As this issue of AD2000 goes to press, an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, convened by Pope Francis a year ago, is meeting in Rome to discuss the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation.
Despite some sensational media stories about the Synod, we need to keep in mind that a Synod of Bishops is an advisory body to the Holy Father.
Under the Code of Canon Law, it is "a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world."
Synods of Bishops have been held every two or three years since Vatican II, and have covered a wide range of subjects. The 2012 Synod discussed the New Evangelisation, and was concerned with how to spread the Word of God to all mankind more effectively. Earlier Synods had dealt with issues such as The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, the Eucharist and the role of Bishops.
Under St John Paul II, a Synod discussed the Christian Family 34 years ago.
What is most important about the Synod is that it is usually followed by an apostolic exhortation from the Pope, which is a reflection on the issues raised at the Synod, and sets an agenda for the future.
The Church has long recognised the family as not only a vital institution in society – in fact, the foundation of civil society – but also a vital institution for building the faith, and transmitting it to the next generation. When families are under threat, not only is society undermined, but the Church is unable to perform its essential function.
These issues will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the Bishops' consideration at the Synod, and we can anticipate that collectively they will approach the subject with sensitivity and compassion, guided by the Holy Spirit.
– Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.