What is a synod?

The Synod of Bishops is an ecclesiastical advisory council comprising church leaders, members of religious orders and, occasionally, lay experts and observers from different parts of the world to reflect on issues that concern the entire Church. The word comes from the Greek roots “syn,” meaning “together” and “hodos,” meaning “path,” suggesting that a synod is about journeying together — walking in community in one direction to respond to issues important to the Church.

Synods of Bishops can be:

  • Ordinary general assemblies that are held every three years to deliberate matters concerning the good of the universal Church
  • Extraordinary general assemblies that are held to deal with urgent and time-sensitive matters (there have been only three of these in the history of the Church)
  • Special assemblies that concern a specific geographical area (the October 2019 special synod on the Amazon is a special assembly)

At the end of a synod, a document is written that the pope can evoke in his apostolic exhortation.

To learn more about synods, watch the video What is a Synod of Bishops? or visit the website of the General Secretariat for Synod of Bishops.


Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region

From October 6 to 27, 2019, a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in Rome on the theme “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” It represents an opportunity to better understand the Amazon biome, rich in life and biodiversity and vital to the balance of the Earth, our common home. It is also a time to “walk” with Indigenous and traditional communities in the Amazon, to listen to what they say about their needs and to support them in their quest for a dignified life. With this synod, Pope Francis wants the Church to reflect on a territorial response to “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” that he has spoken of in his encyclical, Laudato Si’.

“The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are now.”

— Pope Francis in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, January 2018.

Its preparatory document describes the Synod’s methodological approach as consisting of three elements — Seeing, Discernment and Action.