In the fall of 2013, Pope Francis announced a Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization. Later he said the first assembly of bishops from around the world would be followed by another on the same topic in the fall of 2015.
The world Synod of Bishops is scheduled for Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican and will focus on the theme, "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World."
According to an expert on marriage and family issues for the U.S. bishops, synods of bishops were given new life by Pope Paul VI in 1965 so bishops could gather and exercise collegiality to address opportunities and challenges. So when Pope Francis called for a gathering of the world’s bishops, he was taking advantage of a consultative option employed by virtually every pope since the Second Vatican Council.
In the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis followed in the footsteps of St. Pope John Paul II pointing out that “The mission of the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ is intimately interwoven with the family,” said Andrew Lichtenwalner, a theologian who is executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Lichtenwalner will discuss the two family synods and other topics related to marriage and the family in a presentation scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 19, at St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island. He said the synods called by Pope Francis mark the first time a pope has called for two worldwide assemblies of bishops: The extraordinary synod on the family in October 2014 and the world Synod of Bishops next fall.
“Francis has said we need to raise the family up, and engage them where they are and help people who are hurting, who are wounded,” Lichtenwalner said. After reflecting on the work of the synods, the pope is expected to issue an apostolic exhortation.
Lichenwalner said even an apostolic exhortation would not signal the end of the process initiated by the pope, who has challenged the church to rediscover “the Gospel of the Family.”
Although some have speculated that the synods could lead to changes in church teaching on marriage, Lichtenwalner pointed to statements by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB, who participated in the first synod last year.
Archbishop Kurtz, who participated in the synod, said that it isn’t about changing church teaching on marriage and the family, but restoring confidence and giving hope to married couples, and accompanying those who are struggling.
At his Feb. 19 presentation, Lichtenwalner will speak about the process, but said he also will focus on the grace received through marriage and the family and how that might be applied to heal the wounds of those who are hurting.