Participants coming to Rome have found their own accommodations close to the Vatican and the multitude of restaurants surrounding the Vatican will likely become a hub for after-hours synodal discussions.
There will also be a number of other events held around the Vatican during the month of the synod. The Women’s Ordination Conference, the Italian Bishops’ Conference and the Diocese of Rome, for example, are organizing a series of gatherings and events that will accompany the synod.
Who will attend the synod?
There will be 464 participants at the synod and 365 will have the right to vote. For the first time, laypeople will be full voting members of the synod, compared with earlier synods where only bishops had the right to vote. An unprecedented number of women, 54, will also be attending.
Representatives from Eastern churches and high-ranking members of the Roman Curia will also be present. Pope Francis personally selected 120 delegates.
There will be spiritual assistants, 28 theologians and 34 facilitators, whose role will be to promote a synodal atmosphere at the event and encourage what the “Instrumentum Laboris” describes as “conversations in the spirit.” While the spiritual assistants will go on the retreat with synod participants, the facilitators and theologians will remain in Rome to prepare for the summit.
During the proceedings, theologians and facilitators will be encouraged to write down their reflections and observations on how the synod is proceeding.
Two bishops from China will attend, having received permission from authorities in Beijing and the approval of Pope Francis. This is the second time Chinese bishops have been allowed to participate at a synod; the first time was at the synod on young people in 2018. The Vatican and China do not have formal diplomatic relations even though the two recently renewed an agreement on the appointment of bishops.
Participants were selected by the bishops’ conferences but the Vatican sent a list of recommendations to follow, such as the inclusion of laypeople and especially women. Among them there are also those who disagree with the synod itself, such as U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has called the synod a “Pandora’s box.”
There will also be several Germans in attendance who support the Synodal Way, a consultation of bishops and lay Catholics in Germany that took place between 2019 and 2023 and proposed progressive positions on sexuality and the inclusion of women.
How will the synod take place?
What is unique about this synod is its attempt to make synodality effective in the way it’s carried out. In the past, synods were mostly about listening to a panel of speakers presenting their views in often long-winded speeches. Francis himself has hinted at the fact that previous synods under Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI had predetermined outcomes.
At this synod, participants will be asked to speak briefly and their speeches will be followed by a moment of reflective silence and prayer. The event will be divided into five modules: Synodality, Communion, Participation, Mission and a final assembly to cast a vote. After listening to the public pronouncements and testimonies at the general assembly, attendees will be divided into English, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese language groups.
The working groups, also known as “circoli minori,” will discuss the topics in detail. Before the start of the discussion the working groups will pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the discussions. Theologians and facilitators will only be allowed to participate at the plenary sessions and not in the working groups.