HENRITZE: A synod synopsis - What it is and why it’s important

October 9, 2018

It has been just over half a century since the Synod of Bishops was first formed under the direction and leadership of the soon to be canonized a saint, Blessed Pope Paul VI. Since then, this consultative body of bishops from around the world have met for 14 general sessions and three extra-ordinary sessions.

The 15th ordinary assembly is taking place in Rome since Oct. 3 to 28, examining young people, faith and vocational discernment. Pope Paul VI instituted the synod primarily to give guidance, wisdom and consultation to the Holy Father on specific topics currently related to the Catholic Church.

There are two things that make this synod different from any that have come before it. The first difference is in the focus of the discussion. This is the first time young people themselves have been the primary focus of a synod. In several synod’s, the bishops have discussed various vocations of the faithful and the family, but never have they specifically analyzed the process of vocational discernment which looks so different today than it did in past centuries. Through the widespread use of media by young people today, bishops from around the world have been able to gather an unprecedented amount of data about the real-life issues facing the young Church of this age.

During the pre-synod process, young people from around the world gathered in Rome to pray and share about the experience of youth today and the throw-away culture in which they live. These lay representatives also shared about the dynamism of vocational discernment. These reflections can be read in the Instrumentum laboris (working instrument), a preparatory document they produced for the synod. Our own archbishop, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, is one of the U.S. representatives to the synod. This past August I was present when the Archdiocesan Youth Council met with the cardinal at an annual retreat. He invited them to share their own thoughts and concerns that they felt he should take to the synod.

It was very apparent that the immediate concerns of the young people were of the utmost importance to Cardinal DiNardo. There were even several concerns shared by the youth about the increase of depression and anxiety among their peers. Cardinal DiNardo seemed adamant that this in particular would be shared with his brother bishops.
The second feature of this general assembly is in the area of authority. At its inception, the Synod of Bishops was a consultative body, with the possibility of becoming something more. On Sept. 15, Pope Francis issued an apostolic constitution which gives the final document of the synod a participation in the ordinary magisterium of the Pope. This essentially elevates the synod from a consultative group to an authoritative group. The importance of this lies in the fact that Francis sees the bishops as both teachers and disciples, “teach when, endowed with a special assistance of the Holy Spirit, [the bishop] announces to the faithful the Word of truth,” and “disciple when, knowing that the Spirit is given to every baptized person, he listens to the voice of Christ who speaks through the whole People of God.”
As the bishops gather this month, let us pray for them, that the Holy Spirit may guide them moving the Church to better meet the needs of her young members whose hearts desperately desire to know the Lord. †

Brian Henritze is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.