The AFP is reporting that 262 archbishops, bishops and other senior clerics came together on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and discuss both the decline in faith as well as the increasing discrimination being experienced by the faithful throughout the world. The synod, which will last for three weeks, will take up a variety of important topics including barriers to evangelization, competition from evangelical churches, and the decline of marriage.
The last time a synod was held to discuss evangelization was in 1974 when Pope Paul VI called togther the bishops for a similar discussion.
In his opening remarks at the synod, the Pope explained the scope of the "new evangelization", saying that the Holy Spirit has nurtured a new effort in the Church to reach out to those in need of the Lord.
"Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific 'branches' developed by it, that ... is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life.
"The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life."
He also stressed that marriage and family must be at the center of the new evangelism, as there was "an obvious link between the crisis of the faith and the crisis of marriage."
It was a historic day in the life of the Pope, who participated as an expert in Vatican II fifty years ago. A 35 year-old German priest at the time, he was deeply impacted by the increasing immorality in the world. These concerns remained with him through the years. When he was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981, he began to crack down on dissenting theologians. Since being elected pope in 2005, he has devoted his papacy to the pursuit of a new evangelization and a correction of the many misinterpretations of Vatican II that have surfaced since the Council took place.
The Pope also named two new doctors of the Church on Sunday - St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of Avila.
He concluded his remarks with a prayer that the faithful throughout the world can say at this historic moment in the Church's history:
"Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal assembly and make it fruitful for the Church's journey today, in our time."
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