Rome — Just over a month since the conclusion of October's keenly watched meeting of Catholic bishops on issues of family life, the Vatican has announced it's already gearing up for the next meeting in 2015.
Within weeks, the Vatican said in a statement Thursday, bishops' conferences around the world will be receiving preparatory documents for the 2015 meeting, known as a Synod of Bishops.
Pope Francis has called two consecutive synods for 2014 and 2015 to focus on issues of family life. The 2014 meeting, held Oct. 5-19 at the Vatican, drew worldwide coverage for what appeared to be a new attitude of dialogue and debate among the church's prelates during the closed-door proceedings.
Thursday's statement was made following a Vatican meeting Tuesday and Wednesday of the council of prelates who lead the Vatican's office for the Synod of Bishops.
The statement said the Vatican office will send a preparatory document for the 2015 synod to the world's bishops conferences "at the beginning of December" in hopes that an initial working document for the next synod can be ready by summer 2015.
While the initial preparatory document for the 2014 synod, sent in October 2013, made headlines because it contained a wide-ranging questionnaire that the Vatican synod office said was to be distributed "as widely as possible," Thursday's statement does not indicate if the document for the 2015 synod will also have such a questionnaire.
The statement does, however, say that the new preparatory document will "be constituted" of the final document from the 2014 synod along with "a series of points that help in its reception and its deepening."
Thursday's announcement from the Vatican marks the beginning of what will likely be a flurry of intense activity for the synod office as it prepares to organize what it expected to be a monthlong meeting of prelates and lay experts in October 2015.
While the 2014 synod saw an estimated 190 prelates take part in the discussion, the 2015 edition is expected to see at least three times that number, as the 2015 synod is open not only to presidents of bishops' conferences but also several members of each conference, who are being elected to attend by their peers.
Thursday's statement noted the pope was present at the Vatican synod office meetings, saying he had attended those meetings to "underline the importance that he attributes to the synod, as an expression of episcopal collegiality, and to the family, theme of the two assemblies."
The statement also said those at the Vatican meeting "agreed that the period now opening between the two Assemblies, which is unprecedented in the history of the synodal institution, is very important."
The year between the synods, the statement said, "should take the path already done as a starting point and take this special opportunity to study issues and promote discussion at the level of Episcopal Conferences, finding the means and the tools necessary to further involve also the different ecclesial bodies in the synodal reflection on the family."
Among others attending the Vatican synod meetings were Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod office, and several members of the synod council, including Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Australian Cardinal George Pell, U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle.