“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Red Vineyard cropped

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 21, 2014

When Jesus teaches through parables, he expresses profound truths with simple stories and images that engage minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the use of parables reflects an ancient, culturally universal method of teaching an ethical lesson applicable to everyday life, by using symbolic stories with concrete characters and actions. Most of the time, the original audience that first heard these stories was left to draw their own conclusions. Other times, the evangelists provided an explanation of Jesus’ story. Often the indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard in today’s Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16) serves as a corrective to false notions of entitlement and merit. The story reflects the socio-economic background of Palestine at the time of Jesus. The parable is offensive to us and it challenges our sense of justice. In order to grasp the full impact of the story, it is essential to understand the sequence of events in the parable. The householder hires labourers for his vineyard about 6:00 a.m. for a denarius, which would be considered a fair day’s wage. We are already given a hint of the householder’s generosity as he engages labourers at varying hours during the day. Could it be that the householder has a compassionate concern for the unemployed and their families as opposed to actually needing them for the harvest? The question is open-ended.

The workers who were hired first appeal to common sense, equitable treatment, logic, and reason. Their complaint is not necessarily that the last hired received a payment, but that if the householder was so generous with the last, then certainly he might provide them with a “bonus” for having endured the heat of the whole day. Some interpreters have attempted to minimize this breach of fairness by explaining that perhaps the quality of work done by the late-comers during the last hour was equivalent to the work done the entire day by the others. Certain others use the rationale that a contract is indeed a contract, and therefore the labourers hired at the beginning of the day have no reason whatsoever to argue about the wages due to them. The fact of the matter is that from the purely human, logical point of view, they had reason to complain. However, this parable is not about ethical and fair labour management, but rather about the radical nature of God’s generosity, compassion, and the in-breaking Kingdom.

The radical moment of the parable (as indicated by 19:30 and 20:16) is noted in 20:8-9 as those who were employed not only receive payment in reverse order, but also receive equal payment for their efforts! The parable reaches its crescendo in verse 15 with the question: “Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” The owner of the vineyard reserves the right to pay his employees not on the basis of their own merits but rather on the basis of his own compassion.

Generosity condemned as injustice

In today’s parable, why should such generosity be condemned as injustice? This idea finds its roots and deepest meaning in the Old Testament understanding of God the Creator who is good and generous to all who turn to him. This is the God in whom Jesus believed and lived, but in the person of Jesus, the divine compassion, mercy, and goodness surpass the divine justice. Therefore all who follow Jesus as his disciples and friends much imitate this extraordinary compassion and lavish generosity and never question, deny, or begrudge it.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals his identity to us in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We are like the eleventh-hour workers

Perhaps many of us feel strongly with the disgruntled workers of verse 12. How often have we known whimsical employers who have compensated lazy or problematic workers far too generously, rather than acknowledging the faithful, dedicated, day-in day-out workers. We may ask ourselves: How can God be so unfair? How can God overlook his most faithful workers? Underneath this parable is the issue of bargaining with God. From the very beginnings of religion it has been assumed that we mortals can bargain with the gods to obtain from them what we want.

How many times have we experienced this in our belonging to and service in the Church? Some may grumble and claim that their long, dedicated, tireless service qualifies them instantly for higher pay, higher rank, and greater privilege and prestige. It is precisely at moments like this that we must humbly acknowledge that we are like those eleventh-hour workers. Not one of us deserves the blessings that God has prepared for us. Our grumbling and lateral gazing often leads to serious resentments that are hard to shake off. All our good works give us no claim upon God. How much less do we have the right to demand, even if we have done everything we ought to do, that we should be honoured and rewarded by God in a special manner as if we were such meritorious, indispensable persons in his service? The word “entitlement” does not exist in the vocabulary of the Kingdom of God.

The only remedy to such sentiments is to look upon the merciful face of Jesus and thus recognize God’s lavish generosity in the flesh. Human logic is limited, but the mercy and grace of God know no limits or boundaries. God doesn’t act by our standards. This means that we must see and accept God in our sister and brother, just as God has wished them to be. When God chooses a person, granting him/her particular graces, blessings, or gifts, God does not reject the other person nor deprive him/her of his grace. God’s graces and blessings are boundless, and each person receives his or her own share. God’s choice of a person or people should not be a cause of pride for those chosen, or of rejection for those not chosen. It is only when both parties live in humility and simplicity, and recognize together a God of love and mercy at work in their lives that they will begin to learn the real meaning of love and justice, and finally come to reconciliation and deep, mutual understanding.

