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Synod on the Family: Press Briefing Day 6

(Vatican Radio) At the end of the first week of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in Vatican City, Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB, English Media Attaché for the Holy See, joined Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ to summarise the discussions at the daily press briefing. 

Click below to hear the report by Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ:

A number of issues were spoken about and addressed in interventions from Synod Fathers at the Synod on the Family on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The Fathers continued with their interventions on part two of Instrumentum Laboris. Once they had completed this section they began to listen to interventions on part three, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, told the media

Fr. Lombardi said that there were 75 interventions in the plenary session. There were a good number of interventions from Fathers representing Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. He noted there were few interventions from North America.

A number of themes emerged from the interventions including the spirituality of family life, the missionary responsibility of families to look after and foster good marriages, the role of various family movements in the Church, and ways that the Church can remain close and show tenderness to families that are struggling.

There were also a number of interventions on the relationship and balance between justice and mercy. The media was told that there are divergent views on this issue amongst the Fathers. One of the Fathers said that mercy does not mean an abandonment of the Church’s teaching.

His Eminence Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, President of the Indian Bishops Conference and head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, was a guest at the press briefing. He told the media that mercy means conversion which is reciprocal.  “The Gospel demands this as a condition. The Kingdom of God is at hand, be converted,” he said.

Concern was also expressed for military families. Many military personnel are far from home and often separated from their families for extended periods. These men and women, as well as their families, are in need of special pastoral care.

The Fathers acknowledged that due to diverse situations and contexts there is no such thing as a "typical family". Many of them spoke about indissolubility being one of the essential elements of Christian marriage.  

A number of Fathers also spoke earnestly about marriage preparation. Many considered pre-marriage formation to be seriously lacking. One Father suggested that the bishops themselves needed to penitentially admit that they had failed to provide formation for the lay faithful in this regard. There was a suggestion in another intervention that couples, like those in formation for the priesthood or religious life, also need a "novitiate" time before entering into the sacrament of marriage. It was thought that the crisis in religious and priestly vocations is directly linked to the crisis in family life.

Fr. Lombardi was asked questions about the process of the Synod after a suggestion was reported that, in the future, Synod Assemblies be longer processes which begin with continental meetings first. This means that issues would be more focused and refined when they were brought to the universal Synod Assembly. His Beatitude Cardinal Thottunkal responded by saying that things have to start in local contexts so that it can be brought to Synod Assemblies like this one. He said that he saw no contradiction in this kind of methodology and thought that the fruits of such a process could be much better for the whole church.

Lombardi explained that the Instrumentum Laboris could be changed if, in the small groups, an absolute majority proposed changes. This proposal would then go to the Synod Committee. He reminded the media that interventions in the plenary were not proposals to the Synod; they are part of the “conversation”.

The effect of migration has been a reoccurring theme in this Synod throughout the first week. Cardinal Thottunkal said that he agreed with Pope Francis’ request that people welcome migrants and be generous to them. He added, however, that he also has his own personal view on the matter. He believes that the world community and leaders should make it possible for people to be accommodated and sustained in their own countries. “We must work to keep these people in their own countries,” he said.   

The Synod Fathers will return to work on Monday morning when they will, again break into small groups to discuss part two of Instrumentum Laboris. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Synod: Journeying together with very different perspectives

(Vatican Radio) The first round of small language group work at the Synod of Bishops on the Family concluded on Thursday evening. Bishops, religious and lay men and women, together with delegates from other Christian Churches, spent two and a half days behind closed doors discussing the challenges facing families in different countries around the world today.

Bishop Tim Thornton of Truro in Cornwall, England is one of the 14 ‘fraternal delegates’ representing the worldwide Anglican Communion throughout the three-week meeting. He is co-chair of the English Anglican-Roman-Catholic Conversations and serves as president of the Association of Inter-Church Families. Philippa Hitchen asked him about some of the themes that have been emerging in the small group work….


Bishop Thornton says one of key things he’s hearing from his groups is the concern that the Synod document or Instrumentum Laboris, in its current form, has “a too narrowly Western perspective.”

He talks about the discussions in his group that have raised different perspectives from particular parts of the globe. He gives the example of the document’s focus on widowhood which assumes that widows are elderly, while in some parts of the globe Church leaders are facing particular problems with widows of a much younger age.

Rather than in one document, trying to describe the whole anthropological, sociological and cultural challenge, he says what is emerging is a suggestion that “what the Holy Father might want to say is to encourage each conference to do its own analysis” and bring that to the table to see what can be said together.

Bishop Thornton says in the Anglican world too “we can make the mistake of defining things through either an English or Western eye”. He speaks of experience of hearing so many different perspectives at the last Lambeth Conference and of the benefits of having dioceses in England linked with dioceses in different parts of the world….

Speaking of the tensions between those who do not want to see any changes in Church doctrine or practice and those who see a need for fresh approaches to current problems, Bishop Thornton says there are always those who have a more deductive or a more inductive way of doing theology.

He compares the Synod to the meeting of Anglican leaders from around the world that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for in January, saying it is simply “one step in a longer process.” The key question, he stresses, is about “how willing are we to journey on with fellow Christians who have very different views”….

(from Vatican Radio)

Synod bishops looking for more autonomy, new insight, fresh language

(Vatican Radio) At the Synod of Bishops on the Family on Friday morning, participants presented the results of their small language group work that has been going on behind closed doors for the past couple of days. Each group has been discussing the first section of the Synod’s working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, focused on the challenges facing family life today.

Philippa Hitchen was listening in and talking to some of the bishops involved....


Who exactly are those rows of men with their red and purple hats, sitting in the Synod Hall for three whole weeks? Firstly, they’re family men, in the sense that they grew up with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, nephews and nieces, so they know only too well the difficulties and dysfunctionalities that family life can bring to us all.  

Secondly, they’re men of God, so whatever other professional training and experience they bring, they’re men whose lives have  touched by Christ and must let their words be inspired by His love.

Thirdly, they’re pastors of their people, whose task is to help families discover and live out their missionary faith, in the day-to-day realities that vary enormously from one place, one country, one continent to the next.

That was the self-portrait of one of the Synod fathers who presented the results of his small group work on Friday. Altogether there were 13 groups, working in five different languages, and they all spoke in positive terms of the small group atmosphere with lay men and women, plus non-Catholic participants too. They also talked of the challenge of bringing together such diverging views from right across the globe. Many were critical of a “too Western perspective” that they perceived in the Synod’s working document and several suggested that much greater autonomy must go to local bishops conferences to find creative solutions to family problems in their particular parts of the world.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia presented the results of one of the English language groups:

“We came to feel that there are issues that need to be addressed, analysis that needs to be done and decisions that need to be taken at the local or regional level.”

Another common theme was to recognize and encourage the positive in peoples’ lives, rather than to talk constantly about crisis and despair, even if families can no longer be neatly packaged into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that the Church has held up in the past. Archbishop Coleridge again:

“What’s really in crisis is our understanding of what marriage is and what the family is…It’s easy to look back to a golden age when there was mum, dad and three of four kids……that’s not the reality today…..”

Finally there was a lot of talk about language, words lost in translation and why it’s important to do away with the kind of ‘Church-speak’ that means nothing at all to young people today. Instead many bishops cited Pope Francis’ own down-to-earth, colourful choice of words that has made people from all countries and all cultures sit up discover a new, fresh face to the unchanging truths of the Church.

(from Vatican Radio)

Circuli Minori – families are not alien to us

Vatican City, 9 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning, during the fourth General Congregation, the various Circuli Minori – thirteen in total – presented the results of their reflections on the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris examining the mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.

In general the rapporteurs from the various groups, which were divided according to language (English, French,Spanish, German and Italian) considered that it was necessary to offer, as Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, writes, “a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time. True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified since they may well be the signs of God in history”.

“The Church does not inhabit a world out of time, as Vatican Council II, 'the Council of history', recognised”, notes the prelate. “Nor does the Church inhabit a world outside human cultures; the Church shapes cultures and cultures shape the Church. In considering marriage and the family here and now, we were conscious of the need to address the facts of history and the realities of cultures – with both the eyes of faith and the heart of God. That is what it has meant for us to read the signs of the times”.

