Pope explains history, importance of synod meetings

By  John Thavis, Catholic News Service
  • October 6, 2008
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - At the beginning of the world Synod of Bishops on the Bible, Pope Benedict XVI explained why he thinks such meetings are important.

He did it in typical Benedict style — reviewing a bit of church history and explaining the roots of the Greek word "synodos" to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.
The basic role of the Synod of Bishops, held every three years or so, is to advise the pope and solidify church communion, the Pope said Oct. 5.

He recalled that the synod was established as a regular institution by Pope Paul VI in 1965, during the final phase of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict listed four main functions of the assemblies:
  • To promote closer union and co-operation between the pope and the bishops of the world.

  • To furnish direct and accurate information about the church's situation and problems.

  • To encourage harmony between doctrine and pastoral action.

  • To deal with themes of great importance and timeliness.

Over the years, some bishops have called for decision-making powers for the synod. The Pope made no reference to a possible change in its strictly consultative role.

He said the Greek roots of the word "synod" — "syn" meaning "with" and "odos" meaning "road" — suggest the idea of travelling together, which he said was the church's experience through history.

"The synodal dimension is an essential component of the church. It consists in the coming together of every population and culture to become one in Christ and to walk together behind Him," he said.

Pope Benedict, who presided over a Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005, has modified some of the synod's rules. He has shortened the length of the assemblies to three weeks and reduced the maximum length of individual speeches from eight minutes to five minutes. At the same time, he has created more opportunity for open discussion at the end of the daily sessions in the synod hall.

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