For your reflection

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that we must overcome jealousy and envy. This is brought out in today’s parable of the labourers who come to work at different times of the day, but receive the same salary nevertheless. Those who came at the first hour grumbled against the landowner. “He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you… Are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-15)

Consider these two sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2552-2553):

The tenth commandment forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power.

Envy is sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to have them for oneself. It is a capital sin.

Envy is that fault in the human character that cannot recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the other, and denies them honour. In order to approach God, who is total goodness, beauty, and generosity, this attitude must be broken from within. Envy can no longer see. Our eyes remain nailed shut. Envy and avarice are sins against the tenth commandment. What can we do to move beyond this blindness and hardness of heart?

Caritas in Veritate

In light of today’s Gospel about compensation, I offer you section #63 of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate “On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth”:

No consideration of the problems associated with development could fail to highlight the direct link between poverty and unemployment. In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or “because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.” For this reason, on 1 May 2000 on the occasion of the Jubilee of Workers, my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II issued an appeal for “a global coalition in favour of ‘decent work,’” supporting the strategy of the International Labour Organization. In this way, he gave a strong moral impetus to this objective, seeing it as an aspiration of families in every country of the world. What is meant by the word “decent” in regard to work? It means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labour; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.

[The readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16.]

Deacon-structing: The Cross- Part 2

CRUCIFIX SEEN ON GOOD FRIDAY AT NEW YORK CEMETERY

Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Last week on the blog, we looked at why we honour the Cross: Because it reminds us that Jesus died to save us.

And this is where I have a problem. Why do we need to be saved by Jesus’ death? I remember growing up learning that we are made clean, that we are redeemed by Christ’s blood, that Jesus’ death forgives all our sins. St. Peter says that we are ransomed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). But why? Why couldn’t God save us by just having one big party instead? Why death?

I’m sorry to say that we don’t have the full answer to that. It’s a Mystery. There are Mysteries to our faith — not mysteries that we have to solve, like a murder mystery — but capital “M” Mysteries because they are so awesome that there is no way to explain them. But that doesn’t mean that, “Oh, it’s a mystery and we’ll never figure it out, so let’s forget it.” No, we need to keep praying and trying to understand them. We need to dwell in their presence, because maybe we won’t understand them intellectually, but I can guarantee you that when we dwell in the presence of these Mysteries, they will transform us. And that’s what we’re trying to do here: to grow in the presence of this Mystery of the Cross.

Okay, so Jesus really died. That means that in His humanity, God Himself suffered, died and was buried. So, this God, who is life, who loves us so much — more than you can ever imagine being loved — came down from heaven, became a human being, took on all our imperfections, all our sinfulness, all our brokenness and nailed them to the Cross. Why? To destroy them forever.

In the seventh book of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows, there’s an inscription over the grave of Harry’s parents that reads: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  J.K. Rowling didn’t come up with that one. St. Paul wrote it first, 2000 years ago, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:26). And that’s because death is the result of sin.

Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had no sin, so they had no death. That’s why God told them that if they ate from the fruit of the tree, they would die (Gen 2:17). And that’s what happened, when they ate from the fruit, out of their disobedience, sin entered into the world. They didn’t die immediately, but they fell under the power of death. So that’s the consequence of sin: death (CCC 1008). So when we say that Jesus died to forgive our sins, we mean that he died to destroy death. We are saved because Jesus destroyed death.

I can’t think of a better illustration than that of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund betrays everyone -– he is disobedient –- and because of that he has to die. That’s the consequence. And the only way to save Edmund is that the one who established the consequences of disobedience would die in his place. And that’s what happens: Aslan takes Edmund’s place. Now, in the case of Jesus, not only does he take our place so that we don’t have to die, but he destroys death for ever — he defeats death. On the third day he is risen! (CCC 655). Now we can be reconciled and reunited with God, into life eternal, as Adam and Eve were in Eden.

This is the second installment of Pedro Guevara-Mann’s three-part reflection on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Click here for Part 1.

The Gospel for the 21st century

How do you take the timeless truths of the Gospel and present them in new ways to the world of the 21st century?  Our new series The Church Alive seeks to start a discussion around that question.  But it’s not just about raising questions; we didn’t want to keep the New Evangelization in the philosophic sphere.  No, we also wanted to tell stories of where the New Evangelization is happening!

In this clip from our first episode entitled: What is the New Evangelization?, we bring you one of these stories about a hand written, hand illuminated Bible for the 21st century commissioned by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.  As you’ll see, a mixture of faith, creativity, tradition and love can be very potent, and can indeed bring life and light to a world in desperate need of the good news.

Getting media savvy

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Cheridan and Sebastian practice line-dancing on the set of The Church Alive.

As we’re in the media business, we’re very much aware of how pictures shape perception.  Especially when it comes to telling the story of the Church.  A large part of the New Evangelization is about rethinking how our story is told. Whether we like it or not, much of what we think about ourselves has been conditioned by popular portrayals in the mass media.

That’s not to say that the media has it all wrong, but there are limitations. To illustrate, I share with you the following:

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Cheridan and Sebastian share a laugh on set.

Now if you only saw this image, you might be tempted to think, “look at them laughing all the way having a great time working together”.  This would be partly true, but not the whole story.  As we all know, any worthwhile endeavor is filled with challenges, frustrations, and moments where you just don’t see eye-to-eye.  With that in mind, cynics might zero in on a picture like this…

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Cheridan wonders when Sebastian is going to quit goofing around and get some work done.

Here you might be tempted to think, “This guy obviously doesn’t take stuff seriously”.  But that wouldn’t be accurate because we all know that he is entirely serious (some would say fanatical), when it comes to G.K. Chesterton.

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Sebastian persuades Salt + Light CEO, Fr. Tom Rosica and Cheridan (once again) why its critical to quote G.K. Chesterton at least three times per segment.

All this to say, that it’s important not to rely on just one source’s interpretation of a story, no matter how reliable they seem to be.  Sometimes an image or a soundbite is taken out of context, or is just plain wrong. It’s an idea that we explore at length in our episode on: The Media.  When it comes to portrayals of the Church in the media, the soundbite, caption or snapshot often bear faint resemblance to what’s actually going on.  Clearly, we’re called to engage and find avenues of dialogue, and to utilize the mediums available to us.  But we’re also called to offer a critique of the status quo.  All this and more, on in Episode 2 of the The Church Alive.

Join us.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ: ‘The church is not a church of ‘no’’

Lombardi

Sebastian Gomes, Salt + Light writer/producer/director of The Francis Effect, gives us a glimpse into filming the documentary:

In the immediate aftermath of the whirlwind 2013 papal transition, everyone was comparing Pope Francis to Pope Benedict, pointing out the many differences and similarities between them. Naturally, nearly all of this commentary was coming from indirect sources, that is, from people who knew neither Francis nor Benedict personally.  For this reason we were very happy to secure an interview with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican’s spokesman under both pontiffs. If anyone understands the vicissitudes of the past twenty months, it is he.  It was important therefore, to ask him very particular questions, like how Francis’ methods of communication are different from Benedict’s and what it’s like working for a spontaneous Pope (check out Francis going to confession).  It’s clear from the interview that Fr. Lombardi is in the same boat as many of us: surprised and also deeply inspired by what he sees the new Pope doing on a daily basis. In other words, despite the great challenges of working for a spontaneous Pope (including what many perceive to be frequent misinterpretations of the Pope’s words by the media), the fact that Francis so naturally communicates the heart of the Gospel is enough to energize and sustain him.  He’s not alone.

Excerpt from March 24, 2014 interview with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office. To watch the full interview, purchase The Francis Effect DVD box set.

Gomes: How would you measure the success of the “Francis effect?”

Fr. Lombardi: For me, it is very clear that the most important point is to understand the center of the message of the gospel. And Francis says this and he repeats it continuously, “God loves us. God demonstrates to us his mercy, his love through Jesus Christ and through the gospel.” And so, this very clear accent about the love of God, the mercy of God, is something that the people have understood very well. And this has changed their perspective about the church. The church is not a church of ‘no,’ or a church of power, but it is a church of ‘yes’ for the well-being of souls, for everyone in the church of salvation. It is the church of service. This change of perspective, in the minds of many, many people, faithful and also not faithful, is the most important aspect of this pontificate so far and I can say also a big spiritual success.

The Francis Effect DVD box set is now available for online and from the Salt and Light store. The 3-disc set includes the feature documentary, official trailers and over 6 hours of extended interviews.

Official Icon for World Meeting of Families 2015

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On Sept. 9, 2014, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia unveiled the official icon and prayer of the World Meeting of Families, to take place in Philadelphia in September of 2015. The unveiling took place at the heart of the Archdiocese, the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul, during the Sunday mass, celebrated and blessed by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M.

Nelson Carlin of Pennsylvania was commissioned to create the image based on the theme of the World Meeting of Families- “Love is our mission: the family fully alive.”

“The idea with the painting is to make sure wherever you end up looking ultimately your eyes come back to Christ who is looking always looking at you,” Carlin said during the unveiling. “The hand of Christ in the center of the painting is blessing you when you see it and blessing the family.”

The painting features themes from the architecture of the Cathedral, the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the coat of arms of the Holy Father Pope Francis. The addition figures in the painting include the complete extended family of Jesus, with Sts. Ana and Joachim, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Additionally, the Official Prayer for the World Meeting of Families was also revealed during the ceremony. The full prayer reads:

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The World Meeting of Families- Philadelphia 2015 Official Prayer

God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us
your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.
May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.
May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer and
to always seek your truth and live in your love,
through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Watch the full video of the unveiling below:

The Church Up Close: Covering Catholicism in the Age of Francis.

ChurchUpClose

The Church Up Close is a professional seminar for journalists. The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Pontificia Università della Santa Croce) in Rome is offering the fourth edition of its intensive one-week Seminar in English, called The Church Up Close: Covering Catholicism in the Age of Francis. The Seminar, which takes place from Sept. 8-14, 2014, is designed for foreign journalists who cover the Roman Catholic Church.

Combining conferences, interactive workshops, personal encounters and on-site visits, the seminar gives journalists an array of tools to enhance the quality of their coverage of the Roman Catholic Church. There are 46 total journalists coming from different parts of the world to take part in this seminar including Italy, Rome, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Argentina, Japan, Nigeria, Macau, etc. Some of the journalists come with a background in the Catholic Media, while some of them are from different communication offices of different dioceses and some of them are even from the mainstream medias, such as BBC, NBC, Europe 1, Fox News Channel, etc. And I thank you S+L to give me an opportunity to represent S+ L in Rome. Incidentally, I am the only one who comes from Canada!

RodneyBlog

On the first day, the topic that kicked off the seminar was ‘What is the Catholic Church?’ presented by Professor Fr. Paul O’ Callaghan. We are always questioning the reform of the Church. Fr. Paul O’ Callaghan leads us to imagine the Church as ‘Person’ and as a dynamic living organism. The Church presents itself and responds according to its circumstances, without, however, changing its fundamental identity. Fr. Paul O’ Callaghan described the fundamental identity as ‘DNA’.

‘DNA’ doesn’t change. However, human acts always changes in different centuries and different situations. The Church is the same! The fundamental teaching of the Church never changes, but for pastoral needs, the Church could be presented differently in different centuries and different situations.

Besides, he reminds us the Church is the ‘Mother’. Would you ask your mother to change her DNA? No! Her DNA doesn’t change, but she will always take care of you through exploring different ways.

The Church is the ‘Mother’ and the ‘Mother’ gives us ‘Life’. I reflected on this concept all day and also reminded myself to have a grateful heart always. Thanks be to God!

“The Church is our mother because she has delivered us in Baptism. Whenever a child is baptised, he becomes a son of Church, from that day, he is in the Church which cares for him as a caring mother, and she makes us grow in faith and shows us, with the power of the Word of God, the way of salvation, defending us from evil.” – Pope Francis, September 3, 2014.

By Rodney (S+L Chinese Programming)

Check out more photos of Rodney in Rome!

 

An honest look at politics inside and outside the church

Does our religious perspective inform our political perspective, or is it the other way around?  On episode six of The Church Alive: Politics, Cheridan and Sebastian take a closer look at this timely question.  What has become apparent in our culture is the degree to which some Catholics are willing to ignore – or even subvert – the Gospel for the sake of a purely political or worldly point of view.  If the New Evangelization is going to succeed, that has to change.  In this excerpt from an extensive interview with the Editor in Chief of America Magazine, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ sheds some light on the meaning of a truly “orthodox” faith.  In this regard, it seems that a profound reordering of heart and mind – what the church calls conversion – is the necessary prerequisite for bringing the truth about Jesus into the modern world.

Find out more about The Church Alive click here

 

Pope to wed 20 couples at St. Peter’s – Perspectives Daily

Tonight on Perspectives Daily:  Pope to wed 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica this coming Sunday, and he urges people everywhere to reject violence and aggression in response to news of the death of US journalist Steven Sotloff.

