Pope Francis continues to make headlines with his unusual approach to leading the Catholic Church. He is one of only three popes to call an “Extraordinary Synod” – urgent religious assembly – for prominent Church leaders. It will be held in October 2014 and will focus on family issues.

The first extraordinary synod was held in 1969 and was titled, “Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences.” This meeting was called shortly after Vatican II to address the relationship between the pope and the bishops. As a result, the bishops were given a greater role in the pastoral care for Catholics worldwide. Furthermore, bishops were allowed to suggest topics for future synods, to be held every three years.

The second extraordinary synod was held in 1985 and was titled, “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.” Called to address the state of Church renewal in the decades following Vatican II, it resulted in the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992.

The upcoming synod is titled “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in Context of Evangelization” and will focus on issues facing families in our modern world. The most closely watched topics will be same sex marriage, remarriage after divorce and contraception.

In preparation for the synod, the Vatican released a working document which clearly supports Church teachings on various issues facing modern Catholic families but acknowledges that many Catholics do not follow or understand these teachings. The overall tone is one of respect for those who disagree, combined with the need to clarify why the Church teaches what she does in these important matters.

A final document on the extraordinary synod will not be published until after the ordinary synod which will convene in 2015 and will also focus on family issues.

Due to the controversial nature of the synod and its importance, Pope Francis has declared Sunday, September 28, 2014, a special day of prayer for the synod. Following is the prayer that concludes the Vatican’s working document for the assembly:


Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust. Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches. Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer!

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