together with the Fathers, even from our lay brothers and sisters, a picture emerges, a vision: A vision of the Church. However, it is not only a vision in the descriptive sense of how the Church lives, the Church as a human reality, ethnic reality, but, at the same time, it is a vision of the Church as mystery. And this is where a point begins, where the experience of the Synod, in being a deeply religious experience, is difficult to pass on to others, to bring it out; it remains, in a certain sense, within the Synod, in ourselves, in those who participated; everybody, everybody and all together confirm it, this experience, and today speak about this experience in the Synod, about this experience of the Church. They speak about it with great joy. It is a new richness that has been given to us, to each of us and to all of us to live like this during the four weeks, experiencing the Church that is the People of God; yes, people of God moving forward, but, in being people of God, it is also the Body of Christ. It is a mystery".
In representing the entire Catholic Episcopacy, the Synod of Bishops shows, in a special way, the spirit of communion that unites the bishops with the Pope and the bishops between themselves. It is the privileged place where the assembly of bishops, subjected directly and immediately to the power of the Pope, manifesting the collegial affection and solicitude of the Episcopacy for the well-being of the entire Church, expresses, under the action of the Spirit, its sure counsel on the various ecclesial problems. By its institution, the Synod of Bishops must provide information, discuss the questions proposed and express votes. These are given to the Supreme Pontiff in the form of Propositiones, so that with the help of the ordinary council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, he may possibly elaborate a post-synodal document for the entire Church. However, the fact that "the Synod is normally a consulting institution does not diminish its importance. In fact, in the Church, the goals of any collegial organ, be it for consultation or deliberation, is always searching for the truth or the good of the Church. When we are dealing with the verification of the same faith, the Consensus Ecclesiae is not given by the calculation of the votes, rather, it is the fruit of the action of the Spirit, the soul of the only Church of Christ".
INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution established by Pope Paul VI, 15 September 1965, in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the positive spirit engendered by the conciliar experience.
Literally speaking the word “synod”, derived from two Greek words syn meaning “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”, means a “coming together”. A Synod is a religious meeting or assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, have the opportunity to interact with each other and to share information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application. The Synod, generally speaking, can be defined as an assembly of bishops representing the Catholic episcopate, having the task of helping the Pope in the governing of the universal Church by rendering their counsel. Pope John Paul II has referred to the Synod as “a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops” (Speech to the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, 30 April 1983: L’Osservatore Romano, 1 May 1983).
Even before the Second Vatican Council the idea was growing for a structure which might provide the bishops with the means to assist the Pope, in some manner to be determined, in his governing of the universal Church.
His Eminence, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, then an Archbishop and Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in the United Arab Republic (Egypt), on 5 November 1959, made a proposal to establish a central governing body of the Church or, to use his words, “a consultative body”. He stated: “From many parts of the world there come complaints that the Church does not have a permanent consultative body, apart from the Roman congregations. Therefore, a kind of ‘Council in miniature’ should be established and include persons from the Church worldwide who would meet periodically, even once a year, to discuss major concerns and to suggest possible new paths in the workings of the Church. This body would extend over the whole Church as the Episcopal Conferences bring together all or part of the hierarchy of a country or countries. Other bodies, like C.E.L.AM. (the Latin American Episcopal Council), for example, extends its activity for the benefit of the whole continent”.
On 22 December 1959, His Eminence, Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, wrote: “In clear terms the Council proclaims that the government of the universal Church is by right exercised by the college of bishops with the Pope as its head. From here it follows that, in one sense, the care of the universal Church is the responsibility of every bishop taken singularly, and also, in another sense, that all bishops participate in the governing of the Church worldwide. This can be done not only in calling an Ecumenical Council, but also in the creation of new institutions. Perhaps some permanent Council of specialized bishops, chosen from the Church, could be given the charge of a legislative function in union with the Supreme Pontiff and the cardinals of the Roman Curia. The Roman Congregations would then maintain only a consultative and executive power”.
However, it was Pope Paul VI who gave force to these ideas, while he was still Archbishop of Milan. In a talk commemorating the death of Pope John XXIII, he made reference to an “ongoing collaboration of the episcopate that is not yet in effect, which would remain personal and in union, but given the responsibility of governing the whole Church”. After his election as Pope he kept returning to the concept of collaboration within the Episcopal body - the bishops in union with the successor of Saint Peter - in a talk he gave to the Roman Curia (21 September 1963), at the opening of the second session of the Second Vatican Council (29 September 1963) and again at its closing (4 December 1963).
At the conclusion of a discourse beginning the last session of the Council (14 September 1965), Pope Paul VI himself made public his intention to establish the Synod of Bishops in the following words: “The advanced information that We Ourselves are happy to share with you is that We intend to give you some institution, called for by this Council, a ‘Synod of Bishops’, which will be made up of bishops nominated for the most part by the Episcopal Conferences with our approval and called by the Pope according to the needs of the Church, for his consultation and collaboration, when for the well-being of the Church it might seem to him opportune. It goes without saying that this collaboration of the episcopate ought to bring the greatest joy to the Holy See and to the whole Church. In a particular way it will serve a useful purpose in the daily work of the Roman Curia, to which We owe so much recognition for its most valuable help, and for which, as bishops in their diocese, We also have permanent need in Our apostolic concerns. News and norms will be made known to this assembly as soon as possible. We did not wish to deprive Ourselves of the honor and pleasure of making you aware of this brief communication so as to personally bear witness once more to Our trust, esteem and fraternity. We place this beautiful and promising innovation under the protection of Mary, the Mother of God”.
On the next day, 15 September 1965 at the beginning of the 128th General Assembly, the then Bishop Pericle Felici, General Secretary of the Council, promulgated the “Motu proprio” Apostolica sollicitudo with which the Synod of Bishops was officially instituted.
The principal characteristic of the Synod of Bishops is service to the communion and collegiality of the world’s bishops with the Holy Father. It is not a particular organism with limited competence as that of the Roman Congregations and Councils. Instead, it has full competence to deal with any subject in accordance with the procedure established by the Holy Father in the letter of convocation. The Synod of Bishops with its permanent General Secretariat is not part of the Roman Curia and does not depend on it; it is subject directly and solely to the Holy Father, with whom it is united in the universal government of the Church.
Though the institution of the Synod of Bishops is permanent in character, its actual functioning and concrete collaboration are not. In other words, the Synod of Bishops meets and operates only when the Holy Father considers it necessary or opportune to consult the episcopate, which at a synodal gathering, expresses its “opinion on very important and serious subjects” (Paul VI, Address to Cardinals, 24 June 1967). The task of every synodal Assembly shares in the collegial character which the episcopate can offer to the Holy Father. Through the Holy Father’s acceptance of the advice or the decisions of a given Assembly, the episcopate exercises a collegial activity which approaches but does not equal that manifested at an Ecumenical Council. This is a direct result of various factors: the ensured representation of the whole episcopate, the convocation by the Holy Father and “the unity of the episcopate, which, in order to be one, requires that there be a Head of the College” (John Paul II, Pastores Gregis, 56), who is first in the episcopal order.
NOTES ON THE SYNODAL PROCESS
So as to fulfill its mission, the Synod of Bishops works according to a methodology based on collegiality, a concept which characterizes every stage of the synod process from the first steps of preparation to the conclusions reached in each synodal assembly. Briefly stated, the method of work alternates between analysis and synthesis, in consulting interested parties and decisions being made by competent authorities, according to a dynamic of feed-back which permits the continual verification of results and the making of new proposals. Each part of this process takes place within the climate of collegial communion.
Already in the preparatory stage, the topic of the synodal assembly is the result of collegiality. The first official step in the process is to consult the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, Episcopal Conferences, department heads of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General for suggestions on possible topics for a synod. As a rule, in ordinary general assemblies this consultation is anticipated by an informal solicitation of the synod fathers in the closing days of the synodal assembly for their preference in the matter. However, in each case the bishops are asked to keep in mind the following criteria:
a) that the topic have a universal character, that is, a reference and application to the whole Church;
b) that the topic have a contemporary character and urgency, in a positive sense, that is, having the capability of exciting new energies and movement in the Church towards growth;
c) that the topic have a pastoral focus and application as well as a firm doctrinal basis;
d) that the topic have a feasibility; in other words, that it have the potential actually to be accomplished.