Another view expressed in various working groups is the need to make greater use of Scriptural language, which “can be closer to the realities of the daily experience of families and can become a bridge between faith and life”, avoiding expressions deemed too “ecclesiastical”. This “would help to understand the nature of God's dream that families are called to make their own and to realise that in the difficulties of life they can place their trust in a God who neither disappoints nor abandons anyone”, explains Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The prelate also observes that “an analysis of the situation of the family should recognise how, with the help of grace, families who are far from perfect, living in an imperfect world, do actually realise their vocation, even though they may fail along their journey. As members of the group we shared a reflection, each of us on the experience on our own family. What emerged was far from a stereotype of an 'ideal family', but rather a collage of families different in their social, ethnic, and religious background. Amid many difficulties our families gave us the gift of love and the gift of faith”.

Family men, men of faith and pastors: according to this view, expressed by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Canada, priests and bishops must guide their pastoral ministry. “We are all, first and foremost, family men”, he said. “We have parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins. Therefore, the families of which we speak are not alien to us, they form part of our lives. This must be transparent in our language, in our texts, in our care and compassion for the families of the world. There is a danger of talking about the 'family' as if it were something external to us. We are men of faith. We do not claim to be psychologists, sociologists or economists, although some of us are educated in these fields. We speak primarily as men of faith and this must be seen in the first analytical part of the document. We are pastors. Our concern is that the mission that Christ entrusted to His Church, the mission that is the Church, is always fulfilled in our world today. All the efforts of the Synod must be directed towards this objective. All the documents that we draw up must conform to this fundamental concern. In particular, we would like to help our families to answer two questions: regarding vocation, who are you? And regarding the mission: what are you doing?”.

“Our final document must give hope to our families, showing the confidence we have in them, and must inspire trust in us. We must avoid causing some people to feel excluded from our care, because all families participate in the mission of the Church. We must remember that the families in the Bible are at times dysfunctional, and recall what the Word of God realised in and for them. God can carry out the same miracles today”.

Some groups observe that the analysis of the situation of the family in the Instrumentum Laboris does not reflect a universal condition, but rather a principally Western and in particular European perspective. “The historical contexts and cultures are not the same”, writes Bishop Laurent Ulrich. “It cannot be said that the number of marriages and baptisms is declining throughout the world. And we cannot speak about the same form of the Church's presence in our respective societies. The possibilities of sharing faith in our countries are not all identical, and neither is the public witness that can be given. Similarly, the very reasons that make this difficult are not all the same: the freedom of action in 'free' countries does not mean that it is truly recognised and may lead to contradictory attitudes. Some choose a position of affirming a strong identity, whereas others select a patient but not always well-understood dialogue. In other countries religious or cultural pressure on Christians does not mean that they are silenced, but rather that after many centuries they must face a painful path”.

The theme of Christian families in the Middle East is present in a significant number of the reports from the Circuli Minores, who aside from offering their solidarity, also warn that the flight of these families from the region would put an end to a millennia-long Christian presence.

The diversity of socio-cultural contexts and pastoral situations is also noted by the group whose rapporteur is Msgr. Francois-Xavier Dumortier, S.J. He underlines that this diversity requires an articulation of what is of a universal order and of a particular order, a strong common word able to respond to particular situations. In this respect the group proposes that the episcopal conferences hold a determined power to allow their pastors to be good Samaritans in their ecclesial service. The Cardinal also asks the Synod to facilitate pathways “for the family to live its vocation and its mission according to God's plan and the teaching of the Church”, and to seek to provide “more coherence to the grouping of theological and canonical texts, that seem to be juxtaposed rather than linked together, so as to simplify their expression”.

In the reports from all groups, mention is made of the need for States to pay greater attention to the needs of families and above all to their weakest members, such as the elderly or disabled. Some express concern regarding so-called gender theory which, as Archbishop Durocher writes, “has developed within sociology and philosophy, in an attempt to analyse various human and social phenomena, and may enrich our understanding of the world. However, when these theories become an absolute … they lead to the imposition of a point of view that denies the relationship between sexual identity and the sexual beings we are in our bodies”.

In the Hispanic group, whose rapporteur is the Panamanian Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, notes among other issues “the challenge of the renewal of our Church”. “We have failed in 'Christian formation' and in 'education in faith', and this leads to marriage with many gaps and omissions. This cannot be said to be the family. And it is not simply a question of preparation as there are many couples who, without preparation, have been faithful and happy, and others who are well-prepared and have ended up separating”. The cardinal also speaks about the rupture in the unity between “love, sexuality and procreation”, and notes also a separation from its educational dimension. “The relationship between love, sexuality, marriage, family and the education of children has broken down”.

The Italian Synod Fathers, like many others, note their concern regarding the migratory phenomenon, which affects many families fleeing from war and poverty, and increasingly involves other families and the Church. The issue of bioethics is also prominent, especially among couples who are unable to have children. After reaffirming that the equal dignity of men and women has its roots in the Gospel, the Italian group, whose rapporteur is Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, highlights the need to condemn “the exploitation of child labour, child soldiers and the female body (by, for instance, prostitution, surrogacy, violence and murder, and rape as an act of war)”.

Finally, he warns of the need to affirm that the Church has a positive view of sexuality, as it is an expression of the “symphonic tension between eros and agape”.

Pope Francis: discern and watch, even in good times

(Vatican Radio)  The Christian must discern all things, even when everything is going well.  That was at the heart of Pope Francis’ homily at Mass on Friday morning in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

Listen to Devin Watkins’ report:

At his Friday morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis focused his remarks on the necessity of discernment of situations, whether it seems to come from God or from the evil one “who always seeks to deceive, to make us choose the wrong path”. 

In Friday’s Gospel reading, Jesus drives out a demon, doing good to the man once afflicted, but some from the crowd of witnesses accuse him of being in league with Beelzebul.

“There was another group,” the Holy Father said, “that did not appreciate him and sought to interpret Jesus’ words and actions in a different way, against Jesus. Some, for envy, others for doctrinal rigidity, others because they were afraid that the Romans would come and massacre them; for many reasons they sought to distance Jesus’ authority from the people, even with slander as in this case.”

Against such misinterpretations of a situation, Pope Francis invited Christians to discern the roots of any given situation, because in the life of faith “temptations always return, the Evil Spirit never tires”. 

“The Evil One is hidden,” the Pope said, “he comes with his very educated friends, knocks at the door, asks for permission, comes in, and lives with that person.  Drop by drop, he gives him instructions” on how to “do things with relativism”. 

Pope Francis continued, saying “Anesthetize the conscience.  This is a great evil.  When the Evil Spirit succeeds in anesthetizing the conscience, it is then he can claim a true victory, for he has become the master of that conscience.”

What can one do against such attacks?  “Watchfulness,” the Holy Father said, “The Church counsels us to always make an examination of conscience:  what happened today in my heart because of this?”  “Discernement”, he concluded, “From where do these comments, words, teachings come? Who says this? Let us ask the Lord for this grace: the grace of discernment and of watchfulness.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: appeals for peace in Middle East, Africa

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis made a prayerful appeal for reconciliation and peace in the Middle East and Africa on Friday, at the opening of the morning session of the Synod assembly in the Vatican. The appeal came as the Holy Father addressed the Fathers and other participants in the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Friday morning, at the start of their second round of meetings in General Congregation.

Click below to hear the Holy Father's appeal 

Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Holy Father’s remarks


Dear Synod Fathers, dear brothers and sisters,

In resuming this morning the work of the General Congregation, I invite you to dedicate the prayer of the Third Hour to the intention of reconciliation and peace in the Middle East. We are painfully struck and we follow with great concern what is happening in Syria, in Iraq, in Jerusalem and the West Bank, where we see an escalation of violence that involves innocent civilians and continues to fuel a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. War brings destruction and multiplies the sufferings of peoples. Hope and progress come only from choices for peace. Let us unite, therefore, in an intense and confident prayer to the Lord, a prayer that intends to be an expression of solidarity at once with [our] brother Patriarchs and Bishops from those regions, who are present here [at the Synod Assembly], as well as with their priests and faithful, and to everyone who lives there.

