By Patricia Brennan
Catholics around the world will bear witness to an event which has only occurred twice before in the history of the Church. The first General Assmembly of the Synod of Bishops was held in 1969 to discuss cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences. It then met again in 1985 for the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis called for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held from Oct. 5 to Oct. 19. The Synod plans to focus on the topic of family and will be discussing the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.
The Synod of Bishops is an advisory council for the Pope. Bishops from around the world are selected to bridge the gap between the Vatican and the bishops, assist the Pontiff with counsel, and contemplate questions that have arisen regarding the Catholic Church and its practices. The last of these duties will be the main focus of the upcoming assembly. The bishops will convene to discuss contemporary and controversial issues such as marriage, divorce and contraception within the Catholic Church.
There will be 190 prelates present and able to vote in the discussions taking place during the Synod. An additional 60 will be contributing, but unable to vote. The Synod will proceed with bishops announcing the topic for each session, which will be followed by testimony from a married couple. This will take place Monday through Thursday. After a week of meetings, the bishops will draft a document that will be worked on during the second week, before it is sent to Pope Francis.
“The initial discussions will not bring immediate change in practice,” Fr. Thomas Esposito, a theology professor at the University of Dallas, explained.
The mainstream media is taking a particular interest in the assembly. According to an article published by “The Week”, many believe that Pope Francis intends to relax the stance of the Church on topics such as divorce, gay marriage and contraception. Some have gone so far as to question whether or not Pope Francis is staging a “revolution” in the Church. Catholics and non-Catholics alike are taking an interest in what news will come from the Synod and how it will affect the Catholic faith.
While those three issues — contraception, marriage and divorce — are the ones the media has chosen to shed the most light on, the Synod will be debating many more concerns within the Church that are just as important, such as pastoral care for the family in extreme poverty, migration and conflict.
“In the end, what we’re talking about always are people’s lives,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster in an interview with National Catholic Reporter. “We have to be dealing with these things sensitively, pastorally – and giving ourselves the space to accompany individuals,