The suggestions on a topic - which must be include reasons for the choice - are classified, analyzed and studied during a meeting of the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. Afterwards, the Council submits the meeting's results, together with pertinent recommendations, to the Holy Father who makes the final decision on the topic for treatment in the synodal assembly.
At the next meeting, the Council prepares an outline for developing and presenting the synod topic in the document called the Lineamenta. The drafting of this document represents the combined work of the Council members, theologians who have a certain expertise in the material to be treated in the synodal assembly, and the staff of the General Secretariat who coordinate the various efforts. After studying the text and making the necessary revisions, the Council drafts a final version which is submitted to the Holy Father for his approval. The document is then translated into the world's major languages and sent to the Church's episcopate for the purpose of generating at the local level study, discussion and prayer concerning the synod topic.
The Lineamenta from the Latin word meaning "outline" is by its nature very broad in scope and is meant to elicit a broad range of observations and reactions. Though the first and authoritative recipients of the Lineamenta are obviously the bishops and the bishops' conferences, they have full liberty to broaden their basis of consultation. After gathering and summarizing suggestions, reactions and responses to the various aspects of the Lineamenta topic, the bishops prepare a report or official response to the questions proposed in the document, which is then sent to the General Secretariat by a certain date.
After having received the above material, the Council of the General Secretariat - always with the help of specialists on the subject - proceeds to draft another document called the Instrumentum laboris, which will serve as the basis and reference-point during synodal discussion. This "working document", though rendered public, is only a provisional text which will be the object of discussion during the synod. The document is not a draft of the final conclusions but only a text which aims at helping to focus discussion on the synod topic. After subsequent submission and approval by the Holy Father the document is translated into the major languages and sent to the bishops and those members who will participate in the General Assembly. Since 1983 the Instrumentum laboris of a given synodal assembly has been made public so as to receive a wide circulation. The bishop-delegates and members read the document to familiarize themselves with the contents which will then be discussed at the synodal assembly.
As a result of preparation work in the local Churches, based on the above-mentioned documents, i.e., Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris, the bishops are thereby able to present to the synodal assembly the experiences and aspirations of each community as well as the fruit of the preliminary discussions of the episcopal conferences.
Three phases characterize the Synod's working sessions:
a. during the first phase, each member makes a presentation of the situation in his particular Church. This encourages an exchange of faith and cultural experiences on the synod topic and contributes an initial picture of the Church situation, which, nevertheless, needs greater development and refinement.
b. In light of these presentations, the Rapporteur of the Synod formulates a series of points for discussion during the second phase, when all the synod members divide into small groups circuli minores - according to the various languages spoken. The reports of each one of these groups are read in the plenary session. At this time, the synod fathers are given the opportunity to pose questions to clarify the subjects expressed and are able to make comments.
c. In the third phase, work proceeds in the small groups towards formulating suggestions and observations in a more precise and definite form, so that in the final days of the assembly a vote can be taken on concrete propositions. The synod fathers’ initial work in the small groups is to compose various propositions on the basis of the discussion in the synod hall and the reports of the small groups. In the small groups, the synod fathers can vote on a proposition with a "placet" (yes) or "non placet" (no). The propositions of the small groups are then taken by the General Rapporteur and Special Secretary and combined into an Integrated List of Propositions which is presented by the General Rapporteur in plenary session. Afterwards, the small groups again meet to discuss the propositions. At this time, the synod fathers can submit individual amendments for consideration by the group, which will be used in composing the collectively voted upon amendments to the propositions which are expected from each group. The General Rapporteur and the Special Secretary give consideration to these collective amendments and may or may not incorporate them in the final list of propositions, depending on their decision, which, in case of refusal, have to give the basis for their decision in a document called the Expensio modorum. The final list of propositions is then presented in plenary session, after which the booklet becomes the ballot where each synod father can vote for or against the proposition.
At the end of a synodal assembly, the General Secretary oversees the work of archiving the material and drafting the report on the work of the synod for submission to the Holy Father. No established norm exists concerning the final document from the synodal assembly. At the conclusion of the first three synodal Assemblies (1967 and 1971 Ordinary General Assemblies and the 1969 Extraordinary General Assembly) the conclusions were submitted to the attention of the Pope with recommendations in response to problems expressed. Instead, after the 1974 Third Ordinary General Assembly the Holy Father himself, taking into account the synodal propositions and final reports, drafted the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi. A similar process was followed in the remaining Ordinary General Synodal Assemblies (1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001, 2005), from which the following Apostolic Exhortations are associated respectively, Catechesi tradendæ, Familiaris consortio, Reconciliatio et pænitentia, Christifideles laici, Pastores dabo vobis, Vita consecrata, Pastores gregis and Sacramentum caritatis.
At the conclusion of the Special Assembly for Africa (1994), the Holy Father promulgated the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa which bore many positive results in pastoral initiatives on this continent. Subsequent to publishing a document on the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the level of the local Church, attention was given to the feasability of a II Special Assembly. On 13 November 2004, Pope John Paul II announced the convocation of a II Special Assembly for Africa, which was later reconfirmed by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in the Weekly General Audience of 22 June 2005.
In May, 1997, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Special Assembly for Lebanon (1995) was published during a papal trip to Lebanon as part of the celebration phase of the Special Assembly. On 23 January 1999 the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Special Assembly for America was promulgated by the Holy Father in Mexico at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On 6 November 1999 the Post-Synodal Exhortation for Asia was signed by the Holy Father in Delhi, India.
Since the 1987 Synod, the various Councils of the General Secretariat and the General Secretary have been collegially involved in the process leading to the publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, the papal document coming from the synod. It is interesting to note the history and development of these Councils.
Between the second and third synodal Assemblies, an advisory Council for the General Secretariat was formed, made up of 12 elected bishops and 3 papal appointees. Such a Council first met from 12-15 May 1970 and was intended to facilitate communication with episcopal conferences and the formulation of the agenda for the subsequent assembly. After this meeting, a general consultation of the bishops worldwide was begun for suggested topics for future Assemblies (such consultation now begins in the final days of an Ordinary General Assembly).
Since that time the Ordinary Councils of the General Secretariat, elected from each synod in light of preparation for the following one, have become a permanent feature of the General Secretariat:
- Second Ordinary Council (6.11.1971 - 27.09.1974)
- Third Ordinary Council (26.10.1974 - 30.09.1977)
- Fourth Ordinary Council (29.10.1977 - 26.09.1980)
- Fifth Ordinary Council (25.10.1980 - 29.09.1983)
- Sixth Ordinary Council (29.10.1983 - 1.10.1987)
- Seventh Ordinary Council (30.10.1987 - 30.09.1990)
- Eighth Ordinary Council (28.10.1990 - 2.10.1994)
- Ninth Ordinary Council (29.10.1994 - 30.09.2001)
- Tenth Ordinary Council (26.10.2001 - 2.10.2005)
- Eleventh Ordinary Council (15.10.2005 - 5.10.2008)
With the advent of continental or regional synodal assemblies, the Holy Father chose to form during the special assemblies post-synodal councils through election and papal appointment. As a result, in addition to the Ordinary Council, the General Secretariat has in existence the following Post-Synodal Councils from their date of institution. With the revision of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum (2006), these councils are now called “Special Councils”:
- Special Council for the Netherlands (31.01.1980)
- Special Council for Africa (8.05.1994)
- Special Council for Lebanon (14.12.1995)
- Special Council for America (12.12.1997)
- Special Council for Asia (14.05.May 1998)
- Special Council for Oceania (11.12.1998)
- Special Council for Europe (22.10.1999)
Similarly, in the preparation of a Special Assembly, the Holy Father appointed a group of bishops, primarily from the continent and region under consideration, to form pre-synodal Councils. These Councils endured from the date of appointment until the first day of the synodal assembly. Therefore, the following is a listing of past pre-synodal councils along with their dates of existence:
- Pre-Synodal Council for Africa (6.01.1989 - 10.04.1994)
- Pre-Synodal Council for Lebanon (24.01.1992 - 26.11.1995)
- Pre-Synodal Council for America (12.06.1995 - 16.11.1997)
- Pre-Synodal Council for Asia (10.09.1995 - 19.04.1998)
- Pre-Synodal Council for Oceania (7.06.1996 - 22.11.1998)
- Pre-Synodal Council for Europe (9.02.1997 - 1.10.1999)
As can be observed, the collegial methodology is operative from the very beginning (through the choice of topic), during the preparation (through the development of the topic in the Lineamenta) and the actual celebration of the Synod Assembly, to the publication of the document, which is the fruit and crowning-point of the synod itself. In this way, it can be said that the synod works as a collegial body through which, in the first stage, the faith and life experiences of the Christian communities are taken into account; later, in plenary sessions, these elements are recapitulated and enlightened by faith and then, in a spirit of communion, propositions are formulated which, from the Holy Father, who is the principle of unity in the Church, return to the particular Churches as the oxygenated blood returns to arteries to vivify the human body.
So that this collegiality can fully realize its potential, it is necessary that a selfless spirit of collaboration exist among all those called upon to participate in the preparation of a synodal Assembly, particularly the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the Episcopal Conferences which gather the Pastors of the local Churches where the faith of the People of God is lived and experienced in all its vigor and richness. The principle way in which the collegial participation of the episcopal bodies receives concrete form is in their responses to the Lineamenta. The greater the number of episcopal bodies which respond, the more rich and varied will be the elements which, faithfully reflecting the life of the local Churches, constitute true reference points for both the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris, and the discussion in the synod hall during a synodal Assembly.
SUMMARY OF THE SYNOD ASSEMBLIES
1. I Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 29 September - 29 October 1967
Synod Fathers: 197Topic: “The Preservation and Strengthening of the Catholic Faith, its Integrity, its Force, its Development, its Doctrinal and Historical Coherence”
Pope Paul VI stated the goals for this First General Assembly: “... the preservation and the strengthening of the Catholic faith, its integrity, its force, its development, its doctrinal and historical coherence”. One result of the meeting was a recommendation by the bishops, in light of the rise of atheism, a crisis of faith and erroneous theological opinions, to set up an international commission of theologians to assist the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as to broaden a discussion on approaches to theological research. In 1969 Pope Paul VI established the International Theological Commission.
The Synod also called for a revision of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 in an attempt to make it more pastoral and more contemporary in tone and emphasis. The work was subsequently begun by Pope Paul VI and brought to completion under Pope John Paul II with the promulgation, in 1983, of the revised Code of Canon Law.
The greater role of Episcopal Conferences in the renewal of seminaries and in priestly formation was discussed and proposals submitted to the Pope. Certain procedures relating to mixed marriages, recommended by the Assembly, were approved by the Pope in 1970, and various aspects of liturgical reform were treated, many of which were implemented when the New Order of the Mass was approved and put into effect in 1969.
2. I Extraordinary General Assembly
In Session: 11 October - 28 October 1969
Synod Fathers: 146
Topic: “The Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences”
This specially convoked General Assembly had as its agenda to seek and examine ways and means of putting into practice the collegiality of bishops with the Pope, a subject which gained much attention in the declarations on the Church formulated at the Second Vatican Council. This meeting opened the door to wider participation by the bishops with the Pope and each other in the pastoral care of the universal Church.
The main emphasis of these sessions involved two basic points: 1. the collegiality of the bishops with the Pope; 2. the relation of Episcopal Conferences to the Pope and to individual bishops. Various recommendations were subsequently submitted to the Pope, three of which received immediate attention: 1. that the Synod meet at regular intervals, every two years (subsequently changed to every 3 years); 2. that the General Secretariat operate between Synodal sessions and organize these meeting; 3. that the bishops be permitted to suggest topics for the future assemblies.
Between the second and third Synodal assemblies, an advisory Council for the General Secretariat was formed made up of 12 elected bishops and 3 papal appointees. Such a Council first met from 12-15 May 1970 and was intended to facilitate communication with episcopal conferences and the formulation of the agenda for the subsequent assembly. After this meeting a general consultation of the bishops worldwide was begun for suggested topics for future assemblies. Such consultation now begins in the final days of a synodal Assembly. Since that time the Council of the General Secretariat, elected from each Synod in light of preparation for the following Synod, has become a permanent feature of the General Secretariat.
3. II Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September - 6 November 1971 (longest to date)
Synod Fathers: 210
Topic: “The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World”
In the course of their discussion the Synod Fathers praised priests worldwide for their dedication in their ministry to Word and Sacrament as well as their pastoral work in the apostolate. At the same time, attention was given to various difficulties experienced by priests in the ministry.
In addition, the Synod Fathers treated the subject of justice, stating the need to relate the Gospel to existing worldwide and local circumstances. In response they outlined an 8-point program for international action, and made recommendations that the Church on the local level foster education and ecumenical collaboration in the field of justice.
4. III Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 27 September - 26 October 1974
Synod Fathers: 209
Topic: “Evangelization in the Modern World”
At this assembly the Synod Fathers re-emphasized the essential missionary character of the Church and the duty of each member to bear witness to Christ in the world. In this context the popular issue of “liberation” was linked to the work of evangelization in seeking to free peoples and individuals from sin. The Synod Fathers’ recommendations and proposals submitted to the Pope, were used in the formulation of the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii nuntiandi” of 8 December 1975.
5. IV Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September - 29 October 1977
Synod Fathers: 204
Topic: “Catechesis in our Time”
The discussion of the Synod Fathers, which gave special attention to the catechesis of children and young people, resulted in a series of 34 proposals or “Propositions” and over 900 suggestions regarding the subject. Six general areas were treated in the these recommendations: the importance of catechetical renewal, the nature of true catechesis, the persons involved in catechesis, the ongoing need of catechesis for all Christians, the means or channels of catechesis and the special aspects affecting catechesis.
On this occasion the Synod Fathers issued for the first time a Synodal statement entitled A Message to the People of God, in which the Synod Fathers pointed out that Christ is the center of salvation and, therefore, of catechesis. At the same time, they emphasized that all Christians have the responsibility of bringing Christ to the world.
Shortly after the conclusion of this Synod, Pope John Paul II issued the Apostolic Exhortation “Catechesi tradendae” of 17 October 1979, which utilized a great many of the Synod Fathers’ insights and proposals.
6. Special Assembly for the Netherlands
In Session: 14 - 31 January 1980
Synod Fathers: 19
Topic: “The Pastoral Situation in the Netherlands”
The then-designated “Particular Synod for the Netherlands” or “Dutch Synod” as it was popularly known, is, according to the revised Code of Canon Law (cf. canon 345), subsequently promulgated in 1983, the first Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. This synodal gathering, held in Rome, treated the Vatican II concept of mystery of Church communion and its practical implications, both local and universal, centering on the figure of the bishop as “Teacher of the Faith” and “Pastor of Souls”, both in his diocese and in the Episcopal Conference. At its conclusion the assembly adopted resolutions pertaining to the ministerial priesthood, religious life, the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church, the sacraments, the Eucharist and Confession, liturgy, catechesis and ecumenism, all based on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. A specially-formed Council instituted at the end of this synodal assembly periodically meets with the General Secretariat to continue to assess the pastoral situation and to promote the implementation of the Synod resolutions. Though technically still in existence, this Council has not had a meeting since 10-11 November 1995.
7. V Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 26 September - 25 October 1980
Synod Fathers: 216
Topic: “The Christian Family”
A reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the contents of the encyclical Humanae vitae was central to the work of this Synod. In the course of their work the Synod Fathers produced a written message entitled, A Message to Christian Families in the Modern World, and proposed a Charter for the Rights of the Family which Pope John Paul II subsequently acted upon, on 22 October 1983. From the discussion and proposals of the assembly the Pope issued the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris consortio” of 22 November 1981.
8. VI Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 29 September - 29 October 1983
Synod Fathers: 221
Topic: “Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church”
The synodal assembly and theme coincided with the “extraordinary” Holy Year proclaimed by the Holy Father to commemorate the 1950th year of the Redemption of the World through the Death of Christ. At this time the Synod Fathers discussed related matters, emphasizing the need of applying the fruits of Christ’s redemption to a person’s life and, as a result, to society. In a statement issued by the assembly the Synod Fathers called the world to “reconciliation” and proclaimed “the Church as a Sacrament of reconciliation and a sign of the mercy of God toward the sinner”. The Synod Fathers’ work during the Synod served as the basis for the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Reconciliatio et paenitentia” of 2 December 1984, which for the first time was designated as a “Post-Synodal” document.
9. II Extraordinary General Assembly
In Session: 24 November - 8 December 1985
Synod Fathers: 165
Topic: “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council”
Specially convened by Pope John Paul II (cf. canon 345), the purpose of this synodal assembly was to commemorate the occurrence of the Second Vatican Council and to assess the state of Church renewal. According to statute the Synod brought together all the presidents of the over 100 Episcopal Conferences worldwide and various other persons. The discussions centered on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and their implementation in the Church around the world. At this session the Synod Fathers produced a Final Report (Relatio finalis), issued at the closing session, along with a Nuntius or Message to the People of God. Responding to the proposal from the Synod Fathers at this assembly, the Holy Father authorized the compilation and publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in 1992. At the same time, it “... called for a fuller and more profound study of the theological and, consequently, the juridical status of episcopal Conferences, and above all of the issue of their doctrinal authority, in light of no. 38 of the conciliar Decree Christus Dominus and canons 447 and 753 of the Code of Canon Law (Final Report, II, C, 8, b),” which was addressed in John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter “Motu proprio” on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences (21 May 1998), 7.
10. VII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 1 - 30 October 1987
Synod Fathers: 232
Topic: “The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World”
Through a consideration of the concepts of vocation (“being”) and mission (“doing”) in the Vatican II context of Church communion, the Synod Fathers sought to emphasize the distinctive nature of the lay faithful in the Church’s life, in their sharing or communion in holiness and the Church’s work of evangelization in the world, in virtue of their secular character. Because of the topic, this Synod witnessed a significant presence of lay persons as Auditors, who were called upon to address the general assembly and share insights in the Small Groups. For the first time, a lay woman and man were appointed as Adjunct Special Secretaries. The information resulting from this Synod, particularly the 54 propositions of the General Assembly, were used in the formulation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Christifideles laici” of 30 December 1988.
11. VIII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September - 28 October 1990
Synod Fathers: 238
Topic: “The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day”
Taking into consideration the work of the Second Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1971) which gave a theological treatment to the priesthood and its implications in the priestly ministry, this Synod was more pastoral in tone, centering upon priestly formation and the “person” of the priest himself, both religious and diocesan, before and after ordination. Notable in the sessions was the general accord of the Synod Fathers in their discussion and treatment of the subject. At the Synod’s conclusion the Synod Fathers offered 41 propositions to the Holy Father which were used, along with other information resulting from the Synod process, in the preparation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores dabo vobis” of 25 March 1992.
On 25 October, during the 28th Congregation, His Excellency Most Rev. Emilio Eid, Auxiliary Bishop of Sarepta of the Maronites and Vice-President of the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches gave a presentation on the revised Code and distributed a copy to the Synod Fathers and other participants.
12. I Special Assembly for Europe
In Session: 28 November - 14 December 1991
Synod Fathers: 137
Topic: “So That We Might Be Witnesses of Christ Who Has Set Us Free”
On 22 April 1990 during an Apostolic Visit to Velehrad, Czechoslovakia, the site of the tomb of St. Methodius, co-patron of Europe with Saints Cyril and Benedict, the Holy Father announced his desire to convoke a Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops so as to discern the kairos of the situation created by the great changes taking place in Europe and to consider the role of the Church in the efforts on the continent towards renewal and reconstruction. The special nature of the Synod and its brief preparation period required various modifications to Synod procedure, e.g., instead of the Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris documents, a brief guide to reflection (Itinerarium) and a synopsis (Summarium) were prepared; special criteria were devised for episcopal delegates so as also to give substantial representation bishops from Central and Eastern Europe, etc. One of the noteworthy events in the preparation was a pre-Synodal symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture which gathered intellectuals from both eastern and western Europe in a common reflection on the Synod topic. Likewise, representatives from the Orthodox Church and major Christian communities in Europe were invited in a spirit of ecumenism to participate for the first time in a synodal Assembly as “fraternal delegates”. The work of the special assembly culminated in the publication of a Declaratio (Statement), in which the Synod Fathers outlined a program for the new evangelization of Europe and made an appeal for universal solidarity among all European citizens. Subsequently, a group of members from the special assembly was appointed to devise ways of implementing the conclusions of the Declaration through a strengthening of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcopalium Europae (CCEE) in light of the present circumstances.
13. I Special Assembly for Africa
In Session: 10 April - 8 May 1994
Synod Fathers: 242
Topic: “The Church in Africa and Her Evangelizing Mission Towards the Year 2000: ‘You Shall Be My Witnesses’ (Acts 1, 8)”
On 6 January 1989 the Holy Father announced his intention to convene this Special Assembly and appointed a Pre-Preparatory Commission, made up primarily of members of the African episcopate. The following June, this group was expanded to constitute the Council of the General Secretariat, and entrusted with helping prepare for the synodal Assembly. In conjunction with the meeting of representatives of the African episcopate in Lomé, Togo, July, 1990, the Lineamenta document “outlining” the Synod topic was published, beginning a period of prayerful reflection on the local level. The responses from the local Churches were used in formulating the Special Assembly’s “working paper” or Instrumentum laboris, released during the Holy Father’s Ninth Pastoral Visit to Africa, Kampala (Uganda), February, 1993.
With this document as a point of reference, the Synod Fathers discussed in the month long session the general topic of evangelization from the following perspectives: 1. Proclamation of the Message; 2. Inculturation; 3. Dialogue; 4. Justice and Peace; 5. Means of Social Communication. In addition to the lively and in-depth discussion of the topic during the various phases of Synodal activity, a highlight of the Special Assembly were the opening and closing ceremonies which incorporated many elements from liturgical traditions in Africa.
The resulting documentation includes a lengthy Message to the People of God, released at the conclusion of the Special Assembly, and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa” of 14 September 1995, signed and presented to the Church in conjunction with the Synodal visit to Africa by the Holy Father, 14-20 September 1995, for the Special Assembly’s celebration phase.
14. IX Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 2 - 29 October 1994
Synod Fathers: 245
Topic: “The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World”
On 30 December 1991, the Holy Father announced the convocation of a synodal Assembly to consider the topic of consecrated life. Some saw it as a logical completion of the treatment of the states of life in the Church begun in the previous two Ordinary Assemblies on the laity and the priesthood respectively. The period of prayer and reflection prior to the synodal Assembly was particularly fruitful, eliciting a widespread exchange not simply within the institutes of consecrated life and the societies of apostolic life, but also within national and international bodies, not to mention various individual and group initiatives with the Church’s hierarchy and various departments of the Roman Curia. The Synod Fathers touched on a vast number of subjects associated with the topic and listened attentively to the many interventions made by the great number of auditors. Particularly noteworthy during this Synodal gathering was the number of Synod Fathers members from religious congregations, the appointment of a woman and man religious as Adjunct Special Secretaries, as well as the significantly increased number of women and men from the consecrated life as Experts and Auditors. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Vita consecrata” was published on 25 March 1996.
15. Special Assembly for Lebanon
In Session: 26 November - 14 December 1995
Synod Fathers: 69Topic: “Christ is Our Hope: Renewed by His Spirit, in Solidarity We Bear Witness to His Love”
Because of the particular needs of the Church in Lebanon created by the prolonged situation of war, the Holy Father announced on 6 June 1991 his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon. After subsequent initial meetings with the Patriarchs of the Oriental Churches in Lebanon, a ten-member Council, representing the 6 sui juris Catholic Churches in Lebanon, was appointed in January, 1992 to render assistance in the required preparatory work. At the same time, a Lebanese bishop was also designated as an on-site coordinator.
The Lineamenta of the Special Assembly was made public on 13 March 1993, beginning the phase of prayer and reflection on the Synod topic by the local dioceses and various Church bodies in Lebanon, a period which lasted until 1 November 94. The responses to the Lineamenta were incorporated in the Instrumentum laboris, the Special Assembly’s working document, which served as the point of reference during the synodal Assembly. On 12 December, an annotated version of the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, published under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, was distributed to the synod fathers.
On 10 May 1997 the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Une Espérance nouvelle pour le Liban” (“A New Hope for Lebanon”), was published during a papal visit to Lebanon for the celebration phase of the Special Assembly. An Arab translation of the document, prepared by the Assembly of Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon (A.P.E.C.L.), was subsequently published in 1998. The Post-Synodal Council, resulting from this special assembly, continues to hold meetings to evaluate the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation in Lebanon. In this regard, a report was prepared and mailed in 2003 to the hierarchy of Lebanon, the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties. Since then, the Special Council has met periodically to assess the situation in Lebanon.
16. Special Assembly for America
In Session: 16 November - 12 December 1997
Synod Fathers: 233
Topic: “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America”
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, the Holy Father made known his desire to continue the Synodal movement on the continental level, beginning with the Special Assemblies for Europe (1991) and Africa (1994), and to convene special Synodal assemblies, including the Special Assembly for America, as part of the program leading to the celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000. On 12 June 1995, a Pre-Synodal Council was appointed to collaborate in the preparations of the special assembly. With its assistance, the Lineamenta was published on 3 September 1996 and the Instrumentum laboris on 10 September 1997.
During the assembly, the Synod Fathers took into consideration the various features of Church life and society on the American continent and sought the best ways and means of allowing the people of America to encounter Jesus Christ. In this regard, they discussed the relation between the Gospel and culture and the main concepts of conversion, communion and solidarity in meeting the great challenges of contemporary society on the continent. At the conclusion of the special assembly the Synod Fathers published the customary Nuntius or “Message to the People of God”.
A Post-Synodal Council, elected during the assembly, met on various occasions to evaluate the results of the Synod and to offer assistance to the Holy Father in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in America” of 22 January 1999, which was promulgated by the Holy Father, 23 January 1999, during the celebration phase of the special assembly in Mexico City, Mexico. On the following day, many Synodal participants from all parts of the continent were present for the Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe.
Subsequently, the Post-Synodal Council has met at various times to evaluate the implementation of the document and to offer encouragement to the bishops in their initiatives on the continent in response to the post-Synodal document. In 2002, a Report in this matter was prepared and sent to each member of the hierarchy in America, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties. The Special Council meets periodically to continue to discuss the priority issues on the continent set forth in the Report.
17. Special Assembly for Asia
In Session: 19 April - 14 May 1998
Synod Fathers: 191
Topic: “Jesus Christ the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia: ‘...That They May Have Life, and Have it Abundantly’ (Jn 10,10)”
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Holy Father announced his intention to call special synodal assemblies on the continental level as part of the preparatory program leading to the Jubilee Year 2000. On 10 September 1995, the Holy Father established the Pre-Synodal Council for the Special Assembly for Asia made up primarily of cardinals, archbishops and bishops from Asia. Part of their task was to assist the General Secretariat in the drafting of the Lineamenta released on 3 September 1996 and the Instrumentum laboris published on 13 February 1998.
During the Special Assembly, the Synod Fathers, keeping in mind that the Church is a small but vibrant flock on a Asian continent where the Great Religions of the World are present, focused their attention on the uniqueness of the person of Jesus as Savior and His gift of abundant life in the context of the Church’s program of a new evangelization. Of particular concern was how the Church, in a concrete pastoral plan, can continue the Lord’s mission of love and service in Asia. At the conclusion, the Synod Fathers published a Nuntius or Message to the People of God which treated various points of the Synodal topic.
A Post-Synodal Council resulted from the synodal assembly. Subsequently having met at various intervals in the wake of the assembly, this Council offered assistance in analyzing the special assembly’s recommendations and contributed to the drafting of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia”, which was signed by the Holy Father on 6 November 1999 in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, during the Synod’s celebration phase, 5-8 November 1999, in New Delhi, India. Since that time, the Post-Synodal Council had met periodically to evaluate the distribution and implementation of the document in the Church in Asia. In 2002, a report was prepared and mailed to each member of the hierarchy on the Asian continent, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties.
The Special Council continues to meet periodically to continue to discuss the priority issues on the continent set forth in the report.
18. Special Assembly for Oceania
In Session: 22 November - 12 December 1998
Synod Fathers: 117
Topic: “Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania: Walking His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life”
The Special Assembly for Oceania was the third continental or regional synodal assembly to be held in the series announced by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente as part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. On 7 June 1996 the Holy Father appointed the Pre-Synodal Council made up primarily of bishops from Oceania. In a series of meetings held in Rome and Wellington, New Zealand, this Council offered assistance in drafting the Lineamenta, establishing criteria for participation, and finalizing the Instrumentum Laboris.
A unique feature of this synodal Assembly was the fact that all bishops of the region were to participate as ex officio members. To ease travel difficulties and limit the absence of the bishops from their local Churches, arrangements were made to hold the customary ad limina visits in conjunction with the special assembly. Despite the great difference in pastoral situations in the region, many common concerns emerged in the course of Synod work, e.g., inculturation of the Gospel, renewed attention to catechetics and formation, the revitalization of the faith of believers, pastoral care of youth, migrants and native peoples, etc., all of which converged in a concentration on the person of Christ, the way, the truth and the life.
On 11 December, the members of the Special Assembly elected a Post-Synodal Council, to which the Holy Father appointed three members. This Council held a number of meetings to discuss the outcome of the special assembly and to offer assistance to the Holy Father in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Oceania”, promulgated 22 November 2001 at an important, historic ceremony in the Vatican during which the document was simultaneously transmitted on the internet to all the dioceses of the region. Ecclesia in Oceania thus became the first papal document to be transmitted by internet in the computer age.
In 2003, the Post-Synodal Council met to begin the process of evaluating the impact and implementation of Ecclesia in Oceania in the region, resulting in a report which was sent to the Bishops in Oceania and shared with the Universal Church in 2006. At its February meeting in 2008, the Council members made the decision to hold its next meeting in Australia, in conjunction with the Plenary Assembly of the Federation of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania in May, 2010.
19. II Special Assembly for Europe
In Session: 1 - 23 October 1999
Synod Fathers: 117
Topic: “Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, Source of Hope for Europe”
The Second Special Assembly for Europe was the last in the series of continental Synodal assemblies which were convoked by the Holy Father in his Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente as part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. Notwithstanding the fact that the First Special Assembly for Europe took place in 1991, less than a decade ago, new social and cultural situations, existent on the continent in the wake of political changes in the East, have created pastoral challenges which make particularly opportune the convocation of a Second Special Assembly for Europe.
On 9 February 1997 the Holy Father appointed the Pre-Synodal Council to assist in the preparation of this synodal assembly, which, with the help of theologians from Europe and the staff of the General Secretariat, published the Lineamenta (Spring, 1998) and the Instrumentum Laboris (21 June 1999) of the Special Assembly.
In the course of the Second Special Assembly, the Synod Fathers gave attention to the various realities in the Church in Europe and the particular historic moment in the project towards unifying the continent. The topic of Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, dominated the synodal discussion on the cultural roots of the continent, while, at the same time, serving as the source of hope in the building of a new Europe on the foundation of faith.
