Report: Pope considering global peace as topic of next Synod of Bishops

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Following a first-of-its-kind Vatican conference that bluntly rejected the Catholic church's long-held teachings on just war theory, there has been much speculation that Pope Francis might choose to focus his next encyclical letter on reorienting the church's teachings on violence.

One of the Vatican’s top cardinals, Peter Turkson, has even said that such an encyclical is "plausible" following a period of dialogue and debate on the matter.

Now, a prominent Italian news agency is reporting that the pontiff wants to dedicate the next meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops to the issue of global peace. ANSA, a wire service, says Francis mentioned the idea at the recent meeting of the members of the organizing council of the Synod of Bishops.

"The pope would like to dedicate the next Synod of Bishops to the theme of peace," the service reported Wednesday, saying that other proposals for topics included ecumenism and the possibility of married priests.

"But how to develop a strong initiative in favor of global peace is what might most interest in this moment the pope, who has for a long time had in mind to find ways to address himself to other religions for a significant commitment capable of saying 'no for always' to war," stated the report.

A Synod of Bishops is a worldwide gathering of Catholic prelates on a specific theme, normally held every three or four years. But the pope can call gatherings as he wishes, as Francis did in 2014 and 2015, hosting two back-to-back synods on issues of family life.

The permanent organizing council of the Vatican’s synod office met in Rome April 18-19. Part of their discussions, attended by Francis and held behind closed doors, were reportedly on what topic to consider for the next gathering.

The recent Vatican conference on peace-making was held April 11-14 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which Turkson leads, and the international Catholic peace group Pax Christi International.

The some 80 participants from around the world taking part in the event issued an appeal at the end of the conference, saying that the church’s just war teachings have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and calling on the global church to reconsider Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.

The group also called for Francis to consider writing an encyclical, the highest form of teaching for a pope, on the topic.

"Pax Christi's proposal is very legitimate," Turkson said in an interview following the conference. "In the worldwide Catholic network, it is an important voice among many."

"Pope Francis is working for collegiality, following the teaching of Vatican Council II," said the cardinal. "It will be of utmost importance to initiate a broad, open, qualified, deeply felt and widespread debate. A possible encyclical is plausible only as the fruit of much dialogue, not as a starting point."

While synods do not typically result in papal encyclical letters, they are often followed by publication of a papal apostolic exhortation, such as Francis’ recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Both of the 2014 and 2015 family life synods hosted by Francis were noted for their wide range of discussion and public debate on many issues, some of which proved to be quite divisive.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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