Catholic bishops from all over the world are meeting with Pope John Paul II to discuss their role in the changing world of the new millennium. The Synod of Bishops opened Sunday in the Vatican, and will run until October 27.

The four-week-long synod is part of Pope John Paul's strategy to strengthen the Catholic Church at the start of Christianity's third millennium. For the tenth time since the Second Vatican Council, members of the Catholic Church's hierarchy are gathered at the Vatican to analyze aspects of the Church's ministry that directly relate to the work of bishops.

Around 250 bishops will take part in the closed-door meetings. The discussions for this synod will focus on the role of the bishop in today's world, and in the future.

One issue likely to be addressed over the next few weeks is the primacy of the pope, both with respect to other Christian confessions and within the Catholic Church. The pope is aware this issue has proved to be the stumbling block in forging closer ties with other Christian confessions, namely the Orthodox.

To mark the opening of the Synod, Pope John Paul held a special mass in St. Peter's Square Sunday, where he emphasized the spiritual link between poverty and the Christian message. "Poverty is an essential feature of Jesus' person and of his mystery of salvation," the pope said, "and it represents one of the indispensable requirements, so that the proclamation of the Gospel will be heard and accepted by humanity today."

The pope asked the bishops to make an examination of conscience on their "attitude toward earthly goods, especially the uses made of them." He spoke of a mission that is "arduous and tiring," but called on them "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."