At the same time, together with the [whole] Synod, I send a heartfelt appeal to the international community, that the nations of the world might find a way effectively to help the parties concerned  to broaden their horizons beyond the immediate interests and to use the instruments of international law [and] diplomacy, to resolve the conflicts underway at present.

Finally, I wish to extend our prayer also to those areas of the African continent, which are experiencing analogous situations of conflict. May Mary, Queen of Peace and loving Mother of her children intercede for all.

(from Vatican Radio)

From the synod: Mercy is not an abandonment of Church teaching

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2015 / 12:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Mercy has emerged as a major theme in the synod of bishops, as discussion has moved forward with many participants emphasizing that while mercy is greatly needed, it must always be linked to truth. “The question is not whether we're here to change doctrine, but to make sure pastoral care takes account of real, actual, concrete situations of what each person is doing,” Fr. Thomas Rosica told journalists Oct. 10, quoting one of the synod participants. “The proclamation of the Gospel and the embrace of God's mercy are two equally valid and intrinsically related aspects of life.” Fr. Rosica, the English-language assistant to the Holy See press office, read aloud snippets of the brief interventions given by unnamed synod participants in both last night’s and this morning’s general congregations during an Oct. 10 press briefing. According to another synod father, “mercy toward sinners is not a form of weakness nor an abandonment of Church teaching.” “Unless we acknowledge openly people's situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly,” they said, adding that “we have to learn to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them.” Yet another participant stressed that in order to view the Church’s doctrine on marriage in the light of mercy requires both “attention to the pastoral dimension and the application of the Church's teaching.” Others made such comments as: “mercy cannot be encountered unless it is measured against an eternal law,” and “one must seek truth in order to encounter mercy, and the Church must seek truth when confronting the theme of marriage.” For another participant, “mercy means giving people a challenge; it is not covering reality with gift wrap.” The overwhelming emphasis on the link between mercy and doctrine came as the synod fathers shifted into the second phase of their discussion. Pope Francis officially opened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 4, with the event closing on Oct. 25. Divided into three parts, each week dedicated to one of the three sections of the instrumentum laboris, or working document. Participants spent the first week of the meeting discussing the document’s section titled “Listening to the challenges of the family.” The subsequent sections are “Discernment of the family vocation” and “The mission of the family today.” In the briefing, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said that mercy was a theme “very spoken about” by the 75 synod fathers who made interventions in the previous two sessions. Specifically mentioned was mercy as “closeness and tenderness” toward families and couples in difficulty, he said, but noted that “the truth of mercy and justice – don't oppose mercy with the truth,” was also addressed. Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of of the Syro-Malankar Archeparchy of Trivandrum, was also present at the briefing. In response to a question from a French journalist on whether an in-depth examination of doctrine would take place during the synod, the cardinal said that the synod “in fact is destined to be a pastoral one.” And not just this, he said, “but all synods, because it gives some guidelines to the pastors and the people around that pastoral community.” He said that showing the mercy of God, given through Christ, is part of the family’s mission; but stressed that in his personal opinion, this mercy always demands conversion on the part of the other. “When we speak about God's mercy, it is also demanding a certain personal acceptance of being converted to that reception of mercy…it demands a point of conversion from the individual recipient.” Cardinal Thottunkal explained that while it is important to understand and support each person in the reality they are living, it’s also necessary to help them receive God's mercy “in a more conducive atmosphere of conversion to the Lord.” The Gospel “demands this as a condition” when it says that “the Kingdom of God is at hand, be converted,” he said. Christ gave the same message when he told sinners: “I forgive you, but don't sin anymore,” the cardinal said, adding that the Gospel asks for everyone to have this disposition. Other topics brought up by the synod participants were the indissolubility of marriage, the role of parents in educating their children, the importance of prayer and a missionary spirit within families, the importance of children, and a longer marriage preparation process.

