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Coming Soon: Important Days in Church History!

Fr Rich AndreFr. Rich Andre, CSP
September 15, 2023

Between September 30 and October 4, four very different-but-interesting events are scheduled to take place at the Vatican. Depending on the course of the future, we may look back on any one of these events as an important turning point for the Church.

At the consistory on September 30, another 18 bishops under the age of 80 will join the College of Cardinals. We may debate if cardinals should continue to be chosen exclusively from the world’s bishops — as only a small percentage of the world’s Catholics are male, celibate, and over the age of 35 — but one thing is clear: at that point, Francis will have appointed more than 70% of the cardinals responsible for choosing his successor.

That same evening, Francis will host an ecumenical prayer vigil for the upcoming Synod of Bishops. Participants will include Bartholomew I, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople; Justin Welby, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury; Anne Burghardt, General Secretary of the World Lutheran Federation; and William Wilson, President of the Pentecostal World Fellowship (also President of Oral Roberts University).

The opening day of the 26-day Synod of Bishops was originally envisioned as the final month of a 2-year global consultation process, but it is now the kick-off to the final year of a 3-year process. October 4 will feature opening speeches by Cardinal Mario Grech, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, and Pope Francis, speeches which could greatly influence the deliberations of the Synod and the direction of the final year of the process.

October 4 is also the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the final day of the Season of Creation. That day, Pope Francis will be releasing an updated version of his highly influential 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.

We can view each these four events as an older Catholic tradition evolving to address the current needs of the world. The College of Cardinals was originally composed of some pastors of local parishes around the city of Rome, then it became a body for the most powerful administrators in the Church; Francis has now configured it to represent pastors most attuned to the needs of the people of the world. Current cardinal electors include bishops confronting the challenges of poverty, rising sea levels, drug violence, interreligious violence, and government corruption, and nearly as many cardinals represent the “Global South” as the “Global North.” While ecumenical leaders have prayed together in recent decades, the Catholic Church has never asked so many prominent non-Catholics to gather and pray on the eve of what seems to be an internal Catholic event. The updated Laudato Si follows in the Catholic Social Teaching tradition going back to 1891, but it is one of the rare times that a pope has issued a public revision of his own writings, probably in response to developments in the past 8 years. The Synod on Synodality is unprecedented in bringing the concerns of ordinary people – including criticisms of Church structures and teachings – before those who the lead the church, a group that includes lay women and lay men as voting members for the first time.

When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he entrusted the Church’s care to the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that all of us will have the courage and the humility to listen to where the Spirit is leading us next!