The synod will focus particularly on the need for bishops to be experts in theology, to have the ability to communicate and exchange ideas, and, above all, to be holy.
The motto of this 10th Ordinary Synodal Assembly is "The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World."
The Holy Father gave a clear indication of the role of the bishop on Sunday, when he affirmed that the bishop must be a real missionary.
"The Gospel phrase, ´Go into the deep,´ which I have proposed as a motto for the beginning of the new millennium, is addressed first and foremost to bishops, successors of the apostles, and it calls them to commit themselves with confidence to this new missionary stage of the Church," the Pope explained.
The worldwide synods of the 1980s and 1990s analyzed the different figures of the Church, in order to implement the reforms proposed by the Second Vatican Council. The role of the laity was addressed in 1987, the formation of priests in 1990, and consecrated life in 1994. What was missing was the role of the bishop, in whom the actual living of the renewal brought by Vatican II begins and ends.
As the secretary-general of the synod of bishops, Belgian Cardinal Jean Schotte, himself acknowledged on June 1, when he presented the synod´s working document to the press, the text includes "very current topics, such as the relation of bishops with the Petrine ministry (i.e. the Pope), the role and importance of episcopal conferences, the role of the synod in the governance of the Church."
In 1998 the Secretariat of the Synod distributed to all episcopal conferences, dioceses, and religious congregations worldwide a foundation document, together with a questionnaire. The working document was drawn up based on the answers to the questionnaire.
Among the questions, were the following: What is the prevailing image that people have of the mission of the bishop? Does the people´s image of the bishop´s mission coincide with his own? How do people react to episcopal teachings on issues of faith and morals? Are distinctions made between the teachings of a bishop and those of the Pope?
The replies to the questionnaire held a surprise for the Synod´s Secretariat. So many replies focused on the importance of the bishop´s spirituality, that a new chapter was added to the agenda, entitled "Mystery, Ministry and Spiritual Journey of the Bishop." In fact, Cardinal Schotte told the press: "Today the Church needs holy bishops."
Another chapter in the working document is entitled "The Bishop at the Service of his Church." This chapter gives specific answers to the definition of the bishop in the third millennium. It is the longest (40 pages) and most complex chapter of the working document.
"Holiness alone is the prophetic proclamation of renewal the bishop anticipates in his own life by drawing close to the very end to which he is leading his faithful," the working document states in No. 48. "On his spiritual journey, however, he experiences, like every Christian, the necessity of conversion by reason of his consciousness of his own weaknesses, his own discouragement, and his own sins."
In fact, conversion is one of the most reiterated concepts in the text, which will serve as foundation for the synodal discussions.
Just under 300 bishops will participate in the synod. They will represent 112 episcopal conferences, as well as Eastern-rite Christians, the Union of Religious Superiors General, and organizations of the Roman Curia. In addition, John Paul II has named, in his own right, 32 participant bishops.
Both the synod´s three presidents as well as the relator, appointed by John Paul II, are part of the new generation of cardinals resulting from last February´s consistory. Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops; Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay; and Bernard Agre, archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, are the presidents. The general relator of the synod is Cardinal Edward Michael Egan, archbishop of New York.
The working document, "The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World," may be consulted on the Vatican´s Web page www.vatican.va.