During a vigil prayer before this year's Synod on the Family, Pope Francis described what he hoped would come from the meeting.
October 3, 2015
"Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value.”
The Pope chose this focus for his first Synod because of the unique challenges the family faces today. But this isn't the first time bishops have met in Rome to discuss the issue.
As far back as the 1960s, Pope Paul VI wanted to hold a Synod about family issues. He died before he was able to. Pope John Paul I also shared his desire and made plans for a similar Synod during his short pontificate.
Finally, 1980, Pope John Paul II called for a Synod to discuss the Christian family in the modern world. Many of the problems they dealt with are similar to what families face today.
Bishops from developing countries were concerned about how war and government-imposed population control could affect families. Those from the developed world worried more about the rise of divorce rates and different roles for men and women.
While some things stayed the same, much has changed.
CARD. RICARDO BLÁZQUEZ
Spain's Episcopal Conference, President
"We've witnessed how in the last few decades, issues related to marriage and families have changed. So, the family as we came to know it years back, is going through a deep transformation.”
Many of the problems that only concerned the West at the first Synod have now become global issues.
In 1980, gay marriage wasn't legal anywhere. Today, hundreds of millions of people live in a country where it's allow, and bishops are discussing how to improve outreach to gay Catholics. Gender theory has also become a major issue for the Church.
Another problem that has gotten worse in recent years is the declining number of young people who are getting married.
PABLO GARCIA RUIZ
"Families and Societies” researcher
"Economic uncertainty, poor employment conditions, difficult or almost impossible to access housing, keeps people from moving out of their parents house for a long time. But it is not just those conditions: it's also fear, fear that they will fail.”
Following the 1980 Synod, Pope John Paul II published an apostolic exhortation, Familiaris consortio. It served as a guide for the family at the end of the 20th century.
It describes how families should function in broader society and also in the Church. It encourages families to pray together and says families are responsible for educating their children. Many contemporary issues, such as gay marriage, are not mentioned.
No one knows what Pope Francis will do with this Synod's final document. But if he releases an apostolic exhortation, it will likely be seen as an "update” to Pope John Paul II's, guiding the family into the 21st century.