Archbishop's Message

Synod 2018: Youth, faith and vocational discernment


Synod in Greek means journey together. It was the original way of arriving at matters of faith in the early Church. Code of Canon Law describes it thus:

  • -It is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world who meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops.
  • -They advise him with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline,
  • -They consider tasks pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.

Its Origin and Nature: As the Vatican Council II was drawing to a close, Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops on 15 September 1965, with the aim of “providing for a continuance of the great abundance of benefits that flow to the Christian people during the time of the Council as a result of close collaboration with the bishops." The Synod of the Bishops is purely advisory; it does not constitute collegial governance of the Church (it is not a parliament) but represents Bishops’ collaboration with the Pope. The Holy Father retains direct and immediate authority over the synod. He is the one who convokes the synod, ratifies the election of members and designates any other members, determines the topics for discussion, sets the agenda, presides over the synod or delegates a bishop in his place and “concludes, transfers, suspends, and dissolves” the synod. It discusses topics proposed and makes recommendations, but does not settle questions or issue decrees, unless the Pope grants it deliberative power in certain cases. The first Synod of Bishops met in 1967 to discuss, “Preserving and Strengthening the Catholic Faith.”

Purpose: Synod is an important opportunity for collective listening to what “the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Rev 2:7). During the synod particular importance is given to liturgical celebrations and other forms of common prayer, so as to invoke the gifts of discernment and harmony upon the members of the assembly. Another fruit of the Synod of Bishops is that it highlights more and more the profound communion that exists between the Bishops and the Roman Pontiff, the Pope being a “Bishop among Bishops, called at the same time as the Successor of Peter. The other bishops accept him as their leader at the word of Jesus who declared: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’ (cf. Mt 16:16-18).
The College of Bishops never exists without its head, the Pope. The Bishop of Rome, the Pope, who possesses “full, supreme and universal power over the Church, is always able to exercise it without impediment. However he is always joined in full communion with the other Bishops and with the whole Church”. In this regard the Bishop of Rome is in need of the presence of his brother Bishops, of their guidance, their prudence and experience. Indeed, the Successor of Peter must proclaim to all who Christ is, ‘the Son of the Living God’.

Types of synods: Synods can be a) ordinary or general, b) extraordinary and c) special synods. a) Ordinary or general assemblies/synods are called periodically to consider matters directly concerning the universal Church. b) The extraordinary synods are held to treat of some urgent or special matter; hence they fewer in number. As of October 2014, there have been three such assemblies: in 1969 on cooperation between Holy See and Ecclesiastical conferences, 1985 on the twentieth anniversary of Vatican II, and 2014 Pastoral challenges of Family in the context of evangelization. 3. Special synods are meetings of bishops in a particular geographical area; for example, there was a special assembly/Synod for Asia in 1998, for Africa in 2009, for the Middle East in 2010 and for Europe in 2003.

The topics for synods are suggested by Bishop’s conferences. Criteria for the choice of the topic are:

  • It is of universal interest;
  • It is pastoral in character with a firm doctrinal base;
  • It is contemporary and urgent matters that can stir up "new energies and movements in the church towards growth”;
  • It can be addressed within the allotted time.

Participants: The Synod of Bishops has in some manner the image of an Ecumenical Council and reflects its “spirit and method”. So most participants in the assembly, called Synodal fathers, are bishops elected by the bishops' conferences: one bishop in the case of a conference with no more than 25 members, two if a conference has up to 50 members, three from a conference with up to 100 members, and four from a larger conferences. To these may be added Experts (Periti), who help with the redaction of documents; Auditors, who have particular competence regarding the issues under discussion. Other representative participants include heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, members of religious institutes elected by the Union of Superiors General, and the cardinals who head the Roman Congregations and some other departments of the Roman Curia and some selected men and women. Few delegates from Protestant and Orthodox churches are also invited.

Stages in preparation: The Synod of Bishops has a permanent secretariat headquartered in Rome but is not part of the Roman Curia. Now synods have become normal in the Church and one of its achievements was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The secretariat prepares an outline document (lineamenta) which is distributed for comments. From the comments received, a working document (instrumentum laboris) is prepared and disseminated which will serve as the basis of the synod’s discussions. During the synod, proposals are presented and discussed, and those that are approved are submitted to the Holy Father who in turn will use it in composing a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
In view of the greater urgency that justifies their convocation, the preparation of extraordinary general assemblies of the Synod of the Bishops is shorter. The participants also are fewer, consisting of the heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, the presidents of episcopal conferences, three members of religious institutes and the cardinals who head dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Synod 2018: Many things happened before this synod. Pope John Paul II started World Youth Day in 1985. He was influenced to begin this by the Light-Life Movement that existed in Poland since 1960s. Pope Francis felt at home with Youth. He told them to ‘mess up the Church’ during the world youth day at Brazil. It was his initiative to have a synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment and it was held from 3rd to 28 October, 2018. Pope Francis noted: "The theme, an expression of the pastoral care of the Church for the young, is consistent with the results of the recent Synod on the family and with the content of the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Its aim is to accompany the young on their existential journey to maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they discover their plan for life and realize it with joy, opening up to the encounter with God and with human beings, and actively participating in the edification of the Church and of society."
In preparation for the synod an International research seminar was held from 11 to 15 September 2017 in Rome with the vibrant message of listening, learning, and living together as a family. Then there was the questionnaire addressed to the young to which at least 100,000 persons responded. A special Pre-Synod Gathering was held in March 2018 in Rome. With the lineamenta Pope released his Letter to Young People in which he told young people "do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit" and encouraged them to "undertake a journey of discernment to discover God's plan for your lives.” Pope Francis' letter encouraged young people to let their voices be heard throughout the synodal journey.
Participants were selected from across the globe consisting of some cardinals, bishops, youth and families, to meet and discuss the questions posed in the lineamenta. They looked at the current global situation, the lives of young people in the modern world, and the process of walking with young people as they discerned their personal vocation. The term "young people," as defined by the Synod, are those between ages 16 to 29, which includes adolescents and young adults. According to the Synod, "vocations" is one's calling in life, and includes marriage, consecrated life, and ordained priesthood, and in a broader sense, also it focuses on the discernment of all life-choices in youth and young adulthood.
The Synod Fathers read out a Letter to the Young at the end of the synod. It said, “We have gathered together to hear the voice of Jesus, “the eternally young Christ”, and to recognize in Him your many voices, your shouts of exultation, your cries, and your moments of silence. We wish to be sharers in your joy, so that your expectations may come to life. We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history.” It continued, “Our weaknesses should not deter you; our frailties and sins must not be an obstacle for your trust. The Church is your mother; she does not abandon you; she is ready to accompany you on new roads where the winds of the Spirit blow stronger sweeping away the mists of indifference, superficiality and discouragement.”
The Letter further stated, “When the world that God so loved, for which he gave us his only Son, is focused on material things, on short-term successes, on pleasures, and when the world crushes the weakest, you must help it to rise up again and to turn its gaze towards love, beauty, truth and justice once more… For a month, we have walked together with some of you and with many others who have been united to us through prayer and affection. We wish to continue the journey now in every part of the earth where the Lord Jesus sends us as missionary disciples. The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm… Be sure to make the most fragile people, the poor and those wounded by life your traveling companions. You are the present; be a brighter future.”
Pope Francis said that the synod was a journey of faith for the youth and the whole church. “We lived the synod from within or without. It had an effect in us is the point of pride.” He asked the young to forgive the Church “if it has not listened to you, and instead of opening our hearts we have filled your ears.” He said that we should not worry about doctrinal formulae which fails to touch our hearts, or on activity alone with the risk of moralizing social work, but carry out God’s work on God’s own way in closeness to him.

+ John Moolachria
Archbishop of Guwahati