Thursday was our first full working day of the Synod. It consisted of two "general congregations" in the Synod hall: 9:00 am to 12:30 pm; and 4:30 pm to 7:15 pm. I thought I'd bring you in to how a general congregation works.
First of all, there is a dress code. Bishops are asked to wear our cassocks with red trim and sash. I'm certainly glad I've lost a few pounds in the past year, because mine was starting to get a little tight, but now it's actually quite comfortable.
For the general congregations we we begin with prayer. A choir leads us all in singing in midday office -- in Latin! The Pope sits up front and presides the session. Here is the view again:
Then, we take our seats, and the discussion begins. It can't really be called a debate, in that no one really responds to anyone else. Instead, the speakers are reacting to the working document that was prepared prior to the Synod, called the Instrumentum laboris. We were asked to sign up just prior to the start of the working sessions to indicate what section we wanted to speak about, so the interventions are handled roughly in order. In other words, we are speaking to the document itself, reacting to its contents and perhaps expressing what we feel is missing or must absolutely be changed. Each speaker gets 4 minutes maximum, and the microphone can get cut off if you beyond your time by more than a few seconds. In general that doesn't happen though -- the brother bishops just start clapping to let you know your time is up! After five speakers, we take a 3 minute pause of silence to think about the speeches we have just heard. Each participant has a pad of paper to take notes, so those moments are quite helpful to collect our thoughts and review our scribblings.
The morning session has a coffee break downstairs, and the Pope joins us for a cappuccino (and selfies):
After a break for lunch, we return for the afternoon session. It follows largely the same pattern, except no break. That is a major flaw in the system, to be honest. After sitting for hours in a chair, even just standing up for 5 minutes in place would be a good thing. At the end of the second session we stood for the Angelus, and then headed home for supper. I don't know if every day will be like this, but Day 1 was a full day for sure!