Here below is a translation of the report of the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, given at the First Congregation this morning.
Most Holy Father,
Eminences and Excellences, Synod Fathers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With great honor and excitement, I address, for the first time as General Secretary, the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, after my appointment on 21 September 2013. I would like to express my gratitude to Your Holiness for having convened, at the beginning of your pontificate, this Assembly, which is a particularly high manifestation of episcopal collegiality, to treat the topic: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.
In your first homily in the Sistine Chapel (14 March 2013), Your Holiness, giving an indication of the spirit of your pontificate, spoke three words: “walk”, “build” and “profess”, giving the first place to “walking”. To walk together is indeed “syn-odos”, “Synodus”. The Church, the community of believers in Christ, is walking towards the house of the Father, a missionary Church in the streets of the world who proclaims and professes faith in Jesus Christ, as an institution and in the various charisms and ministries which express through communion a Gospel way of life and witness.
Your Holiness, I would also like to express gratitude for the good news and grace, joyously welcomed and received by the synod fathers and the whole Church, of the beatification of Pope Paul VI, which will be celebrated next Sunday, October 19, at the conclusion of this Extraordinary General Assembly. This event is a significant part of this Assembly, which gathers synod members from around the world and a part of the broader movement of communion which in these days is expressed by a number of initiatives of prayer for the success of the Synod.
Beatifying Pope Paul VI in conjunction with the synod is not only an important sign of collegiality and synodality but reflects the appropriateness of this action, because, after almost 50 years, the same Pope who led, concluded and implemented the Second Vatican Council, also established the Synod of Bishops and guided it in its initial years. Next year, in 2015, gathered once again in synod, we will have the joy of celebrating these two anniversaries.
I now wish to address the 253 participants in this synodal assembly, presided over by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis, Head of the Episcopal College and Pastor of the Universal Church, and extend to you a warm and heartfelt welcome.
I greet the synod fathers from the five continents who are the heads of the 13 synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the 114 episcopal conferences and the 3 representatives of the Union of Superiors General. Fraternal greetings also to the 26 Heads of the Departments of the Roman Curia, the 15 members of the Thirteenth Ordinary Council and the 26 members appointed by the Pope.
I extend a special greeting to the 8 fraternal delegates, representing Churches and ecclesial communities which, with the Catholic Church, share in the Church’s concern and work towards effective action on behalf of the family.
Furthermore, I cordially greet the 16 experts and 38 auditors, women and men, chosen from among a great number of specialists and persons involved in family ministry. I want you to know that your expertise, your personal witness and that of your communities enrich the synod’s work.
I extend my cordial greetings to the press liaisons, the assistants, translators, technical personnel and, in particular, His Excellency, the Undersecretary, recently raised to the episcopate and to the collaborators of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. I am grateful for your generous and valuable contribution in preparation for this synod assembly.
According to the Synod’s statutes (Ordo Synodi Episcoporum), the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, by its very nature, is viewed as an assembly with specific goals in both the material to be treated and its rapid formulation for good the universal Church. In this manner, this synodal assembly is different from ordinary or special assemblies not only in the category and number of its members but also in the brevity of its duration.
To set in motion a new synodal dynamic and to seize the urgency attached to the assigned topic, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, the Holy Father chose this type of assembly, when, on 8 October 2013, he announced the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod, 5 – 19 October 2014, which we are now celebrating.
8 October 2013 is an important date, because the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, together with its Ordinary Council, warmly received the intention of the Holy Father to set a definite time-frame for the synod — to be described later — namely, that it take place in two stages, or maybe three, if you include, the Consistory of Cardinals on 20 – 21 February. The criterion which has guided this new synodal process is that respecting established norms, of moving ahead and attending to the necessary steps to achieve the goal in an effective and timely manner.
I will now report on the various activities of the General Secretariat in the time which has elapsed between the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly in 2012, on the preparations of this Extraordinary General Assembly and on the prospects and novelty of this Synod and end with a conclusion.
I) Activities by the Thirteen Ordinary General Assembly in 2012
On 28 October 2012, the Ordinary General Assembly concluded, according to customary practice at the time, with the “Propositions” which were submitted to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XIV. At this synodal assembly the Thirteenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat was formed, composed of 15 members, 12 of which were elected by the assembly, and 3 appointed by the Holy Father. To date, this Council has met seven times.
