The Conference of Bishops of the World with the theme of working together has been officially opened through the Thanksgiving ceremony hosted by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica on October 10. In order to understand the origin of the Conference of Bishops, we must start with related concepts.
(Vatican News Network) Conference or church meeting (sýnodus o concilium), these two proper nouns are not only related to very specific church moments, but also remind people of those historical chapters that are inscribed in the life of the church. Pope Francis opened the current conference of bishops of the world with a Thanksgiving on October 10th, and this event has also been added to the 2,000-year journey. This time, the entire church was invited to participate in the meeting to reflect on the themes of the same fellows.
The ancient term “Sýnodus” is closely related to the heritage of the church. In Greek, it is composed of two parts: the same and the way, which means that the people of God walk together. As pointed out in the document “Coming Together in the Life and Mission of the Church” published by the International Theological Committee in 2018, this term means to hold a meeting. From the first few centuries AD, “Sýnodus” has been used to describe church meetings held at all levels (diocese, provinces or regions, patriarchates, and the universal church), in accordance with the word of God and listening to the Holy Spirit, together with the doctrine , Etiquette, code and pastoral issues.
Although the Latin words Sýnodus and Concilium have different roots, they have the same meaning, and both refer to the convening of a “church meeting”. The latter enriches the connotation of the former in terms of meaning. Therefore, the experience of the “church meeting” is the experience of “walking together”. All believers are “fellow people”, companions on the journey, who are called to witness and proclaim the word of God.
According to the above-mentioned documents, synodality or synodality is “the extent of the composition of the church, and the people of God are presented through the church.” Since its inception, the church has gathered together to discuss issues that need to be deepened. These church meetings are especially used as specific venues to solve problems that the local bishops cannot handle alone. But there are also some issues related to the entire church that require such meetings. For example, the first “Ecumenical Council” was held in Nissi in 325 AD.
In the first millennium, several Ecumenical Councils were held. Standing church meetings have always played an important role in the life of Eastern churches. From the 5th century onwards, church councils were also active in Rome, and then gradually developed into the Ecumenical Councils held in Western churches in the Middle Ages. One of them is the Council of Constance, which ended the division of the Western church.
The other was the Triton Conference, which was held in response to the Reformation. The Ecumenical Council held in the Vatican from 1869 to 1870 confirmed the Pope’s chief power and the right to enjoy the inerrable special grace. The birth of the Synod of Bishops is related to the church experience of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.
So, what is the World Conference of Bishops? In the Second Vatican Council, the attending priests gradually formed a desire to live up to the veritable collective leadership spirit. For this purpose, on September 15, 1965, Pope Paul VI issued the “Apostle’s Care” manuscript to establish the World Bishops Conference for the whole church. This is the most concrete way and embodiment of the global bishops assisting the pope to govern the universal church.
The first World Conference of Bishops was held in 1967, mainly discussing “preservation and strengthening of the Catholic faith and its integrity, its vitality, development, and its doctrinal and historical consistency”. Just as Pope Francis mentioned in the Pontifical Constitution of the Communion of Bishops, the Synod of Bishops is “one of the most precious legacy of the Second Vatican Council”. “Since then, the World Conference of Bishops is new in its structure, but its enlightenment is very old, providing effective cooperation for the Pope in Rome.”
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