Briefing on the Synod

Briefing on the Synod

Most Rev. Nikola Eterović, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops

On Friday, 3rd October 2008 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 on the meaning and development of the Synodal Assembly.

“More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11,28). This is how Jesus Christ authoritatively answered a woman who, surprised by his miracles and his teachings (Cf. Lk 4:32), wished to praise his mother, who should be proud of her son. Instead, the Lord, declared those that listened to and observed the Word of God as blessed. To listen to the Word of God means to understand what is being proclaimed, to meditate on this proclamation so that it becomes a part of concrete life. To avoid any possible equivocation, in another situation, the Lord Jesus stated: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and put it into practice” (Lk 8:21).

To become a member of the family of Jesus Christ, of his Church, it is necessary to listen to and observe the Word of God. Now, the Word of God is Jesus Himself, the eternal Word made flesh (Cf. Jn 1:14), He who has words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68). To understand the mystery of Jesus Christ one must know the Scriptures, the Old Testament, which prepare for his coming, and the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, which narrate his life, describe the Paschal Mystery, through which the Lord Jesus saved the world, and tell of the beginning of the Church founded by Him.

Convened by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, the Synodal Fathers will gather in Rome from 5 to 26 October 2008 in the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to reflect on the Word of God, on its centrality in the life of the Church and on its dynamism that urges Christians to the mission, to proclaim, with words and with the example of their lives, the Good News of the presence among us of the Risen Lord Jesus. Sent by the Father, He “speaks God's own words, for God gives him the Spirit without reserve” (Jn 3:34). By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the faithful can find his presence in the Church, in prayer, in the celebration of the Word and, in a particular way, in the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic celebration, presided over by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, will accompany the synodal works in significant moments. His Holiness, President of the Synod of Bishops, will preside over 4 Eucharistic celebrations. The opening of the synodal session will take place on Sunday 5 October in the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. This will be the first time that a Synod of Bishops is inaugurated outside of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter. The reason is obvious, the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops takes place during the Pauline Year, which the Supreme Pontiff opened on 29 June 2008. The Eucharist for its conclusion will take place on October 26 in the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. Another two Eucharistic celebrations will take place within the same framework. October 12, four Blesseds will be canonized, because they were noted for listening to and practicing the Word of God: a priest, Gaetano Errico, two religous women Maria Bernarda Büttler and Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception, and one lay person, Narcisa of Jesus Martillo Morán. This is an invitation to all, to the Synodal Fathers and to the faithful to let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God in the demanding and at the same time exhilarating path of beatitude and holiness. On October 9, the Bishop of Rome will preside over Holy Mass on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Pius XII, who has, among other things, great merits in the renewed interest for Biblical studies. Even the Eucharist on October 19, in the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Holy Rosary in Pompei, will be an occasion for the Holy Father to plead with the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for the Synodal Fathers, that they may follow her example as a Disciple of Jesus Christ who listens, holds close and meditates on the Word of God (cf. LK 2:19).

As usual, each of the 24 General Congregations foreseen, will begin and end with a prayer. In particular, the morning session will consist in the Liturgy of the Ora Tertia, accompanied by a brief homily by the Synodal Fathers.

Prayer will also accompany the ecumenical encounter on Saturday October 18 2008. In the Synod Hall, the Holy Father Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will preside over the first Vespers of the XXIX Sunday of ordinary time. Then, they will intervene on the theme of the Word of God with special reference to the Pauline Year. This will be the first time that the Ecumenical Patriarch addresses the Synodal Fathers. He will greet on behalf of the particular Churches that the Apostle of the Gentiles founded before coming to Rome, where he was martyred. On his part, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will greet the Ecumenical Patriarch with a fraternal embrace, showing the great importance of the mission of Saint Paul in Rome, the city that jealously and proudly guards the mortal remains of the two columns of the Church, Peter and Paul, as well as their rich apostolic tradition.

In this atmosphere of prayer and religious listening to the Word of God, the work of the XII Ordinary General Assembly will take place. 253 Synodal Fathers, representatives from 13 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, of 113 Episcopal Conferences, from 25 Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and the Union of Superiors General will participate.

Of the 253 Synodal Fathers, 51 come from Africa, 62 from America, 41 from Asia, 90 from Europe and 9 from Oceania. They will participate in the Ordinary General Assembly under various titles: 173 were elected, 38 participate ex officio, 32 were nominated by the Holy Father and 10 were elected by the Union of Superiors General. Therefore, 72.3 % of Synodal Fathers were elected, 15% take part in the work ex officio and 12.6 % were nominated by the Holy Father. Among the Synodal Fathers there are: 8 Patriarchs, 52 Cardinals [1], 2 Archbishops Major, 79 Archbishops, 130 Bishops. As for the offices they are parts of: 10 are the Heads of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, 30 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, 24 Heads of Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, 185 Ordinaries, 17 Auxiliaries.

Among the Synodal Fathers, the eldest is 88 years old (the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Card. Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir) and the youngest is 39 (Mons. Anton Leichtfried, Auxiliary Bishop of Sankt Pölten, Austria). Therefore the Synodal reflections will benefit from the experience of the elder brothers and the dynamism of the younger ones. In any case, the average age of the Synodal Fathers is approximately 63 years.