The first meeting was held at the very end of the Ordinary General, 28 October 2012, during which the members became acquainted with their work and tasks to be undertaken.
The second meeting, held on 26 November 2012, had two items on the agenda: 1) the examination of the material from the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly and the drafting of a possible post-synodal document; and 2) the beginning of the consultation process for a topic for the Fourteenth General Assembly, scheduled for 2015, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.
During the third meeting, which took place on 23 and 24 January 2013, the Ordinary Council continued work on the final draft of the post-synodal document and analyzed the proposals for the topic of the next General Assembly. The meeting concluded with the formulation of three possible topics, the first of which had a Christological and anthropological theme with particular reference to the Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes, 22.
Shortly thereafter came the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, on 11 February 2013, and the election of his successor, Pope Francis, on 13 March 2013. Following his election, the new Pope, at the fourth meeting of the Thirteenth Ordinary Council, which took place on 13 and 14 June, received in audience the former General Secretary, His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović and the members of the Ordinary Council. At that meeting, the Holy Father, Pope Francis was given the text summarizing the results of the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly on evangelization and the outcome of the consultation on the topic of the next Ordinary General Assembly. Shortly thereafter, during a private audience with the General Secretary on 4 July, the Holy Father, formulated, in principle, a topic related to the vocation of the human person and the family.
I now turn to the remote and immediate preparation of the Third Extraordinary General Meeting which solemnly began yesterday with the concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father by the synod fathers and the priest-participants of the Synod.
II) The Preparation of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly
After the fourth meeting of the Ordinary Council on 23 August 2013, Pope Francis again received in audience the General Secretary, His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović. At this time, he decided to convoke the Third Extraordinary General Assembly, choosing as a topic the pastoral challenges of the family.
Subsequently, on 21 September 2013, Pope Francis entrusted to me the task of guiding the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, and, at the same time, while inviting me to revitalize and strengthen the Synod, he expressed his desire to hold as soon as possible the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod on the topic which he had unofficially announced.
Shortly thereafter, on 7 and 8 October, the Holy Father presided over the fifth meeting of the members of the Thirteenth Ordinary Council. During this meeting, the preparation process for the Extraordinary General Assembly immediately began with an initial drafting of the Preparatory Document. The text, submitted for the consideration of the council members, included a series of questions which was to be widely distributed to all those customarily contacted by the General Secretariat, and, on a larger scale, to the whole Church, so as to begin a consultation process on the pastoral challenges of the family. After making approved changes to the document, it was mailed and released to the public.
On 8 October 2013, at the conclusion of the meeting, the Holy Father convoked the Third Extraordinary General Assembly, definitively formulating the synod’s topic, namely, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. At that same meeting, the Holy Father officially entrusted the preparation of the Extraordinary General Assembly to the Thirteenth Ordinary Council, elected during the XIII Ordinary General Assembly in 2012.
Subsequently, on 14 October 2013, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, appointed the General Rapporteur, His Eminence, Cardinal Péter Erdő and the Special Secretary, His Excellency, Most Rev. Bruno Forte, already members of the Thirteenth Ordinary Council, which in close cooperation with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, prepared themselves to fulfill, in the best manner possible, their respective tasks.
On 5 November 2013, at a press conference, the Preparatory Document (Lineamenta) was then presented in six languages (English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and German). This event initiated a wide-ranging consultation within the whole Church, which engaged local communities in prayer and reflection on the topic for the synod assembly. The series of questions sparked great interest among the bishops and the faithful. This can be seen in the high percentage of responses received, namely, 83.11% of the total number of those regularly contacted by the General Secretariat (88.59% of the episcopal conferences; 65.38% of the Departments of the Roman Curia, 76.92% of the synods of the Eastern Churches sui iuris). In addition to these responses, numerous comments came from individuals and groups, both inside and outside the Church.
The observations, given as responses to the series of questions in the Preparatory Document, were the object of intensive analysis and study by the General Secretariat and the members of the Ordinary Council at a sixth meeting, taking place on 24 and 25 February 2014 and presided over by the Holy Father, during which the first draft of the Instrumentum laboris was presented. This document was composed by a team of 9 experts who read, studied and summarized the responses to the questions.
