The Teaching of Christ

Synod on the New Evangelization
by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl | Source:

For some time now we have heard a lot about the New Evangelization, or at least the term, the phrase. A few years ago, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, designated it as the topic of a special gathering of bishops in Rome this October - called a synod. Since I have the privilege of participating in this meeting to discuss what I think is the most significant focus of the Church well into the future, I want to share some thoughts with you on what is a synod of bishops and what we mean by "the New Evangelization".

   To begin with, the full name of this particular gathering is The Synod for the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. The meeting begins with the opening Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica celebrated by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, on Sunday, October 7, 2012. It concludes with Mass on October 28, 2012.

   What is a synod? The short answer is that a synod is a gathering of bishops who are representative of the Church throughout the entire world.

   The Pope calls such a meeting, and national conferences of bishops around the world elect those bishops who will attend from their respective countries. A number of additional bishops, experts and observers are also appointed by the Pope.

   The idea of having a synod grew out of the experience of Pope Paul VI and the bishops at the time of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. Then over 2,500 bishops from all over the world came to Rome to reflect on how well the Church was carrying out her mission to be the continuing presence of Christ and his Gospel in the world. As the Council drew to a conclusion in 1965, there was the hope that some mechanism might be found to keep alive the collaborative experience of the Council. Thus was born, at the directive of the Pope, what we now recognize as the Synod of Bishops.

   In short, the synod is a worldwide consultative body that provides a forum for discussion and reflection on issues of importance in the life of the Church today. It is structured according to Church law which establishes its membership, procedures and authority following the basic outlines of Pope Paul VI's motu proprio, Apostolica Sollicitudo, of 1965.

   A synod generally meets every three years and is thus designated an "Ordinary General Assembly." However, "Extraordinary" synods can be called to deal with specific situations. There are also "Special" synods for the Church in a specific geographic area such as the one held November 16-December 12, 1997 for the Church in America.

   The First Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was called in 1967. I had the privilege of accompanying the then-Bishop of Pittsburgh as his secretary and thus had my first immersion in the "synodal experience," one that has been repeated for me in various forms in nine subsequent synods.

   At the conclusion of the 1974 Synod on Evangelization, Pope Paul VI decided to prepare a document to reflect the considerations of the gathering of bishops. Thus in 1975 the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi was published. This began the practice of reporting, if you will, on what has taken place in a particular synod. These documents are referred to as "post-synodal apostolic exhortations". For example, Pope Benedict XVI has published two such documents: Sacramentum Caritatis, following the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and Verbum Domini, following the 2008 Synod on the Word of God.

   I encourage anyone interested in knowing more about Church teaching on these topics to read these documents. In an age where such information is so readily available, we can learn firsthand how the work of a synod bears fruit in the life of the Church and in our individual lives.

   Every synod begins with an opening Mass presided over by the Pope. Immediately the next day the works begins. Each participating bishop, called a "synodal father," is permitted a five-minute opportunity to contribute to the discussion. It takes just about two weeks to accommodate all of these presentations.

   Following this two-week period of dialogue, the members of the synod gather in small language groups to continue discussion on what has been said and to put together what is the fruit of all of these deliberations - propositions that will be presented to the Pope as the frame of reference for his post-synodal apostolic exhortation. What eventually emerges from the language groups and General Assembly of the synod is a list of statements that everyone has had a hand in drafting, revising, reviewing and eventually approving.

   The synod this month will address how to reawaken faith and proclaim the Gospel in what Blessed John Paul II first called the New Evangelization. I ask for your prayers that this gathering of bishops will be fruitful.

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