The Post-Synodal Council, elected during the Assembly, held various meetings to analyze the outcome of the synod and to contribute to the drafting of the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa” which was promulgated in the Vatican, 28 June 2003, during Evening Prayer beginning the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Subsequently the Post-Synodal Council, to evaluate the impact and implementation of Ecclesia in Europa in the continent, drafted a questionnaire which was sent to the episcopal conferences and continental organizations in Europe. The responses to this questionnaire were used to evaluate some aspects of the Church’s mission in Europe.
20. X Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September - 27 October 2001
Synod Fathers: 247
Topic: “The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World”
In preparation for the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly, the Ninth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat, in a series of periodic meetings assisted in the consultation process to determine the Synodal topic and collaborated in the composition of the Lineamenta which was sent on 16 June 1998 to the bishops throughout the world and those customarily contacted for official responses. The responses were subsequently analyzed and included in the Council’s work of drafting the Instrumentum laboris which was released on 1 June 2001.
During the synodal assembly the Synod Fathers focused on the person and role of the bishop in his diocese at the beginning of the Third Millennium.
On 26 October 2001, the synodal assembly elected members to the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat to which the Holy Father appointed three members. In subsequent meetings, this Council analyzed the material which came from the synod process, especially the synod’s Propositiones, so as to offer assistance to the Holy Father in his drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Gregis”, promulgated 16 October 2003, in conjunction with the 25th Anniversary of the Holy Father’s election.
21. XI Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 2 - 23 October 2005
Synod Fathers: 258
Topic: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
On 29 November 2003, taking into consideration the opinion of the members of the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, based on the consultation of the episcopal conferences worldwide and the other parties concerned, Pope John Paul II decided to convoke the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly to treat the topic of the Eucharist. That the Pope’s choice came briefly after the publication of his encyclical on the same subject deserves attention. This synodal assembly was convoked to provide the Pope with the pastoral reflections of the world’s bishops on a subject vital to the life and mission of the Church.
The Lineamenta, composed by the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat with the assistance of theologians, was sent to the episcopal conferences, the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General and other concerned parties on 31 March 2004. At a subsequent meeting the Council analyzed the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta and, again with the help of experts, drafted the Instrumentum Laboris, which was made public on 7 July 2005.
After his election, Pope Benedict XVI reconfirmed the dates of the synodal assembly and, at the same time, approved the following innovations in synodal procedure: a reduction of the length of the synodal assembly to three weeks; an hour of open discussion, during the intervention phase, at the conclusion of the evening plenary sessions; an electronic vote by the members - in addition to the customary written ballot - on the Propositiones or synodal recommendations; and the release to the public pro hoc vice of an Italian translation of the Propositiones.
A special session was held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, during which various synod fathers spoke on the theological, juridical and historical aspects of the synod. Subsequently, these presentations, along with reference material on synodal assemblies, were published in a book entitled Il Sinodo dei Vescovi: 40 Anni di Storia (“The Synod of Bishops: 40 Years of History”) by the Lateran University Press.
The official documentation resulting from this synodal assembly includes a Message to the People of God (Nuntius), composed during the assembly and approved by the Synod Fathers, and the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” of 22 February 2007.
22. XII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 5 - 26 October 2008
Synod Fathers: 253
Topic: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
On 6 October 2006, Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to convoke the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly to treat the topic of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”. This Synod was intended to be in continuity with the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist and to set forth the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.
In its preparation phase, the Council members, with the assistance of experts, drafted the customary Lineamenta, released on 27 April 2007, which gave preliminary guidelines on the topic and contained a series of questions for discussion and prayer at the local level. At later meetings the Council analyzed the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta, submitted to the General Secretariat, along with observations submitted by various groups and individuals, and drafted the Instrumentum laboris, which was made public on 12 June 2008.
This synod assembly was the first to take place after the revision of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, approved by the Holy Father on 29 September 2006, acceding to the counsel of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops on the opportuneness of updating the statutes to conform to the present Code of Canon Law and The Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches.
A distinctive feature of this synodal assembly was its occurrence during the Pauline Year, beginning 29 June 2008. In commemoration, the opening liturgy of the synod was celebrated in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. At the same time, given the topic under discussion, a Rabbi was invited for the first time to address the synod fathers and participants. This synodal assembly equally witnessed for the first time the presence of His Holiness, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who addressed the synod participants during a Vespers Service in the Sistine Chapel.
As at the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly, the 55 Propositiones, resulting from the collegial work of the Synod Fathers, were released to the public pro hoc vice in an Italian translation. At the synod’s conclusion, the members also issued a Message to the People of God (Nuntius). At present, the Church is eagerly awaiting the publication of the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will present the richness of reflection and discussion, not simply at the synodal assembly but throughout the synod process.
23. II Special Assembly for Africa
In Session: 4 - 25 October 2009
Synod Fathers: 244
Topic: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 13, 14)
On 13 November 2004, during the Symposium of the Bishops of Africa and Europe, held in Rome, Pope John Paul II, “welcoming the desire of the Special Council for Africa”and responding to “the hopes of the African pastors,”announced the convocation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his weekly General Audience on 22 June 2005, reconfirmed this decision.
Subsequent to the initial announcement of a II Special Assembly and in collaboration with the Special Council for Africa, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, formulated the synod topic: “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. ‘You are the salt of the earth ...You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5: 13, 14)”. With the assistance of experts, the Council then proceeded to draft the Lineamenta, presenting the topic and containing a series of questions for discussion and prayer on the local level, which was made public on 27 June 2006. The Responses to the Questions were subsequently sent to the General Secretariat for use in composing the Instrumentum laboris, the document containing the agenda for the synodal assembly. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, personally consigned the document on 19 March 2009 to the presidents of the episcopal conferences of Africa, during his Apostolic Visit to Cameroon and Angola.
Given the nature of a continental assembly and to ensure maximum engagement of the members, the Special Council for Africa devised special criteria for participation, which, after having received papal approval, were used by the Episcopal Conferences in Africa in electing members to the Special Assembly, in addition to those who participating by reason of their office and by papal appointment.
In the course of the Second Special Assembly, the synod fathers gave attention to the various realities in the Church on the African continent, particularly reconciliation, justice and peace so that the Church might respond to her mission of being “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” in social, cultural and religious areas. Through her ministry of reconciliation, the Church is called to establish peace and foster justice and thus contribute to the promotion and development of all peoples in Africa. The first synodal assembly, in calling the Church on the continent to renewed dynamism and hope, came to be known as the Synod of Resurrection and Hope; the second, in its concentration on the Church’s mission, is increasingly being called the synod of a New Pentecost.
The synodal assembly approved a Final Message, which was both an appeal and a source of encouragement in the Church’s mission in Africa, as well as 57 Propositiones or Proposals for submission to the Holy Father, in which the synod fathers sought to pastorally address the various issues discussed during the assembly. The Post-Synodal Council, elected during the Assembly, has held various meetings to analyze the outcome of the synod and to contribute to the drafting of the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
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THE SYNOD CHAPEL
The design and furnishings of the synod chapel are meant to communicate and celebrate the theological concepts of communion and collegiality underlying the Synod of Bishops which meets in assembly, cum Petro et sub Petro. Therefore, the episcopal college figures greatly in the artistic design and appointments of the chapel, drawing particular inspiration from two major Biblical passages, Acts 2:1-4 and John 20:19-29, which both treat the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the apostles gathered together.
Though the Church was mystically begotten at the crucifixion of Christ, coming forth, as St. Augustine mentions, like the new Eve from the side of the New Adam, the Church has consistently taught that the Church’s initial venture into the world was accomplished on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire upon the apostles, gathered with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the Upper Room or Cenacle. Since this is a particularly powerful event in the life of the episcopal college as a group, and thereby the Church, the design of the chapel wishes to re-create visually the experience of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4).
