The Vatican has published the names of the 253 persons who will participate at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, October 5-19. Among them are cardinals, bishops, priests, men and women religious, 14 married couples and representatives of the other Christian churches.
Since this is an Extraordinary General Assembly of the synod—only the third of its kind since Paul VI established the synod as an organ of collegiality in the wake of the Second Vatican Council—the rules for participation are somewhat different from that of an ordinary synod, and the number of participants less.
According to those rules all bishops’ conferences should be represented by their president but, as the list released by the Vatican reveals, at least 7 of the 114 conferences will be represented by their vice-presidents. Ireland is a case in point: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin will participate for the Irish bishops. On the other hand, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, will attend as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
As envisaged by those same norms, the heads of all the Oriental churches will participate in the synod—13 in all. So too will the 25 heads of the Roman Curia offices. The members of the Council of the Synod have a right to attend, and nine will this time as the other members are present in different roles; among the nine are the American cardinals Donald Wuerl and Timothy Dolan.
The Union of Superiors General has a right to have three representatives and they have chosen: Fr. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, Father General of the Jesuits, Fr. Mauro Johri, Minister General of the Franciscan Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, and Fr Mario Aldegani, Superior General of the Congregation of St Joseph.
Pope Francis is the synod’s president. He has appointed 26 persons to this assembly, including four distinguished theologians: Cardinals Walter Kasper (Germany), Angelo Scola (Italy), Godfried Daneels (Belgium) and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez (President of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina) who was theological advisor to the future pope at the important assembly of the Latin American Bishops Conferences (CELAM) held at Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. The papal nominees also include Fr. François-Xavier Dumortier, S.J., Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., chief-editor of the prestigious Italian Jesuit review, "La Civiltà Cattolica.”
The secretary-general of the Synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri (Italy), who has already revised the way this body functions, will of course be present. And following normal practice, the pope will be assisted by three president-delegates who chair the plenary sessions: Cardinals Andre Vingt-Trois (France), Luis Antonio Tagle (the Philippines) and Raymundo Damasceno Assis (Brazil).
The Hungarian cardinal Peter Erdo has been assigned the important role of Relator (Rapporteur) to the synod: he will give the keynote address at the beginning, at the midway stage and at the end. He is assisted by the Italian theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte, who has the key role of Secretary, and by Mgr. Fabio Fabene (Italy).
Fourteen married couples from the different continents will attend, including one couple from the U.S.: Jeffrey Heinzen, Director of the Natural Family Planning in the diocese of La Crosse, and his wife, Alice, who is a member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S.C.C.B.
Sixteen experts (including a married couple) together with 38 men and women auditors will participate in the synod. A total of 25 women will participate in the synod, including one woman religious: Sister Margaret Muldoon from Ireland, the Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux.
Eight “fraternal delegates” from the other Christian churches will also attend. They represent the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Orthodox Coptic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Anglican Communion, the World Lutheran Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Baptist Alliance.
192 of the synod’s 253 participants are considered “synod fathers.” They have a right to vote. Most of them are bishops.
The synod will issue a message at the end of its two-week deliberations, and the two persons appointed to oversee this task are the Italian cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (President of the Pontifical Council for Culture) and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez (Argentina).
It should be remembered that this extraordinary synod is part of a long process, decided upon by Pope Francis. It began with a worldwide consultation in dioceses and parishes in the last quarter of 2013. This was followed by a first major sounding at the Consistory of Cardinals, last February. Further discussion is expected to take place at diocesan and parish level next year in the light of the feedback from next October’s synod. The process will conclude with an ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015 and the publication of an Apostolic Exhortation by the pope sometime after that, probably in 2016.
Note: The full list of participants can be found on the Vatican website at: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2014/09/09/0620/01369.html