The Synod for Africa opened in Rome Sunday. The word "synod" comes from two Greek words meaning "together" + "way;" thus, synods seek to help all in the church to progress together in the Christian life. Synods are almost as old as the church!
After the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI invited the world's bishops to come together around a specific theme of importance to the church at any given time. His successors have continued that practice. Pope Benedict explained the operation of synods before Sunday's Midday Angelus:
Synods always constitute an intense ecclesial experience, an experience of pastoral collegial responsibility in regard to a specific aspect of the life of the Church, or rather, as in this case, of a part of the Christian people determined on the basis of a geographic area. The Pope and his closest coworkers join together with the designated members of the assembly, with the experts and auditors, to reflect on the chosen theme. It is important to emphasize that it is not a matter of a study group, nor a programmatic assembly. Communications and speeches are heard in the hall, there is discussion in groups, but we all know that we are not the protagonists: it is the Lord, his Holy Spirit, who guides the Church. The most important thing, for everyone, is listening: listening to each other and, everyone, listening to what the Lord wants to tell us. Thus the Synod takes place in a climate of faith and prayer, in religious obedience to the Word of God. It is the place of the Successor of Peter to convoke and guide the synodal assembly, gather together what emerges from the work and then offer the opportune pastoral instructions. [Zenit translation]The pope reminds that synods are guided by Jesus' Spirit, whom he gave to his church to be with it always. Synod members read the signs of the times; they prepare well in advance in order to exercise their "pastoral collegial responsibility in regard to a specific aspect of the life of the Church, or...a part of the Christian people determined on the basis of a geographic area."
[After reciting the Angelus with the people gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict also remembered to God the Asian nations and peoples suffering from the recent typhoons, earthquakes and tsunami, before making other remarks.]
Wiki-image of Pope Benedict is in the public domain.