The oval stained glass window in the ceiling portrays the Holy Spirit as a dove on a triangular golden field to recall the Blessed Trinity, the source of communion in the episcopate and in the Church as a whole. The movement of the glass in various tones of red, yellow and orange highlights the outpouring of the Spirit in tongues of fire which made the apostles eloquent witnesses to Christ. Fire’s property of light and heat also corresponds to enlightenment (wisdom) and strength (zeal), elements which characterised the mission of Peter and the apostles. The Holy Spirit continues as the dynamic force in the pastoral mission of the Pope and the episcopal college, particularly in the celebration of the synod.
According to Biblical evidence, the Cenacle or Upper Room, the site of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as seen above, was also the room in which Jesus celebrated the Passover meal at which he instituted the Sacraments of the Priesthood and the Eucharist. The setting of the Cenacle, therefore, becomes symbolic not only of the shared episcopal dignity but the principle of its unity. These concepts of communion and collegiality are communicated in the furnishings positioned directly beneath the Holy Spirit window: a central kneeler recalls the Holy Father, Successor of St. Peter, surrounded by benches and kneelers to symbolize the eleven remaining apostles. The configuration of the chairs in an oval as opposed to a standard consecutive “line-up” of benches or chairs, beginning at the entrance and sweeping towards the front of the chapel, assists in highlighting the unitive action of the college gathered “in and around Peter.” At the same time, all - including the spectator - are drawn to the altar and tabernacle towards an encounter with the mystical Christ, present in the Eucharist, who, in the Easter apparition to the episcopal college, recorded by St. John, stands in the midst of the college, and “breathes forth” or imparts his Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20: 19-29), giving them authority and power as bishops. The two bronze statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, in the niches at the rear of the chapel, are symbolic of the universality of the Church and the vocation of the episcopate.
The above theme is reinforced in the artwork on the glass door at the chapel’s entrance: a central mitre bearing the apostolic keys to signify Peter, surrounded by eleven mitres, as if to announce the chapel’s theme. The mitres are drawn together in a circle to indicate their unity as a college through the gift of Trinitarian communion.
To continue the theme of the collegiality and communion of the apostolic college, the altar is suggestive of the prow of a boat, turning up waves. The New Testament contains many passages in which a boat provides the setting for significant experiences for the apostles as a group or college.
- After Jesus calms the winds and the sea, the apostles, gathered in a boat, first receive the revelation that Jesus is more than a mere man. They marvel, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and sea obey him?” (cf. Matt 8:23-27; Lk 8:22-25: Mk 4:37-41).
- Jesus has the apostles get into a boat so that he can be alone with them to teach them (cf. Mk 6:32).
- Following the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus sends the apostles out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Even though the Lord spends the night in prayer on the hilltop, the apostles are never out of his sight. As a storm arises, Jesus approaches them walking on the water with the words, “It is I; do not be afraid.” After they take him into the boat, it immediately reaches land and the apostles remain perplexed, because - as Mark recounts - they did not understand the significance of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (cf. Jn 6:16-21; Matt 14: 22-27; Mk 6:45).
The boat has special meaning not just for the apostolic college but for the person of Peter.
- In the series of Easter apparitions, it is from Peter’s boat that the apostles (Peter, James, John, Thomas, Bartholomew, and two others), after catching a huge draught of fish, recognize the Risen Christ along the seashore (cf. Jn 21:1-8).
- Jesus preaches from a boat, presumably Peter’s, to the crowd of people on the shore (cf. Matt 13:2; Mk 3:9; 4:1).
- Peter’s faith is confirmed by Christ, in front of the other apostles, after Christ bids him to walk towards Him on the water. In the wake of this incident, the apostles worship the Lord and exclaim, “Truly you are the Son of God” (cf. Matt 14:28-33).
- In another post-Resurrection episode, it is from Peter’s boat that the apostles lower their nets, at Jesus’ request, and catch the miraculous draught of fish. Peter then is the one who drags the net ashore full of fish (cf. Jn 21: 4-11), symbolic of the Church.
In addition to the above associations, a boat also has Eucharistic significance in relation to the apostolic college and thus reinforces the use of this symbol as the base of the altar of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.
- After the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus sets out with his apostles in a boat, during which he relates his discourse “on the leaven of the Pharisees”(Matt 16: 5-12; Mk 8:14).
- A particularly significant biblical reference to the Eucharist comes from Mark’s gospel. Following the multiplication of the loaves and fish, a prefigurement of the Eucharist, the scriptures say that the apostles did not bring any bread with them, just “one loaf” (cf. Mk 8:14). The implication is that Jesus is the “one loaf” or Bread from heaven. In this instance, Jesus seeks to draw out of them the meaning of the miracle of the loaves and fish as well as his words and teaching on the Eucharist at this miraculous event.
The boat is also used as the symbol of the entire Church, oftentimes referred to as the “Bark of Peter.” In this sense, the crucifix conveniently completes the mast to Peter’s humble fishing boat. The movement of the sculpture, including the shroud-like pieces of cloth in the rear - a hearkening to the shroud and resurrection - is a further association with the work of the Holy Spirit, who provides the “wind” for the sails of Peter’s Bark, always moving the Church ahead in time towards the Lord, in fulfilment of the promise.
The simple bronze tabernacle bears the customary shafts of wheat and grapes for the Eucharist. Fish, indicative of Peter the fisherman and the mission of the apostles as “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mk 1:17) are also on the tabernacle, candlesticks and sanctuary lamp. The fish is also the ancient symbol of Christ, drawn by using the Greek word, ΙΧΘγΣ, meaning fish, as an acronym for the phrase: “Jesus Christ, Son of God Saviour”.
The Stations of the Cross, crafted in mother-of-pearl in Palestine, recall the following of Christ, the vocation which the bishops share with every Christian in the Church.
The Marian statue, entitled Our Lady of Hope, is reminiscent of Our Lady’s presence with the Apostles gathered in prayer in the Cenacle. She extends her hand to marvel at the wonder of God’s grace, to welcome the flame of the love of the Holy Spirit and to allow it to bear fruit. As true handmaiden and servant of the Lord and His Gospel and image of the Church who mystically brings forth children, Mary is the Mother of the Apostles and their successors. In effect, the apostles, gathered around Mary in the Upper Room, look at her as if into a mirror, a mirror in which they see themselves as Church, the “Bride of Christ”.
PRAYER FOR THE SPECIAL ASSEMBLY FOR THE MIDDLE EAST OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOP
With the approaching Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, the internet site www.abouna.org, in cooperation with all the Catholic Media in the East and around the world, has invited all to intensify prayer for the success of this historic event, fundamental for Eastern Christians and which is taking place for the first time in the Church’s history. In order to help the faithful to unite in common prayer, Father Rifaat Badr, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, editor-in-chief of Abouna.org, wrote the following prayer for the success of the Synod, from its preparatory phase through to the implementation of its recommendations and decisions. This prayer is inspired by the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI presented on the occasion of his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus in June 2010 and which focuses on the life of faith, communion and witness.
Heavenly Father,who loves the human person, Creator of Heaven and earth,
You desired the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior,
that He would be born in the course of time, in our blessed land,
to the Virgin Mary and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict XVI desired
to invite Your people, pastors and faithful
to a special Synod for the Catholic Church in the Middle East.
Walk with us, Lord, and bless us,
Guide us in this faith journey,
Inspire us to appreciate the great treasures that the East has received from You,
So that it becomes the encounter point of religions, the center of dialogue for human civilizations.
You call us to be Your disciples here and now,
Make us a Church that is conscious of her identity
Deepen her faith in you as Lord and Master
Vivify the communion among her members and among the different Churches
And witness, in her individual members and institutions to Your Gospel and Your Resurrection
throughout our Churches, our society and the entire world.
Prince of Peace,
Our land is thirsty for security and well-being,
Spread Your peace and Your security in hearts and among nations
Make dialogue fertile and cooperation fruitful among the followers of the religions
Lord of Hope,
Lead us in the midst of the pains of our present time,
So that we might live love, deepen faith and strive to hope
By the strength of the Eucharist, through the intercession of our mother Mary,
Let us lift up all glory to the Loving Father, to the Son our Savior and to the Spirit the Consoler
Now and forever.
