Summary of Synod Assemblies 1980-1991

Including Assemblies on the Family and the Laity

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2005 ( With the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops under way, ZENIT is publishing in these days a summary of the past synodal assemblies.

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[Continued from Monday]

7. V Ordinary General Assembly

In session: Sept. 26-Oct. 25, 1980

Synod Fathers: 216

Topic: «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 Oct. 22, 1983. From the discussion and proposals of the assembly the Pope issued the apostolic exhortation «Familiaris Consortio» of Nov. 22, 1981.

8. VI Ordinary General Assembly

In session: Sept. 29-Oct. 29, 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 postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Reconciliatio et Paenitentia» of Dec. 2, 1984, which for the first time was designated as a «postsynodal» document.

9. II Extraordinary General Assembly

In session: Nov. 24-Dec. 8, 1985

Synod Fathers: 165

Topic: «The 20th 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. By statute the synod brought together all the presidents of the more than 100 episcopal conferences worldwide and various other people.

Discussions centered on the documents of Vatican II 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 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 on the «Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences» (May 21, 1998), 7.

10. VII Ordinary General Assembly

In session: Oct. 1-30, 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 postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Christifideles Laici» of Dec. 30, 1988.

11. VIII Ordinary General Assembly

In session: Sept. 30-Oct. 28, 1990

Synod fathers: 238

Topic: «The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day»

Taking into consideration the work of the 2nd 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 postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Pastores Dabo Vobis» of March 25, 1992.

12. I Special Assembly for Europe

In session: Nov. 28-Dec. 14, 1991

Synod fathers: 137

Topic: «So That We Might Be Witnesses of Christ Who Has Set Us Free»

On April 22, 1990, during an apostolic visit to Velehrad, Czechoslovakia, the site of the tomb of St. Methodius, co-patron of Europe with Sts. 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 toward 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.

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