Pope Francis leads synod in praying for peace in the Middle East

Vatican City, Oct 9, 2015 / 04:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This morning, Pope Francis offered one of the synod’s daily moments of prayer for peace in the Middle East, and appealed the international community to put immediate interests aside, and find solutions. “Dear Synod Fathers, dear brothers and sisters, in resuming this morning the work of the General Congregation, I invite you to dedicate the prayer of the Third Hour to the intention of reconciliation and peace in the Middle East,” the Pope said Oct. 9. Francis’ prayer came as meetings with small groups closed and general congregations began again in the synod, which has reached its 5th day of discussion. Every day, the synod fathers pray together the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a set of daily prayers that priests and religious are obliged to pray. Many lay Catholics also pray this liturgy, which incorporates psalms, hymns and readings from Scripture and the Church Fathers. The day’s prayers are set according to the Church calendar. Opening the prayer, Pope Francis said that “we are painfully struck and we follow with great concern what is happening in Syria, in Iraq, in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” where violence has escalated, claiming innocent lives and fueling “a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.” War, the Pope said, only brings destruction and multiplies suffering, while hope and progress can only come from peace. “Let us unite, therefore, in an intense and confident prayer to the Lord, a prayer that intends to be an expression of solidarity at once with (our) brother Patriarchs and Bishops from those regions, who are present here, as well as with their priests and faithful, and to everyone who lives there.” Francis also made a heartfelt appeal to the international community, asking nations to find a way to effectively help the concerned parties “broaden their horizons beyond the immediate interests” and to use international law and diplomacy to resolve current conflicts. He also offered prayers for areas of the African continent that are currently experiencing “analogous situations of conflict,” and asked Mary, Queen of Peace to intercede for them. Chaldean Patriarch Luis Raphael Sako I of Iraq gave the homily during the prayer, focusing on the importance of faith in the passage from the day’s prayer, taken from Rom 1:16-17. The passage reads: “I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’.” Patriarch Sako said the text provides a true synthesis of both the Gospel and what it means to be a pastor, explaining that St. Paul’s desire to be with and accompany the Christian community of Rome is a special mission that involves his entire life, heart and thought, “but it's not a career.” St. Paul, he said, is someone “who feels invited by God. Through him the Gospel is an act of worship; to pray, to be in communion with God, to love, obey and live and give witness to the joy announced by the Gospel every day.” The patriarch said that faith is “a fundamental condition” in being made children of God, since it is faith that gives life meaning. “Faith is not a static fact, or a speculation, but it's an interior vision, a deep mystical relationship, lived in the details of the difficulty of daily life,” he said, adding that faith, like love, “is a commitment and must grow day after day in the long path of life: from faith to faith.” If love does not exceed justice, “the Gospel is empty,” the patriarch continued. He closed by saying that in order to understand, one must feel what the Christians of Iraq have experienced, who in one night last summer “left everything to remain faithful to their faith.”

