Pope Francis has ratified the elections of prelates from bishops' conferences around the world to participate in October's global meeting of Catholic bishops, confirming selections of 48 prelates from six continents.
Among the number are four U.S. prelates: Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Joseph Kurtz; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput; Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo; and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez.
The papal confirmations, announced in the Vatican's daily press bulletin Saturday, mean the prelates will be able to participate and vote in the discussions of next October's meeting, known as a Synod of Bishops.
The Synod, which is focused on issues of family life and has attracted hopes that the church might alter some of its pastoral practices in that area, is the second of two called by Francis for 2014 and 2015.
The 2015 synod is to be held Oct. 4-25 at the Vatican on the theme: "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World." It follows the 2014 synod, held on the theme: "Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."
The earlier synod, known as an extraordinary synod, mainly involved the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences. The upcoming synod, known as an ordinary synod, is to be much larger, involving the elected representatives from each of the bishops' conferences.
The names confirmed Saturday as ratified by the pope for participation in next October's synod do not comprise a final list of prelates who will participate in the synod, as the pope has yet to confirm elections of members from many other countries. The pope is also expected to name a number of prelate-members at his own initiative.
The 2014 synod saw some 190 prelates participate in the discussions.
The pope is also likely to ask the council of 15 prelates who guide the Vatican's synod office to participate in next October's event, meaning there could be at least two other U.S. prelates partaking. Both Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan are members of the synod council.
The U.S. prelates confirmed Saturday by the pope to participate in the synod were elected in a secret vote during the U.S. bishops' meeting last November. Kurtz is currently the president of the U.S. bishops' conference; DiNardo is currently the vice-president.
Francis has also confirmed substitute members for each bishops' conference, who will serve as participants in the synod should the elected members be unable.
From the U.S. those substitutes are Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
Members confirmed Saturday from elsewhere in the world include: 17 prelates from Europe; 10 from Central and South America; 7 from Africa; 3 from Asia; and 3 from Oceania.
The U.S., France, and Mexico are the countries that have the highest number of elected participants so far, each with four.
Francis has previously appointed four delegate-presidents of October's synod: South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, French Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, and Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Assis.
Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő will serve as the synod's relator, or secretary; and Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte will serve as its special secretary.
An initial preparatory document for the synod, known as a Lineamenta, was sent to bishops' conferences last December.
Republishing the final document of the 2014 synod as the starting point for the 2015 synod, it was sent by the Vatican's synod office along with a series of 46 questions to seek input from Catholics at "all levels" about how the church should respond to sometimes-difficult questions of modern family life.