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Synod discussing role of bishops

John Paul II on Sunday opened the 10th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, inviting them to openly discuss calls to re-think the role of the pontiff and to give more power to the church at local levels.

The month-long gathering is part of the Holy Father's strategy to invigorate the Church at the start of Christianity's third millennium.

Papal primacy, both within the church and with respect to other Christian religions, will be discussed, said Cardinal Jan Schotte, who is in charge of the synod.

The Pope has acknowledged that papal primacy has been a stumbling block in his quest for closer relations with other Christians, notably the Orthodox church. He has issued a papal letter on the question, but has made no concrete proposals about on how to deal with it.

John Paul will listen for hours to nearly daily sessions of speeches by bishops before the synod wraps up on 27 October.

On Sunday, John Paul greeted some 270 synod participants, including bishops and cardinals from around the world, and told the men they must be examples of goodness for their flocks.

Bishops, he said, are called on "to be prophets who point out with courage the social sins tied to consumerism, to hedonism, to economies which produce an unacceptable divide between luxury and misery."

"In as much as we're talking about an arduous and tiring mission, let no one lose heart," John Paul said.

During the synod, bishops will also debate what Schotte called their flocks' "religious illiteracy", or lack of knowledge of many tenets of their faith.

Schotte said bishops also indicated they wanted to talk about having greater democracy within the church.

Earlier this year, some cardinals proposed that the Vatican share power with local dioceses, giving them a say in, for example, the selection of bishops.