by Peter Stanford STANDING at the saute altar from which Pope John XXIII announced the second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul, in an equally unexpected move, has called a special synod of world bishops to meet in Rome in November to discuss the decisions of the council "in the light of new needs".
Only hours before he set off on a twelve-day tour of Latin America, the Pope, speaking at the Basilica of St Paul-outsidethe-walls, said that the special synod, to be held from November 25 to December 8, should recapture the "extraordinary atmosphere" of the Vatican Council, "the fundamental event in the contemporary Church's life".
Synods are normally held at three-year intervals and the next, on youth, is due in 1986. However, special synods have been convoked in the past, the most recent being that of the Dutch bishops in Rome in 1980.
The second Vatican Council approved major changes in the liturgy, including the introduction of Masses in the vernacular, and greatly advanced ecumenical dialogue.
During the two weeks of the synod, it is thought that there will be little time for more than the reading of prepared statements. Rather than the 3,000 bishops, plus theological advisers who were in Rome between 1962 and 1965, the synod will bring fewer than 200 delegates to the Vatican. The presidents of all national episcopal conferences will be present, along with the patriarchs and archbishoris of the eastern rite Catholic churches, as well as curial cardinals.
There has been some disquiet in Vatican circles regarding the Pope's motives in calling this extraordinary synod. A Belgian theologian, based in the Vatican, said: "It seems that the I loly Father is determined to set the clock back". He quoted comments made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a recent newspaper interview. The cardinal criticised the Council for having encouraged "selfcriticism which now has become self-destructive", and went on to call for a return to some proconciliar values, a restoration which, he said, "is already under way".
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