'Flawed, inadequate' – bishops skewer synod's working doc in new report

Vatican City, Oct 9, 2015 / 07:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A controversial working document for the Vatican's synod on the family took a hard hit from numerous bishops who've called the text overly negative, unclear, and possibly inaccurate in its translations. “While various elements of the (document) are admirable, we found much of the text to be flawed or inadequate,” says a new report from group “D” of the four English-speaking synod circles. The document – officially called an Instrumentum Laboris – also fell short “especially in its theology, clarity, trust in the power of grace, its use of scripture and its tendency to see the world through overwhelmingly Western eyes,” the bishops said Friday. The group added that they felt “limited” in their ability to respond to challenges of the family today because the audience of the instrumentum wasn't clear – asking whether they were writing for the Pope, families or the world. Pope Francis officially opened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Sunday, Oct. 4, with the event closing on Oct. 25. Small groups are playing a larger role in this year’s gathering. While the groups’ individual reports were only published once last year, they are now being published after each of the synod phases. This year's synod is divided into three parts, with each week dedicated to one of the three sections of the instrumentum. So far the bishops have spent the first week of the meeting discussing the document’s first section, titled “Listening to the challenges of the family.” Afterward, discussion will shift to the second part, titled “Discernment of the family vocation,” before culminating with the third, “The mission of the family today.” Divided by language into 13 groups with around 20 members each, one small group is in German, four in English, three in Spanish, two in Italian and three in French. Groups were determined by both the language of participants and the requests of the synod fathers. In their report, the English-speaking “D” group said that rather than beginning with the failures and challenges of the family, the document ought to begin “with hope,” since many families are already successfully living the Gospel’s message about marriage. They expressed concern that readers would ignore the document “if it begins with a litany of negatives and social problems” rather than a biblical vision of joy and confidence in the Word of God. “The huge cloud of challenges pervading the first section of the text unintentionally creates a sense of pastoral despair,” they said, noting how many in their group suggested that the first and second sections of the instrumentum be switched. “If marriage is a vocation, which we believe it is, we can’t promote vocations by talking first about its problems.” Also noted by the group was the lack of serious reflection on gender ideology, the role of men and fathers as well as women, the destructive nature of pornography, the misuse of technology and pastoral care for the differently-abled. With the instrumentum's presentation appearing “chaotic, without inherent logic,” both Pope Francis “and the people of the Church deserve a better text, one in which ideas are not lost in the confusion,” they said. Language was another topic the group found problematic, and in their report expressed concern that “the English translation may not be faithful to the official Italian text.” Others, they said, “complained that many of the document’s statements were too general and not specific enough. Still others felt the text had many inaccurate generalizations, was verbose and repetitive.” Members of group “D,” supported by various other English speaking groups, found the scope of the instrumentum to be “narrow” and “excessively inspired by West European and North American concerns, rather than a true presentation of the global situation.” Terms such as “developing nations” and “advanced countries” were considered to be “condescending and inappropriate for a Church document.” Others members said that the language was “too careful and politically correct,” and therefore made the content “unclear and sometimes incoherent.” Group “A” echoed the concern, fearing that the document gave “an overly Euro-centric or Western mindset,” and suggested using a more cultural and global tone that is “open to the richness and real experiences of families today, in various nations and continents.” Similarly, all of the other English-speaking groups referred to the document as too negative, and suggested that a greater emphasis be placed on hope and families who already strive to be faithful to the Gospel and their vocation. The “C” group said that terms used in the instrumentum such as “the Gospel of the family” and “the domestic Church” that at first were seen as illuminating, have instead become “clich” and unclear in their meaning. “We felt that it may be a good thing if they were given a rest and if we chose instead to use a language which was more accessible to those unfamiliar with our particular speak,” the group said. They stressed the need to beware of “a kind of Church speak of which we are barely conscious,” saying that the instrumentum “more than its share of it, and it would be good if the final document moved in a different and fresher direction.” Group “B” also voiced the need for a more simple language, which is more accessible to families, and shows “that the synod fathers had listened to and heard their contribution and comments to the synodal process.” Released in June, the synod's Instrumentum Laboris builds on the final report of last October’s extraordinary synod, and incorporates suggestions from Church entities like bishops’ conferences and even individuals who freely sent their opinions. The document will serve as a basis for this year’s synod report, which will be written at the end of this week and developed throughout the next synod phases. At the end of the process, a 10-member global commission nominated by Pope Francis will draft the final synod report. However, many of the groups suggested a single editor review the final document for clarification, rather than a committee, in order to maintain clarity.

African bishops throw swift punch at 'ideological colonization'