On 15 March 2014, between the sixth and seventh meetings of the Ordinary Council, the Holy Father appointed the synod’s three Presidents-Delegate, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida. Likewise, in this period, on 8 April 2014, the Holy Father elevated the Undersecretary to the dignity of bishop, His Excellency, Most Rev. Fabio Fabene, appointing him to the Diocese of Acquapendente. On that occasion, the Holy Father wrote a letter to the General Secretary expressing his desire to promote collegiality and to develop further collegiality in the Church.
The volume of material, collected and organized by the General Secretariat in response to the series of questions in the Preparatory Document, was summarized in the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris or “work document”, the text of which was discussed and approved at the seventh meeting of the Ordinary Council, held on 13 and 14 May 2014. Translated in the same six languages as the Preparatory Document, this document was made public in a press conference on 26 June 2014 and received a wide distribution on the website of the Holy See.
As to the make-up of this synodal assembly, the synod statutes set forth in Ordo Synodi Episcoporum (Art. 5 § 2) stipulate that for an extraordinary general assembly the Heads of Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the presidents of the national or multi-national episcopal conferences come as ex officio members, as too, the heads of the departments of the Roman Curia. Three religious are elected by the Union of Superiors General. According to the same synod norms (Art. 5 § 4), the Holy Father has the prerogative of appointing other members at his discretion.
Consequently, 191 synod fathers are participating at this extraordinary assembly, divided into the following three categories: 162 ex ufficio, 3 ex electione and 26 ex nominatione pontificia. The composition of the synodal assembly from the vantage point of the five continents is: 42 from Africa, 38 from America, 29 from Asia, 78 from Europe and 4 from Oceania.
The ex ufficio members are the heads of the 13 synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the 114 episcopal conferences and the heads of 25 departments of the Roman Curia. To these, the Holy Father wished to add as ex ufficio members, the members of the Thirteenth Ordinary Council, who were entrusted with preparing the Extraordinary General Assembly. Three religious, elected by the Union of Superiors General are members ex electione. Finally, 26 members from different parts of the world are taking part in the synod assembly ex nominatione pontificia: 14 cardinals, 5 archbishops, 3 bishops and 4 priests.
In all, among the 191 synod fathers, 61 are cardinals, 1 a cardinal patriarch, 7 patriarchs, 1 major archbishop, 66 archbishops (including 2 metropolitans, 3 titulars, 2 emeriti), 47 bishops (including 1 titular, 2 apostolic vicars, 1 apostolic exarch and 1 emeritus), 1 auxiliary bishop, 1 priest and 6 religious.
Moreover, according to Art. 7 of the Ordo Synodi, others participants were invited to take part in this synodal assembly as experts or consultants to the Special Secretary (16), auditors (38) and fraternal delegates (8), from different nations and cultures. With regards to the auditors, since the synod is to treat the topic of the family, special attention was given to the participation of married couples, parents and heads of families (12). A married couple was chosen to be among the 16 experts. We are grateful for the presence of the fraternal delegates who represent other Churches and ecclesial communities. Indeed, they share the Catholic Church’s concern for the evangelization and pastoral care of families in today’s world.
While engaging in the routine administrative activities in preparation for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly, the General Secretariat was involved in other activities related to the synod in an attempt to give attention to some specific issues which are closely linked with the general topic. In this regard, several so-called interdicasterial meetings were held, which involved representatives of the Roman Curia as well as some professors of the Pontifical Universities in Rome. These meetings played an important part in the study and research which has been very useful in the process of summarizing the responses, drafting the text of the Instrumentum laboris and the preparation of the General Secretariat in dealing with the work of the synod.
Finally, for this Extraordinary Assembly, the General Secretariat has promoted initiatives of prayer for the family. In particular, on Sunday, 29 December 2013, the Solemnity of the Holy Family, special events were simultaneously planned in three important places of worship: the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth in the Holy Land, the Basilica of the Holy House of Loreto in Italy and the Shrine of the Holy Family in Barcelona. In addition, during the Angelus prayer that same Sunday, the Holy Father gave his support to the initiative and invited the whole Church to pray for the successful outcome of the synod assembly. On this occasion, the Prayer for the Synod on the Family, specially composed by the Holy Father, was published in different language versions.