Then 41 Experts, coming from 21 countries and 37 Auditors coming from 26 countries will also participate in the Synodal Assembly. Among the Experts, 6 are women, while among the Auditors 19 are women, one more than the men.

A few Fraternal Delegates representing the 10 Churches and ecclesial communities will also participate at the Synodal sessions, who with the Catholics share the love and worship of the Sacred Scriptures. Apart from the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Patriarchates of Moscow, Serbia, and Romania will be present, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church as well as the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the Church of the Disciples of Christ, and the Ecumenical Council of Churches.

Three special guests, invited by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, will also participate. The first to intervene will be the Head Rabbi of Haifa Shear Yashyv Cohen, who on the afternoon of October 6 will present how the Hebrew People read and interpret the Sacred Scriptures - the “Torah”, the prophets and the wise writings - which is, in part, shared with Christians, entitled the Old Testament by them. This will be the first time that a Rabbi, and a non-Christian, addresses the Synodal Fathers. Then, His Em. Card. Albert Vanhoye, S.J., will explain how the Chritians refer to the Jewish Sacred Scriptures, presenting some norms from the Document by the Pontifical Biblical Commission of the year 2001, “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”.

The other two Special Guests are : Rev. Dr. A. Miller Milloy, Secretary General of the United Bible Society and Brother Alois, Prior of the Taizé Community.

The journalists will be regularly updated on the works of the Synod by the 5 Press Attachés, in French, English, Italian, Spanish and German. Obviously, there will also be other Press Conferences which will be announced as appropriate.

The works of the Synod are made possible also thanks to the Assistants, the Translators, the technical staff, and, in particular, the Officials of the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. In total over 400 persons will participate in the Synod of Bishops.

During the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, for the first time the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum will be applied since it was updated in 2006. The text wanted to show the development of the synodal method over the course of its 40 years of existence and express it in a regulatory framework. Obviously, an attempt was made to adapt the Regulation to the norms of Canon Law and the Codes of the Canon of the Oriental Churches, promulgated respectively in 1983 and in 1990.

A detailed description of all the changes would require a great deal of time but would be of interest for legal experts in particular, insofar as it concerns the development of the ecclesiastic institutions. On this point, it is useful to carefully read the Proemio, which succinctly lists the theological and juridical aspects of the Synod of Bishops, proven by the Synodal methods for over four decades. I believe that on this occasion it will be sufficient to highlight the following:

the duties of the Relator General and the Special Secretary are clarified. As noted, the Relator General is His Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Archbishop of Quebec, Canada. This will be the first time that a Canadian Bishop has held the position of Relator General.

The Special Secretary is His Excellency Mons. Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. This is another first, inasmuch as His Exc. Mons Monsengwo is the first African Bishop to hold the position of Special Secretary for an Ordinary General Assembly. He took the place of His Excellency Mons. Wilhelm Emil Egger, O.F.M. Cap., Bishop of Bolzano-Bressanone, who recently passed away.

In the aforementioned Regulation the juridical position of the venerable Oriental Catholic Churches sui iuris was clarified. They may be represented by the Heads of the respective Churches or, if they cannot take part in the Synodal Assembly, by a Delegate, chosen by the Leader with the consensus of the Synod of the Church sui iuris. Furthermore, the Oriental Catholic Churches who have more than 25 bishops may choose another representative for the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Therefore, for the first time, the Oriental Catholic Churches sui iuris will have three categories of representatives: ex officio, ex designatione and ex electione.

The Regulation of the Synod of Bishops allows, other than the written interventions of the Synodal Fathers, the so-called free discussion. This will take place between 6 and 7 pm during each afternoon session of the General Congregation. Furthermore, given that each Synodal Father will be allowed 5 minutes for his official intervention, the free discussion time has been increased during the work of the Synod, as for example after the Presentation ante Disceptationem and post Disceptationem, as well as for the Message (Nuntius).

There also will be moments of free discussion after five reports, each of ten minutes, during which five bishops will indicate how the theme of the Word of God is perceived on the five continents. This is another methodological novelty, foreseen for the afternoon of October 6, which will provide more exact information on the situation of the particular Churches in each continent.

A report, of around 30 minutes, on the reception of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, the first by the Holy Father Benedict XVI, is also planned. The Relator is His Em. Card. Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, Relator General at the last Synodal Assembly. This will be followed by free discussion on this theme.

In presenting some of the aspects relevant to the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church”, I would like to invite everyone, especially the persons of consecrated life, to pray with greater fervor and perseverance so that the results of the Synod may lead to renewed love towards the Word of God, that finds in Holy Scriptures the proven expression, the hoped-for dynamism of the Church and her mission of evangelization and the promotion of man.

I conclude with the quotation from the last book of the Bible, which opens the horizons of eternity to those who love Jesus Christ, sent by God the Father, and, led by the Holy Spirit, move towards the Kingdom of the Heavens in communion with all the saints. “Blessed is anyone who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed those who hear them, if they treasure the content, because the Time is near” (Rev 1:3).

Unofficial translation of the Holy See.