Bishops' Synod Opens: Outline of Themes

VATICAN, Oct. 1, 01 ( - The 10th general assembly of the Synod of Bishops opened in Rome on Sunday, September 30, with Pope John Paul II presiding at the solemn opening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. The 247 bishops who are active participants in the Synod, along with observers and experts, will spend the next month in discussions of their theme: the role of the diocesan bishop in the universal Church. Previous meetings of the Synod dealt with topics such as the role of the laity (in 1987), the priesthood (1990), and consecrated life (1994). Since the creation of the Synod of Bishops in 1965, there has not been a meeting in which so many prelates have been invited to participate. There will be 7 patriarch of the Eastern churches, and 2 Latin patriarchs, engaging in the discussions along with 61 cardinals, 103 archbishops, and 41 presidents of episcopal conferences. The workings of the Synod will be guided by 3 president-delegates: Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Bernard Agre, of Abidjan, Ivory coast; and Ivan Dias of Bombay, India. The "relator general," who is responsible for summarizing the discussions, is Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

The Synod also shows a remarkably even geographical distribution The participating bishops include 42 from Africa, 45 from South America, 23 from North America, 23 from Asia, 47 from Europe, and 6 from the Pacific. There are also 23 auditors, 34 experts, and 5 "fraternal delegates" from other religious bodies, including the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the World Lutheran Federation, and the Church of England. In his homily at the opening Mass, Pope John Paul called attention to the "very symbolic gesture" with which he had opened the Jubilee year of 2000, entering St. Peter's Basilica through the Holy Door, carrying the book of the Gospels. That gesture, he said, captures "the entire content of the Synod we are opening today." He explained that bishops must be "prophets who courageously emphasize the social sins that are tied to consumerism, to hedonism, to an economy that allows an unacceptable gap between luxury and misery."

The Pope ended his homily by citing the phrase that has become his leitmotif for the opening of the 21st century: Duc in altum-- Set out into the deep." He urged his brother bishops to follow the example of St. Peter and the first disciples, who, although they were tired and frustrated, trusted the advice that Jesus gave them. "At your word, O Christ, we wish to serve your Gospel, for the hope of the world!" he concluded. Cardinal Jan Schotte, the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, introduced the main themes of this year's discussions during a press conference before the bishops' first general assembly. He said that the most important problems faced by bishops all over the world today include religious "illiteracy," and a general lack of understanding of the Catholic faith. He also observed that in reflecting on the role of the diocesan bishop, the Synod fathers would also be offering some thoughts on "the forms of the exercise of papal primacy."

Other issues that could be raised, the cardinal continued, include the proper role of bishops who have retired from their pastoral work; the authority of auxiliary bishops; the selection and promotion of bishops; and the role of the episcopal conference in Church governance. Cardinal Schotte-- whose Vatican office is responsible for preparing the working documents for the Synod meetings-- added that it was also possible that the bishops would seek to alter the ways in which the Synod itself works-- although he said that this theme had not been mentioned with any frequency during the informal consultations over the working documents. Before the bishops began their discussions, Pope John Paul blessed the new Synod chapel at the Vatican. Next the Pope lit a ceremonial lamp, using a flame that had been carried from the tomb of St. Gregory the Illuminator: a gift from Catholicos Karekin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as the Pope left Armenia last week. The Synod fathers then joined in singing the traditional hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" before their deliberations began.

At the first general congregation of the Synod on Monday morning, October 1, Cardinal Egan, the relation general, said that today's bishops must respond to some challenges that are as old as the faith, as well as some that are "new and perhaps unexpected." The most important and fundamental theme, he stressed, is that: "We, the bishops, are called to serve the Gospel and to bring supernatural hope to a world that is often discouraged." Cardinal Egan emphasized several important roles of the diocesan bishop, including the bishop's duty to educate the laity; to train and encourage priests; to preach the truths of the faith; and to serve the cause of justice in society. After the initial presentations by Synod officials, the participating bishops will each have an opportunity to make a short presentation to the general assembly. Then the participants will be divided into smaller working groups, arranged according to language, for more in- depth discussion of the major themes. The Synod will gather in general assembly once again in mid-October, to compare conclusions and finally to craft and approve a final synodal document. The meeting is scheduled to conclude on October 27.

Catholic World News - Feature
1. oktober 2001

av Webmaster publisert 02.10.2001, sist endret 02.10.2001 - 15:45