Furthermore, Sunday, 28 September was set apart as a special day of prayer for the synod. For this occasion, the General Secretariat invited every episcopal conference and other church organizations to join in the prayer for families and the work of the synod. In this regard, the General Secretariat drafted and sent to the episcopal conferences worldwide suggestions for the prayer of the faithful which could be used in the celebration of Mass on that Sunday. From this day forward and for the duration of the synod, when we gather to undertake our work, the faithful, in an initiative of the Diocese of Rome, will be praying for the synod in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, in the Chapel of the Salus Populi Romani, where the relics of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and her parents, Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin, as well as the relics of the married couple, the Blesseds Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quatrocchi are exposed for veneration.
III) Prospects and New Aspects
This broad description of the General Secretariat’s activities, especially in the preparation for the Extraordinary Assembly opening today, reveals some new aspects and prospects for the further development of the Synod of Bishops, as foreseen by Pope Paul VI in the Introduction of the motu proprio Apostolic Sollicitudo.
Clearly, the first new aspect regards the synodal movement as desired by the Holy Father, a movement which takes place in two stages: the present Extraordinary Synod and the Ordinary General Assembly next year. This is an important and opportune time, a Kairos for the whole Church, where bishops and the faithful allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit so as to bring about that synodality oftentimes referred to by the Holy Father as an important element of the Church’s life and his pontificate. All of us, unable to put off our responsibility, are called to reflect and thoroughly examine, enlightened by the Gospel and the Church’s faith, the subject of the family. In the preparatory journey and our gathering with the Bishop of Rome, we see realized the teaching of Pope Francis, who never tires of reminding us that “we must walk together: the people, the bishops and the Pope. Synodality should be lived at the various levels” (cf. Interview, La Civiltà Cattolica, September 2013 (n. 164: 19/09/2013: 465-466). Referring to the mission of the Successor of St. Peter to confirm the brothers in the faith, the Holy Father added: “To confirm in unity: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primate. Let us go forward on the path of synodality, and grow in harmony with the service of the primacy. … This should inspire us to work always to overcome every conflict which wounds the body of the Church. United in our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit: to be united in our differences. This is the way of Jesus”(Homily, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June 2013).
This synodal spirit of fraternal communion characterized the preparatory phase of this synodal assembly, in which the People of God was heard in its variety of bishops, priests, deacons and lay faithful. In the series of questions in the Preparatory Document not only did the the episcopal conferences and those contacted by right by the General Secretariat express themselves but also many individual priests and lay faithful or associations of lay people expressed their views on the burning issues regarding the family in our time. The responses and observations to the questions revealed a widespread reality in dioceses and parishes of associations and groups made up of men and women who work to support the family in different situations on every continent. The number of responses received have resulted in part by the topic of the synod which touches upon the pastoral life of communities and the concern which the bishops have long had for the family as well as a spirit of freedom and sincerity which was desired. This broad freedom of expression must also characterize this synodal assembly, because expressing one’s convictions is always positive as long as it is done in a respectful, loving and constructive manner. We are all aware that in freedom fraternal communion grows, discussion is enriched and the most appropriate pastoral choices regarding the family are singled out. In fact, it is important for a person to express himself without fear or suspicion. Feeling free to express what is believed or what it is doubtful shows what distinguishes a human being from other creatures and makes him a responsible person before God and men. Consequently, discussion at the synod is to be open. When differences arise, participants in their various roles are called not to stress their own interests or point of view but to seek the truth which is not an abstract concept or the result of philosophical or theological speculation, but the person of Christ, the God-man, man born-in-time, and Son of the Father: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). He is the point of departure. The first evangelizer is Jesus, who came down to walk among us and came to be known by his word and signs and, finally, with the witness of his life.
Among the aids provided to the synod fathers and the other participants is the Vademecum or “Handbook”, an essential tool in following the proceedings of the Assembly. I would like to indicate some new elements which affect the organization of work and relate to the internal methodology of this Assembly. Because of its extraordinary character, this synod’s duration and number of participants is reduced, thus requiring greater attention to the scheduling of work and methodology.
