As we approach this Sunday the start of the Synod in Rome on the Word of God, Belgian professor Adelbert Denaux looks at the challenges and ecumenical implications.

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In the Holy See Press Office this morning Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, gave a briefing on the forthcoming Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod, which has as its theme “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church”, is due to begin on Sunday with a Mass presided by the Pope in the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls.

“This will be the first time a Synod of Bishops has been opened in a basilica other than St. Peter’s”, said the archbishop. “The reason for this is apparent: the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly is being held during the Pauline Year”. The assembly is due to come to an end on 26 October with a ceremony in the Vatican Basilica.

Attending this Twelfth Assembly will be 253 Synod Fathers representing 113 episcopal conferences, 13 “sui iuris” Eastern Catholic Churches, 25 dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General. Also present will be 41 experts from 21 countries, and 37 auditors from 26 countries. The experts include six women and the auditors 19, one more than the men.

The secretary general of the Synod of Bishops went on to indicate that the assembly will also be attended by a number of fraternal delegates from ten Churches and ecclesial communities. Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be present alongside others from the Patriarchates of Moscow, of Serbia and of Romania, from the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as from the Anglican Communion, the World Lutheran Federation, the Church of the Disciples of Christ and the World Council of Churches.

Also participating in the work of the Synod will be three special guests of the Holy Father. One is Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa, Israel, who on 6 October will address the assembly on how the Jewish people read and interpret Sacred Scripture. “This will be the first time that a rabbi and a non-Christian has addressed the Synod Fathers”, said Archbishop Eterovic. The other special guests are Rev. A. Miller Milloy, secretary general of the United Bible Societies, and Frere Alois, prior of the Taize Community.

Archbishop Eterovic went on to affirm that “in the Synod Hall on 18 October, the Holy Father Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I will preside at first Vespers for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Each will then pronounce an address on the subject of the Word of God, which particular reference to the Pauline Year. This will be the first time the Ecumenical Patriarch has addressed the Synod Fathers”.

In accordance with the regulations of the Synod of Bishops, alongside the written discourses of the Synod Fathers (each will have five minutes to deliver his remarks), provision has been made, as in the last synodal assembly, for a period of free discussion from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the end of the daily General Congregations.

The secretary general of the Synod of Bishops also indicated that on the afternoon of 6 October, there will be a period of free discussion following five reports – each ten minutes long – in which five bishops will highlight how the theme of the synod is seen on the five continents. Another scheduled event due to take place during the Synod is a 30 minute talk on the reception of Benedict XVI’s last Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Sacramentum caritatis”, to be followed by free discussions on that subject.