Summaries of Previous Synod Assemblies
Summaries of Previous Synod Assemblies
1. I Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 29 September - 29 October 1967
Synod Fathers: 197
Topic: “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.
Other pastoral questions were discussed and submitted to the Pope as recommendations: that Episcopal Conferences should have major control over seminaries in their respective areas; procedures relating to mixed marriages were recommended and approved by the Pope in 1970; and approval was given for the New Order of the Mass which was 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 “Particular Synod for the Netherlands”, or the so-called “Dutch Synod” 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 the Vatican, 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: 216Topic: “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, 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 entitled “Pastores dabo vobis” of 25 March 1992.
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 Declaration, 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.
A Post-Synodal Council, elected from the Special Assembly, continues to offer assistance to the General Secretariat. Its task is to monitor the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation at the level of the local Church. The Council compiled a report which was sent to all the bishops in Africa, the heads of the departments of the Roman Curia, and the presidents of Episcopal Conferences worldwide as well as other interested parties. This Council meets periodically to assess the situation so as to update and encourage the bishops of Africa in the application of the document’s rich contents.
On 13 November 2004, during the Symposium of the Bishops of Africa and Europe, held in Rome, Pope John Paul II, “welcoming the aspirations of the Post-Synodal Council”, made the announcement to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa in response to the “the hopes of the African pastors”. In the General Audience of 22 June 2005, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed this decision “made by my venerated predecessor”. No specific dates or topic for the Second Special Assembly have been announced.
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: 69
Topic: “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.
At its last meeting in November, 2007, the Special Council shared further reaction to the Post-Synodal document, evaluated the significance of the Special Assembly on the Asian continent, related the present state of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in various countries and spoke of various published works in relation to the Post-Synodal document.
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 is 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: 241
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 (22 February 2007).
22. XII Ordinary General Assembly
Scheduled to be in Session: 5 - 26 October 2008
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. In doing so, he took into consideration the opinion of the members of the Eleventh Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops which was based on a consultation of the episcopal conferences worldwide, the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General and other parties concerned. The Synod on the Word of God is 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 for the life and mission of the Church.
Subsequently, the Council members, with the assistance of theologians, drafted the 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 by the aforementioned groups, 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 will be 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 is its occurrence during the Pauline Year, beginning 29 June 2008. In commemoration, the opening liturgy of the synod will be celebrated in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
23. II Special Assembly for Africa
Scheduled to be in session: 4 - 25 October 2009
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).
The Special Council for Africa, elected at the I Special Assembly for Africa, continues to offer assistance to the General Secretariat. Subsequent to its publishing a document which reported the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the level of the local Church, the Council investigated the feasability of a II Special Assembly. 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 a II Special Assembly for Africa. In the Weekly General Audience of 22 June 2005, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI reconfirmed this decision.
Subsequently, the Special Council for Africa formulated the synod topic, which received papal approval: 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 proceeded to draft the Lineamenta, presenting the topic and containing a series of questions for discussion and prayer on the local level. After being made public on 27 June 2006, the document was sent to the Church in Africa, where it is being widely distributed and enthusiastically received. Responses to the Questions are to be sent to the General Secretariat by November, 2008, for use in drafting the Instrumentum laboris, which will set the agenda for the synodal assembly, scheduled to take place 4-25 October 2009.
The Episcopal conferences and assemblies are presently engaged in electing members to the II Special Assembly for Africa, based on specially devised criteria, which have received papal approval.
[Original text in English by the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops]