Inside the Synod – Meet the Team!

Tonight during the premiere episode of Inside the Synod meet the international team of S+L producers who will host our  2014 coverage from inside the Synod on the Family.  This year, we’re pleased to bring you coverage in French, English and Chinese as we keep you up-to-date with the  latest developments. You can look forward to hearing from a wide array of voices: bishops, lay observers and various experts who are gathered to reflect on the pastoral challenges facing families today.

Fr. Rosica talks Synod on the Family on SiriusXM Radio

Fr. Thomas Rosica was featured in Jesuit magazine America’s show on SiriusXM radio titled “America this week.” Listen to Fr. Rosica discuss the upcoming Synod on the Family in the full podcast below:


An MRI into the life of the Church


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.

New documentary on Synod of Bishops premieres Sept. 22

Fotor090994025Find all information on Go and Teach including broadcast times at

It’s not often that outsiders are allowed into the engine room of the Vatican. Sure, each day thousands of people march along the prescribed tourist routes that take them around St. Peter’s Square and into the Basilica and museums. But how many get a chance to see, and speak to, and share meals with the people on the inside who run the show? That’s a rare opportunity and typically only happens discreetly when the visitors are family members or close friends. It’s even rarer when there’s a major event taking place, like a conclave or a synod of bishops.

At this time last year, I was getting ready for one of those rare experiences. The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization was coming up in October and I was going to see it all up close from the inside. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what kind of access we would get, or how the bishops and the Vatican staff would treat us. This was, after all, the first time anyone from the outside was allowed on the inside.

In return for the “backstage pass,” we agreed with the office of the Synod of Bishops to produce a full-length documentary on the event. I knew right away this was going to be a difficult commitment to keep. A powerful and provocative documentary can only happen when there are powerful and provocative images to capture. And I wasn’t convinced that a room filled with four hundred people (262 of them bishops) speaking one after the other for five minutes each was the most exhilarating script for a feature film. In any case, the sheer novelty of our access proved to be all the inspiration we needed.Fotor090994256

The other “X factor” for me was the fact that the bishops were going to be talking about the New Evangelization. It didn’t take a Vatican insider to sense the heaviness hanging over the Vatican at the time. It was almost like the institutional church was in a mud-bog. The hopes of so many people, Catholics and non-Catholics, were hinged on the notion that something new, joyful and inspirational would come out of this!

Well, little did any of us know that a major shake up was coming four months later. On the night of February 28th, after the doors of Castel Gandalfo closed and the Swiss Guards left the side of Pope Benedict XVI, I had the chance to speak to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington and the Relator General (or moderator) of the October 2012 Synod. The mood was dark, everyone in Vatican City was sad. I asked the Cardinal how he felt, and to my surprise he said, “You know Sebastian, I have so much hope! What Pope Benedict has taught us with this gesture is that we can and should do things differently!”

That for me is the essence of the New Evangelization. And that’s what we’ve tried to communicate with our latest documentary Go and Teach: Inside the Synod on the New Evangelization. Through in depth interviews with cardinals, bishops, delegates and journalists, we tell the story of what happened on the inside: of how humility and joy became prerequisites for evangelization; of how the implementation of the Second Vatican Council must continue; of how recapturing the personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the only real answer to our complex global reality.

The Synod, the Year of Faith, and the Council: What’s Happening? Pt.2


Near the end of last year I wrote about the attitude of openness and adaptation to the modern world which permeated the ecclesiology of John XXIII and Paul VI, and found concrete expression at Vatican II and in the creation of the permanent Synod of Bishops. (Read it here) From there we now jump forward fifty years to get our bearings in the current context of the discussion: The Synod on the New Evangelization.  While the work of the Synod assembly is over, the final product has yet to arrive in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation written by the Pope (which may take up to two years).  And it will be necessary in the third and final instalment of these essays to look forward, as far as possible, not only to the Exhortation but beyond, to follow the line of thinking of the Bishops who participated in the Synod and infer where we might be headed over the next fifty years.  Chesterton said that “Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision.”  From my experience of the Synod I propose that we have enough information about the vision to reflect on the progress being made.

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The Synod, the Year of Faith, and the Council: What’s Happening? Pt.1

Sebastian Gomes attended the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in Rome this past October as a correspondent for Salt + Light.  In this first of three articles, he discusses the change in mentality at Vatican II to one of openness and adaptation.

During the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transformation of the Christian Faith, news came that Giovanni Battista Montini, better known as Pope Paul VI, could be beatified in the near future.  He was very much what we might call a “Vatican II” bishop, first in Milan and later as pope; in that, he adopted wholeheartedly one of the principle attitudes of many churchmen at the time – that the Church must be open, dialogue with, and even adapt (as much as possible) to the modern world.  So, on September 15, 1965 Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in words echoing the approach of his predecessor, John XXIII: [Read more...]

Inside the Synod: final propositions

The members of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization have recommend the creation of church body to promote religious freedom. The recommendation was one of the propositions Synod members would present to Pope Benedict XVI.

The Synod concluded on Sunday with a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica. On Saturday Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the relator general for the synod, held a press conference at which he outlined the final propositions.

While the recommendations touch on every aspect of church life, Synod members singled out the parish as being of particular importance because it is “primary presence of the church in neighborhoods, the place and instrument of Christian life, which is able to offer opportunities for dialogue.” To ensure that parishes continue to be places where faithful can have a personal encounter with Christ, parishes should offer ways for parishioners to grow in their faith, and reach out the community in which they are located, the Synod Fathers said.

Among the 57 propositions Synod Fathers will present to Pope Benedict are:

– each diocese should establish a permanent place where the sacrament of reconciliation are available all the time

– episcopal conferences should look into creating a permanent council for the New Evangelization

– pastoral care should be given to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, the children of divorced parents, and those who have been left by their spouse.

– the church should “be vigilant in caring for and promoting the quality of art that is permitted in sacred spaces” because of the role that art can play in leading people into prayer and closer to God.

– a department of New Evangelization should be established at Catholic universities

The full list of propositions by the Synod Fathers is available on the Vatican website



Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service


Photo of the Day – Friends along the Synodal Journey

Fr. Thomas Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Relator General of the Synod at the end of the Synodal Journey – October 28, 2012.

Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at the conclusion of the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments at the end of the Synod on the New Evangelization.

Download the full resolution photos:
Cardinal Wuerl (top),  Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (middle)Archbishop Arthur Roche (bottom)

Photos courtesy of Fr. Nickolas Becker, OSB.

“Let us put away, then, let us put away all blindness to the truth…”

The full text of Pope Beendict XVI’s homily at the Mass concluding the XIII Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization.

Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The miracle of the healing of blind Bartimaeus comes at a significant point in the structure of Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is situated at the end of the section on the “journey to Jerusalem”, that is, Jesus’ last pilgrimage to the Holy City, for the Passover, in which he knows that his passion, death and resurrection await him. In order to ascend to Jerusalem from the Jordan valley, Jesus passes through Jericho, and the meeting with Bartimaeus occurs as he leaves the city – in the evangelist’s words, “as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude” (10:46). This is the multitude that soon afterwards would acclaim Jesus as Messiah on his entry into Jerusalem. Sitting and begging by the side of the road was Bartimaeus, whose name means “son of Timaeus”, as the evangelist tells us. The whole of Mark’s Gospel is a journey of faith, which develops gradually under Jesus’ tutelage. The disciples are the first actors on this journey of discovery, but there are also other characters who play an important role, and Bartimaeus is one of them. His is the last miraculous healing that Jesus performs before his passion, and it is no accident that it should be that of a blind person, someone whose eyes have lost the light. We know from other texts too that the state of blindness has great significance in the Gospels. It represents man who needs God’s light, the light of faith, if he is to know reality truly and to walk the path of life. It is essential to acknowledge one’s blindness, one’s need for this light, otherwise one could remain blind for ever (cf. Jn 9:39-41).

Bartimaeus, then, at that strategic point of Mark’s account, is presented as a model. He was not blind from birth, but he lost his sight. He represents man who has lost the light and knows it, but has not lost hope: he knows how to seize the opportunity to encounter Jesus and he entrusts himself to him for healing. Indeed, when he hears that the Master is passing along the road, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47), and he repeats it even louder (v. 48). And when Jesus calls him and asks what he wants from him, he replies: “Master, let me receive my sight!” (v. 51). Bartimaeus represents man aware of his pain and crying out to the Lord, confident of being healed. His simple and sincere plea is exemplary, and indeed – like that of the publican in the Temple: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13) – it has found its way into the tradition of Christian prayer. In the encounter with Christ, lived with faith, Bartimaeus regains the light he had lost, and with it the fullness of his dignity: he gets back onto his feet and resumes the journey, which from that moment has a guide, Jesus, and a path, the same that Jesus is travelling. The evangelist tells us nothing more about Bartimaeus, but in him he shows us what discipleship is: following Jesus “along the way” (v. 52), in the light of faith.

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What a day at the Synod!

Fr. Thomas Rosica, Cardinal-Designate Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, and Salt and Light’s Sebastian Gomes at the Synod on the New Evangelization shortly after Tagle was named Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI at his General Audience on October 24, 2012.  To see more of the new Cardinal-to-be, view our special WITNESS interview with him from last June.

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Full resolution photos: Fr. Thomas Rosica, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, and Sebastian Gomes, or Fr. Thomas Rosica and Cardinal Elect Luis Antonio Tagle.

Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring, Rome Bureau