 

An MRI into the life of the Church

Synod

The following article by Fr. Thomas Rosica was originally published in the Boston Globe’s new website Crux: Covering all things Catholic.

This fall’s biggest Vatican happening is a summit of bishops from around the world convened by Pope Francis to talk about the family. Known as a “Synod of Bishops,” the Oct. 5-19 session’s official topic is “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”

It’s expected to take up a slew of hot-button matters, from contraception and gay marriage to whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be able to receive Communion.

Francis has overhauled the process, and while most observers don’t expect sweeping doctrinal changes, it’s a key test of whether the new tone being set by a maverick pope may reposition Catholicism vis-à-vis some of the most divisive issues of the early 21st century.

Pope Paul VI conceived the Synod of Bishops in September 1965 as a sounding board to advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning they were consultative, not legislative.

So synods are less like Congress and more like an MRI into the life of the world Church.

Over the years, these gatherings haven’t produced tsunamis of new dogma or overturned Church teachings, nor have they issued earth-shattering results. The majority took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II, and the final documents, called “Apostolic Exhortations,” clearly bore the mark of the reigning pontiff.

With the passage of time, the process grew tired with little chance for evaluation or renewal. Having participated at the last two synods as the English language media spokesman, it was evident to me something had to change, and under Pope Francis it has.

Within months of his election, Francis appointed a new General Secretary to head the Vatican’s Synod office, an Italian Archbishop and Vatican diplomat named Lorenzo Baldisseri. Francis made him a cardinal earlier this year.

The synod’s machinery was turned upside-down a year ago, in October 2013, after Francis met over two days with Baldisseri’s synod council, a body of roughly 15 prelates from around the world that includes Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Donald Wuerl from Washington, DC, in the United States. Those who attended the meeting were astounded, and pleased, at Francis’ hands-on involvement.

As a result, the synod this October will be something new. It’s really a preparatory session bringing together presidents of national bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic churches, and Vatican officials ahead of a larger Synod of Bishops on the family set for Oct. 4-25, 2015.

Although the number of participants this time is smaller, they include a dozen or more voting members named by the pope, three priests chosen by an umbrella group of men’s religious orders, a dozen or more expert advisers, about a dozen representatives of other Christian churches, and up to 30 observers – more than half comprised of married couples who will be encouraged to address the assembly.

For both the 2014 and 2015 synods, Francis wants to hear from the grassroots.

Last fall, he had the synod office send out a questionnaire to the whole Church on topics that included contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, premarital sex and in-vitro fertilization. The Vatican received responses from 114 bishops’ conferences and about 800 Catholic organizations.

Though the timing was problematic, given the short turn-around for responses, the process nevertheless ensured that the synod didn’t begin with abstractions but a real, direct knowledge of the cultural challenges sweeping across the globe.

There’s huge media interest in this synod, which hasn’t always been the case. Because it will study issues pertaining to marriage, family, and sexual morality – including those that are controversial both within and outside the Church – the themes are those that the majority of Catholics deal with every day in the real world.

Francis has also made clear he doesn’t want the synod just to be a talk-shop.

In an April 1 letter to Baldisseri made public by the Vatican, Francis said he wants the reformed synod to have real power to deliberate on major questions, just as it did in the early centuries of Christianity. It will be a body outside and above the Vatican bureaucracy, accountable to the pope but also to the bishops of the world.

During the first week of the synod, instead of reading speeches over several days as has been the custom in the past, bishops will have three or four minutes to summarize their texts. They’re supposed to focus only on one theme, and, perhaps include ideas or clarifications that have come from listening to their colleagues.

The second week of the synod will be taken up mainly by work in small groups organized by language. Instead of brainstorming propositions for the pope as in the past, the small groups will work, theme by theme, on amending the meeting’s summary report, which is likely to be used as the working document for the 2015 synod.

To manage this two-week adventure, Francis has named an all-star team of Church leaders from around the world. Cardinal Péter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest in Hungary, will serve as Relator General (more or less the chairman), and Archbishop Bruno Forte of the Archdiocese of Chieti-Vasto in Italy will serve as Special Secretary.

The three presidents, or daily moderators, of the synod are Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, France; Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines; and Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida in Brazil.

Check out this Witness interview with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the 2014 Synod of Bishops.