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BY Edward Pentin
Pope Francis has called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, the Vatican has announced.
The synod, which will take place at the Vatican 5-19 October, 2014, is a means through which the Holy Father “wishes to continue the reflection and journey of the whole Church, with the participation of leaders of the Episcopate from every corner of the world,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
“It is important that the Church move forward together as a community, in reflection and prayer, and decide on common pastoral orientations dealing with the most important aspects of our life together - particularly on the family - under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops,” he continued. “The convening of this Extraordinary Synod is a clear indication of this direction.”
He added: “In this context, for individual persons or local offices or institutions to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion. As we address various pastoral issues, it is important that we move forward in full communion with the ecclesial community.”
The upcoming synod will be the first under the authority of the new General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. The archbishop, who was previously number two at the Congregation of Bishops, is being tasked with reforming the body by reviewing the rules governing its work and making them more effective.
Reform of the Synod of Bishops was also a topic for discussion during the “G8” Council of Cardinals which met at the Vatican last week.
According to the Vatican, the Holy Father said at last week’s meeting that prominent themes such as family and matrimonial pastoral duties “will be the order of the day in the activity of the Church in the near future.” This is likely to include an examination of the Church’s pastoral approach to divorced and remarried Catholics in the Church — a subject often raised by Francis and Benedict XVI in the recent past.
Today’s announcement came after a two-day meeting of the synod council which ended today. Pope Francis surprised participants by taking part in some of the meeting.
Paul VI set up the Synod of Bishops in 1965 as the Second Vatican Council was drawing to a close. He felt there was a need for such a forum "to make ever greater use of the bishops' assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church" and to enjoy "the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.”
Next year’s synod will be an “extraordinary general assembly” as opposed to an “ordinary general assembly”, and only the third of its kind to be held since 1965.
Synods of this nature are held when there is greater urgency for their convocation, or because preparation time is shorter. The number of participants is also smaller.