Summary of Synod Assemblies 1994-1997

Including Assembly for Africa

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 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 Tuesday]

13. Special Assembly for Africa

In session: April 10-May 8, 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 Jan. 6, 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, in July 1990, the «lineamenta» document outlining the synod topic was published, beginning a period of reflection on the local level. The responses from the local Churches were used in formulating the Special Assembly’s working paper, released during the Holy Father’s ninth pastoral visit to Africa, to Kampala, Uganda, in February 1993.

With this document as a point of reference, the synod fathers discussed the general topic of evangelization from the following perspectives: proclamation of the message; inculturation; dialogue; justice and peace; and the means of social communication.

The resulting documentation includes a lengthy Message to the People of God, released at the conclusion of the Special Assembly, and the postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Ecclesia in Africa» of Sept. 14, 1995, signed and presented to the Church in conjunction with the synodal visit to Africa by the Holy Father, Sept. 14-20, 1995, for the Special Assembly’s celebration phase.

A postsynodal 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 postsynodal apostolic exhortation at the level of the local Church. This council meets periodically to assess the situation so as to update and encourage the bishops of Africa in the application of the document.

Last Nov. 13, during the Symposium of the Bishops of Africa and Europe, held in Rome, Pope John Paul II, «welcoming the aspirations of the postsynodal council,» made the announcement to convoke a Second Special Assembly for Africa in response to «the hopes of the African pastors.» In the general audience of June 22, Benedict XVI confirmed this decision. No specific dates or topic for the Second Special Assembly have been announced.

14. IX Ordinary General Assembly

In Session: Oct. 2-29, 1994

Synod fathers: 245

Topic: «The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World»

On Dec. 30, 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.

Noteworthy during this synodal gathering was the number of synod fathers who were members from religious congregations. There were also the appointments of a woman and man religious as adjunct special secretaries, and more women and men from the consecrated life participated as experts and auditors. The postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Vita Consecrata» was published March 25, 1996.

15. Special Assembly for Lebanon

In Session: Nov. 26-Dec. 14, 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 June 6, 1991, his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon.

After subsequent initial meetings with the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches in Lebanon, a 10-member council, representing the six «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 background paper of the Special Assembly was made public March 13, 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 Nov. 1, 1994.

The responses to the background paper were incorporated in the working document, the Special Assembly’s working document, which served as the point of reference during the synodal Assembly. On Dec. 12, an annotated version of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, published under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, was distributed to the synod fathers.

On May 10, 1997, the postsynodal apostolic exhortation «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 was subsequently published in 1998. The postsynodal council resulting from this special assembly continues to hold meetings to evaluate the impact and implementation of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation in Lebanon.

16. Special Assembly for America

In session: Nov. 16-Dec. 12, 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 June 12, 1995, a pre-synodal council was appointed to collaborate in the preparations of the special assembly. With its assistance, the background paper was published Sept. 3, 1996, and the working document on Sept. 10, 1997.

During the assembly, the synod fathers 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. At the conclusion of the special assembly the synod fathers published the customary «Nuntius,» or Message to the People of God.

A postsynodal 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 postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Ecclesia in America,» which was promulgated by the Holy Father on Jan. 23, 1999, during the celebration phase of the special assembly in Mexico City.

Subsequently, the postsynodal 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 postsynodal document.

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