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What to expect from this year’s synod of bishops

As the synod’s schedule and methodology were rolled out ahead of its launch this weekend, some novelties came along with it, such as no midterm report and a heightened emphasis on the small groups.

Set to take place Oct. 4-25, this year’s ordinary synod will reflect on the theme “Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the family" and will gather 279 cardinals, bishops and representatives from all over the world.

Each day of the synod will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions, similar to last year. However, with a longer overall duration, the gathering will be divided into three parts, with each week dedicated to one of the three sections of the synod’s guiding document.

Released in June, the synod’s “Instrumentum Laboris" builds on the final report of last October’s extraordinary synod, and incorporates suggestions from Church entities like bishops’ conferences and even individuals who freely sent their opinions.

The first part, titled “Listening to the challenges of the family," focuses mainly on themes surrounding last year’s synod, and will be the topic of the first five days of this year’s ordinary synod.

Afterward, discussion will shift to the second part, titled “Discernment of the family vocation," before culminating with the third, “The mission of the family today." Both of the final parts will address the new themes to be discussed this year.

The schedule and new method were presented by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi and the Secretary General of the synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, during an Oct. 2 press briefing.

Cardinal Baldisseri explained that although there will be no midterm report during this year’s synod, all of the reports of the small groups will be published and available to the press.
However, due to time constraints, official translations into the rest of the languages will not be available.

Divided by language into 13 groups with around 20 members each, there will be one German group, four in English, three in Spanish, two in Italian and three in French. Groups were determined by both the language of participants and the requests of the synod fathers.

Fr. Lombardi said that the publication of the small group reports is really “the novelty" of this synod, since last year they were only published once, and now they will be published after each of the three synod phases. Small groups will meet in total 13 times throughout the three-week gathering.

Also distinct from last year is the fact that there will be no midterm report. However, the synod fathers will draft an initial report summarizing the discussions of the first week, and will continue to develop the document throughout the following two weeks of discussion.

The synod will officially be opened by Pope Francis Sunday, Oct. 4, with a special inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Discussion will formally begin the following day with speeches from Cardinal Baldisseri as well as the synod General Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who will expose the first theme. Afterward, a married couple auditing will have the chance to speak.

Cardinal Baldisseri said it is still unknown whether or not Pope Francis will speak at the opening discussion, but said they at least expect the Pope to stop by for a greeting.

Discussion will then continue with the synod fathers in the General Congregations. Each participant will have three minutes to speak, but are able at any point to provide a text expressing more of their thoughts.

After the initial general meetings take place, there will be several small group sessions, during which the participants will reflect on the Instrumentum and develop it with their own thoughts and input.

When the small group sessions finish, one member from each will give a brief presentation of their work in the synod hall, which will then be made public. This process will be repeated for the three stages of the synod discussion.

At the end of the three-week gathering, a special 10-member global commission nominated by Pope Francis will draft the final synod report.
The members include: Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest (Hungary), Rapporteur General; Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the General Secretary; Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto (Italy); Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay (India); Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington (United States of America); Cardinal John Atcherley Dew, archbishop of Wellington (New Zealand); Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (Argentina); Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan of Mouila (Gabon); Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano (Italy); Father Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, superior general of the Society of Jesus, representing the Union of Superiors General.

When the final synod document has been finished, it will, like last year, be voted on paragraph by paragraph with a required majority of 2/3 vote to be approved. However, the final approval of the report depends on Pope Francis.

Cardinal Baldisseri stressed that it is still unknown whether the document, including the details of the voting, will be published like last year’s. That decision, he said, depends on the Pope.

Conclusions from the synod discussion will then be used by Pope Francis to draft his first Post-Synodal Exhortation, which can be expected in 2016.

Among the 279 participants are 74 cardinals, including one cardinal Patriarch and 2 major archbishops; six Patriarchs; one major archbishop; 72 archbishops, including three titular; 102 bishops, among whom are six auxiliaries, three apostolic vicars and one emeritus; two parish priests and 13 religious.

There will also be 24 experts and collaborators, 51 auditors, both couples and individuals, and 14 fraternal delegates.

By Elise Harris


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