The synod calendar, located at the end of the Vademecum, indicates that starting with the Second Congregation, intervention in the synod hall to take place during the first week are to proceed in an orderly fashion according to topics corresponding to the various parts and chapters of the Instrumentum laboris. Consequently, on Monday afternoon, speakers will treat two topics: God’s Plan for Marriage and the Family (Part I, chap. 1) and The Knowledge and Acceptance of the Teachings on Marriage and the Family from Sacred Scripture and Church Documents (Part I, chapter 2). The Third General Congregation will be limited to two other issues: The Gospel of the Family and the Natural Law (Part I, chap. 3) and The Family and Vocation of the Person in Christ (Part I, chap. 4). The afternoon of the same day will be dedicated to The Pastoral Program for the Family: Various Proposals Underway (Part II, chap. 1). Wednesday morning, during the Fifth General Congregation, discussion will continue with The Pastoral Challenges of the Family (Part II, chap. 2), while the afternoon session will focus on Difficult Pastoral Situations (Part II, chap. 3). The Seventh General Congregation will concentrate on The Pastoral Challenges Concerning an Openness to Life (Part III, chap. 1), while the Eighth General Congregation will address the topic: The Church and the Family in the Challenge of Upbringing (part III, ch. 2).
Each of these topical sessions will open with a brief introduction by the President-Delegate of the day, followed by a real-life testimony by auditors specifically chosen because of the subject to be treated, with priority given to married couples. In this way, their personal life experiences on the subject can be enlightening and provide a lay perspective to enrich the synodal discussion.
During the meetings of the Small Groups, to take place in the second week of the synod, the procedure in discussing the Relatio post disceptationem will also be by topic.
Another novelty in synodal methodology is the Relatio Synodi, namely, the document summarizing this synod’s work, which, after opportune amendments from the Small Groups, will be presented in plenary session in a final draft for the approval of the Assembly. This means that there will be no “Propositions” as in other synodal assemblies.
The Relatio Synodi, once approved by the Assembly, will be given to the Holy Father for his consideration. It will also serve as the starting point for the preparation of the second stage of the synod process, namely, the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly to be held in October 2015. In other words, this Relatio, with the necessary changes, will become the Preparatory Document for the next synod, which will then be sent to the customary recipients by right, who, after having discussed and thoroughly examined the material, will return it to the General Secretariat for the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly.
The dissemination of news about the Extraordinary Assembly is also different from previous synods. This service will be handled by the Holy See Press Office with the assistance of the Commission for Information. The Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops will be replaced by the regular Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office containing general information, which will be further treated in daily Briefings under the guidance of the Director of the Holy See Press Office in collaboration with synod press liaisons and with the participation of some synod fathers. In addition, a Twitter service will transmit, summarily and in real-time, the most pertinent news developments in the synod’s work.
The Relatio ante disceptationem also has an element of novelty, in the sense that this time the document was composed with the help of the interventions of the synod fathers which we submitted to the General Secretariat before the beginning of the Synod. The General Secretariat requested that the synod fathers send their intervention in advance and possibly indicate the main topic so as to ensure a more orderly treatment in the synod hall. Clearly, the intent was not to manage the content of the interventions, but to respond better to the synodal and collegial sense of the synod fathers, who are the bearers of the experiences and needs of the particular Churches and other local bodies. In this way, the Relatio is a secure basis on which to work during the interventions in the hall in the first week of work. The Relatio post disceptationem, which will conclude the work for the first week will be given to synod fathers for their consideration in the circuli minores (Small Groups). They will study it and make their contribution, following the procedure described in the Vademecum in drafting and preparing the Relatio Synodi, the final document which will be a full summary, structured according to parts, chapters, and numbers.
The Church is essentially a communion; indeed it is, as Pope Paul VI said on 11 October 1969, in his Homily at the opening of the First Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “[The Church] in her double reference to Christ in communion with God and communion in Christ with believers in him, and virtually with all humanity.” What is collegiality if not a communion, a solidarity, a fraternity, a charity? What is synodality if not the original dynamics of the life and journey of the Church as a community, a People of God, walking together in “an exercise articulated in various charisms and ministries for proclaiming, bearing witness and fostering the coming of the kingdom among men”? (P. Coda, “Rinnovamento a cinquant’anni dal Vaticano II”, Il Regno, 12/2014, p. 429).
I pray that this synodal Assembly might be the privileged place of this synodal collegiality, which proclaims the Gospel by walking, and that it might be imbued with a new openness to the Spirit, by an approach and manner of life and witness which ensures a unity in diversity and apostolicity in catholicity.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten the participants in this assembly. May the protection of the Virgin Mary be ours and may the saints and those who are blessed intercede for the successful outcome of this Synod.[Original text: Italian] [Unofficial Translation, Issued by the Vatican]