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- PRESS CONFERENCE
- BULLETIN SYNODUS EPISCOPORUM
- MULTIMEDIA PLATFORM OF VATICAN RADIO
- LIVE TV COVERAGE
- TELEPHONE NEWS-BULLETIN
- OPENING HOURS OF THE PRESS OFFICE OF THE HOLY SEE
The first Press Conference on the Synod works (with simultaneous translations in Italian, English, French, and Arabic) will be held in the John Paul II Hall of the Holy See Press office on Monday 11 October 2010 (following the Relatio ante disceptationem) at about 12:45 pm. Speakers:
- H. B. Antonios NAGUIB, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts (ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT), General Reporter
- H. Exc. Mons. Antoine AUDO, S.I., Bishop of Alep of the Chaldeans (SYRIA), Vice president of the Commission for Information
- Rev. F. Federico LOMBARDI, S.I., Director of the Holy See Press Office, Ex-officio Secretary of the Commission for Information (VATICAN CITY)
For the access permit, audio-visual operators (cameramen and technicians) and photoreporters are requested to apply to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The names of the participants will be communicated as soon as possible.
The next Press Conferences will be held on:
- Monday 18 October 2010 (following the Relatio post disceptationem)
- Saturday 23 October 2010 (following the Nuntius and the Elenchus finalis propositionum)
In order to provide more accurate information on the work of the Synod, 4 language groups have been organized for the accredited journalists.
The location of the briefings and the name of the Press Attaché for each of the language groups are as follows:
Italian language group
Press attaché: Rev. Mons. Giorgio COSTANTINO
Location: Journalists’ Room, Holy See Press Office
English language group
Press attaché: Dr Tracey Alicia McCLURE
Location: John Paul II Conference Hall, Holy See Press Office
French language group
Press attaché: Mrs Romilda FERRAUTO
Location: “Blue” Room 1° Floor, Holy See Press Office
Arabic language group
Press attaché: Fr Jean MOUHANNA, O.M.M.
Location: Telecommunications Room, Holy See Press Office
On the following days, the Press Attachés will hold briefings at about 1:30 pm:
- Tuesday 12 October 2010
- Wednesday 13 October 2010
- Thursday 14 October 2010
- Friday 15 October 2010
- Saturday 16 October 2010
- Tuesday 19 October 2010
- Thursday 21 October 2010
- Friday 22 October 2010
On some occasions, the Press Attaches will be accompanied by a Synodal Father or by an Expert.
The names of the participants and any changes in the above dates and times will be communicated as soon as possible.
On the following days, pools of accredited journalists will have access to the Synod Hall in general for the opening prayer of the morning General Congregations:
- Monday 11 October 2010
- Tuesday 12 October 2010
- Thursday 14 October 2010
- Friday 15 October 2010
- Saturday 16 October2010
- Monday 18 October 2010
- Thursday 21 October 2010
- Saturday 23 October 2010
Registration lists for the pools will be made available to reporters at the Information Accreditation Desk of the Holy See Press Office (to the right of the entrance hall).
For the pools, the photoreporters and TV operators are requested to apply to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The Participants of the pools are requested to meet at 8:30 am in the Press Sector which is located outside, in front of the entrance to the Paul VI Hall. From there they will be accompanied at all times by an official of the Holy See Press Office (for reporters) and by an official of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (for photoreporters and TV camera teams). Suitable dress is required.
BULLETIN SYNODUS EPISCOPORUM
The Bulletin of the Commission for information on the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, entitled Synodus Episcoporum and published by the Holy See Press Office, will be issued in 6 language editions (plurilingual, Italian, English, French, Spanish and Arabic), with 2 issues each day (morning and afternoon), or according to necessity.
The morning issue will be published at the conclusion of the morning General Congregation, and the afternoon issue the following morning.
Distribution to accredited journalists will take place in the Journalists’ Room of the Holy See Press Office.
The plurilingual edition will contain summaries of the interventions by Synod Fathers, as prepared by themselves in their own languages. The other 5 editions will report the respective versions in Italian, English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
The third issue of the Bulletin will contain the Holy Father’s homily for the solemn opening and Concelebration of Holy Mass on the morning of Sunday 10 October 2010 (it will be available to accredited journalists when the Holy See Press Office opens, under embargo).
The fourth issue of the Bulletin will contain the reports which will be presented in the First General Congregation of the morning of Monday 11 October 2010 (which will be transmitted live on TV in the Holy See Press Office).
MULTIMEDIA PLATFORM OF VATICAN RADIO
On the occasion of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops that is being held in Rome from 10 to 24 October on the theme “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. ‘Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32)”, Vatican Radio has dedicated a special section of their website www.radiovaticana.org to the preparation and progress of the Synod.
The section will be available in Arabic, Armenian, French, English, Italian and Hebrew , and may be accessed through the respective language sections. It will contain articles as well as audio clips and podcasts, and video news focusing on the main themes.
It will also be possible via the website to follow the live radio and television programs in collaboration with CTV (Vatican Television Center) covering various moments of the Synod, particularly the opening and closing celebrations, with comments in various languages.
Inside the website it will be possible to read and to listen to information services and interviews undertaken by representatives from Vatican Radio to the Synod, the daily agenda of Interventions by the Synod Fathers, and wide-ranging documentation on the Instrumentum Laboris, the preparative text for the Synod, developed by the Middle Eastern Churches with the themes and problems that will be under discussion.
In a specific column may be found various excerpts from Benedict XVI’s Addresses, made during his Visits to Turkey, the Holy Land and Cyprus, from the occasion of the Ad Limina visit of the Bishops of the Middle East and from the Presentation of Letters accrediting the Ambassadors to the Holy See from Middle Eastern countries.
This will be further enhanced by other columns containing data on the countries participating in the Synod and on the Churches in the Middle East, various statistics and other documentation dealt with by special publications brought out by Vatican Radio on this subject over the last few years.
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LIVE TV COVERAGE
The following events will be transmitted live on the TV monitors in the Telecommunications Room, in the Journalists’ Room and in the John Paul II Conference Hall of the Holy See Press Office:
- Sunday 10 October 2010 (9:30 am): Solemn opening ceremony with Concelebration of the Holy Mass (Saint Peter’s Basilica)
- Monday 11 October 2010 (9:00 am): Part of the First General Congregation during which the Report of the Secretary General and the Relatio ante disceptationem are presented
- Sunday 17 October (10:00 am): Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration with Canonization (Saint Peter’s Square)
- Monday 18 October 2010 (9:00 am): Part of the General Congregation during which the Relatio post disceptationem is presented
- Sunday 24 October 2010 (9:30 am): Solemn Concelebration of the Holy Mass at the conclusion of the Synod (Saint Peter’s Basilica)
Any updates will be published as soon as possible.
During the period of the Synod, a telephone news-bulletin will be available:
- +39-06-698.19 for the ordinary daily Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office;
- +39-06-698.84051 for the Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops - morning session;
- +39-06-698.84877 for the Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops - afternoon session.
OPENING HOURS OF THE HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE
During the II Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, the Holy See Press Office will be open on the following hours, from 8 to 24 October 2010:
- Friday 8 October: 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
- Saturday 9 October: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Sunday 10 October (Opening Holy Mass): 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
- From Monday 11 October to Saturday 16 October: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday 17 October (Holy Mass with Canonization): 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
- From Monday 18 October to Saturday 23 October: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday 24 October (Closing Holy Mass): 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
The Information and Accreditation Desk staff (to the right of the entrance hall) will be available:
- Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
- Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Notice of any changes will be communicated as soon as possible and will be posted on the bulletin board in the Journalists’ Area of the Holy See Press Office, published in the Bulletin of the Commission for Information of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops and in the Service Information area of the Internet site of the Holy See.
Notice to readers
In case of errors found in the content of the Bulletin, you are kindly requested to report them directly to the Editing Staff, via email, at: