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Historic Synod enlarges the tent


One of the most significant events in the life of the Catholic Church since Vatican II will kick off on October 4 when the opening Mass of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod is held in St Peter’s Square.

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For the first time, members of the Synod who are not bishops, including religious sisters and lay men and women, will be eligible to vote.

The Vatican announced at a press conference last month that the work of the Synod would be carried out in four ‘modules’ focusing on different aspects of synodality, with a final module dedicated to a ‘Synthesis Report’ that will be produced with the approval of the Synod.

Each module will involve a presentation of the theme, followed by small group sessions that will report back to the General Assembly. A commission will produce the Synthesis Report, which will then be discussed and modified before being presented to the Synod.

The final General Congregations of the General Assembly of the Synod will take place on October 28 when the Synthesis Report will be read and approved. A Solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Sunday October 29 will mark the conclusion of the General Assembly of the Synod.

The program includes a pilgrimage for participants on October 12 and on the evening of October 19, Pope Francis will lead a Prayer for Migrants and Refugees in St Peter’s Square. On October 25 the Holy Father will preside at the recitation of the Holy Rosary in the Vatican Gardens.

A total of 464 people will take part in the General Assembly, including 365 voting members, of whom 54 are women.

When the decision to expand participation in the Synod was made earlier this year, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops Cardinal Mario Grech said: “As you can see, the space in the tent is being enlarged.”

“The Synod of Bishops will remain a synod of bishops,” Cardinal Grech said, but it will be “enriched” by representatives of the whole church.

The 10 Oceania non-bishop members appointed by Pope Francis are: Manuel Beazley, New Zealand; Dr Trudy Dantis, Australia; John Lochowiak, Australia; Fr Denis Nacorda, New Zealand; Kelly Paget, Australia; Sr Mary Angela Perez RSM, Pacific; Fr Sijeesh Pullenkunnel, Syro-Malabar Eparchy; Dr Susan Sela, Pacific; Grace Wrakia, Papua New Guinea/Solomon Islands, and Professor Renee Kohler-Ryan, Australia.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is represented at the Synod by Bishop Shane Mackinlay (pictured), from the Sandhurst Diocese, and Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan.

In addition, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, president of the ACBC, will serve as one of nine delegated Synod presidents. Sydney Archbishop Anthony
Fisher OP will participate in the Synod as a member of the Council of the Synod of Bishops.

Bishop Mackinlay said the assembly was the continuation of what has been dubbed “the world’s largest ever consultation”.

“When you consider that almost 120 bishops conferences from every part of the world gathered the thoughts of the People of God in their dioceses, that claim makes sense,” he said.

“This consultation has also been marked by an openness and transparency that hasn’t always been characteristic of Vatican processes.

“It is part of a wider awareness across the Church internationally of how much we can learn from good practices in other parts of society.”

Bishop Mackinlay asked Australian Catholics to “accompany us in prayer and to stay connected to this ongoing journey of renewal in Jesus Christ”.

“For our part, we will do what we can to share our reflections on our experiences as part of this global exercise in synodality, both during the assembly and after we return to Australia later in the year.”

The General Assembly was preceded by a prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square on September 30, and a three-day spiritual retreat led by the Synod’s two spiritual assistants, British Dominican priest Timothy Radcliffe and Italian Benedictine nun Maria Ignazia Angelini.

After the opening Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on October 4, the first general congregation will take place with speakers including Cardinal Grech; General Relator, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich; and Pope Francis. This gathering will be open to the public.

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