Vatican City, Oct 8, 2015 / 10:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Heavy criticism of the West imposing secular values on Africa in exchange for aid emerged as a theme from the continent's bishops, as the Vatican's synod on the family kicks off its first week. From press conferences to individual interviews, multiple prelates voiced concern over what Pope Francis has termed “ideological colonization,” in which Western nations have made the acceptance of legislature favoring gay rights and “marriage” contingent on receiving financial aid. “It's one thing that the African bishops are very, very conscious of,” Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa told journalists Oct. 7. “What we are talking about is when countries are told unless you pass certain legislation, you're not going to get aid from the governments or aid agencies,” he said, pointing to the danger of “political colonization” being replaced “by a different kind of colonization.” This year's Synod on the Family, which runs from Oct. 4-25, is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.” Cardinal Napier held up the example of the Obama administration, specifically the President's visit to Kenya in July. During his two-day trip to the country Obama spoke out about the importance of gay rights, despite requests from Kenya’s leaders to not address the issue. Homosexual acts are illegal in Kenya, as well as several other African countries. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State “repeated much the same message” to Africa as well, he added. In an Oct. 8 interview with CNA, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu and president of the Ugandan Episcopal Conference called the act “criminal,” and said ideologies must never be attached to receiving aid, which is meant to save lives. “The issue of homosexuality should not be linked with saying ‘if you don’t accept this we won’t help you,’ that is criminal, I call it criminal,” he said. “Aid should not be linked with ideological acceptance or rejection. Aid is to save human life. If you link it to ideology it becomes contradictory...it is self-defeating.” Human beings must be helped without any conditions attached, Archbishop Odama said, adding that the survival of human life “is paramount,” and that the family exists precisely to promote human life. “Any other society, any other groups elsewhere should exist to promote life and protect life, so if it intends to limit the life to be protected or to be accepted to a certain way of thinking then we run short,” he said. “So any issue against human life is an issue against humanity in general.” In an Oct. 8 press briefing with journalists, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana lamented how some European countries pressured Africa to accept legislation favoring gay “marriage” after Pope Francis made his 2013 “Who am I to judge?” comment on the way back from Rio de Janiero in reference gay individuals authentically seeking Christ. The comment, he said, “had huge repercussions in our country (Ghana),” and prompted one European country – which he identified as Britain – “to tell us that if we do not accept this gay marriages and the rest, they were not going to give us financial help.” “We found it rather very sad that some government could take the sovereignty of another country and say ‘if you don't do this we won't do that,’” he said, calling the move a “gross violation of what we call the sovereignty of countries.” Similarly, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M, archbishop of Addis Abeba in Ethiopia, told CNA Oct. 8 that Africa’s traditional values must be respected. He recalled how when Benedict XVI visited Africa in 2011, the pontiff said that the African continent has “their own values you are in fact the spiritual lung of the world and you can become the spiritual lungs of the world because you have traditional values.” Protecting those values, such as life and the love and protection of it, is of utmost importance to the African bishops, the cardinal said, explaining that they have already spoken about these issues and “we will speak about them more I feel.”

Archbishop Chaput: We need more accurate translations of synod docs

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2015 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Synod of Bishops’ English-language translations are not always accurate and some synod fathers are worried about whether they will understand the synod’s final document before they vote on it, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said Wednesday. “Among English speakers, we don’t have typically the skills in as many languages as the French and the Spanish,” the archbishop said at an Oct. 7 press briefing at the Vatican. “So one of the issues we’re dealing with is the official documents are in Italian, and the translations are more or less, accurate. Not always.” Archbishop Chaput is a spokesman, also known as a relator, for one of the four English-language discussion circles at the synod. He said the English-speaking bishops have “the additional problem of trying to deal with very serious issues, in languages we don’t clearly understand.” “As we move on to the process, there is a bit of worry in our group that when the final document is pronounced in Italian, and we’re asked to vote, we may not be very clear on what we’re voting for,” he said. The archbishop faulted himself rather than Vatican personnel. “That’s my problem, not the Holy See’s problem, because I don’t know languages as I wish I did, and perhaps I should.” At the same time, the English-speaking bishops have asked for translations of the synod’s official documents, he said. He noted that “we also have an English translation of Cardinal Erdo's talk; but it's not considered official, it's just background information.” An English translation of Cardinal Erdo's Oct. 5 introductory speech to the synod fathers has been provided by Catholic News Agency. The Vatican had released the text only in Italian. Archbishop Chaput also noted the importance of the wording used in the original, definitive versions of synod documents – not only their translations. “The language is a big issue, it's not just sensitivity to the world but also sensitivity to the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel and we have to be careful in the language we use to protect both,” he said. “We must affirm the ninety-nine when we go looking for the one.” During the press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer, noted that while the statements, or interventions, of bishops at the synod will not be distributed by the press office, bishops are free to publicize the text of their own interventions at their will. Archbishop Chaput in his Oct. 6 intervention suggested that the synod’s instrumentum laboris, or working document, appears to present “two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope.” “When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible,” the archbishop said. He particularly reflected on paragraphs 7-10 of the working document, which discussed anthropological changes, cultural and social contradictions, and the weaknesses and strengths of the family. While the archbishop praised these sections’ description of the condition of contemporary families, he worried that “overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness.” “This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals – which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church,” he said. “The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.” Archbishop Chaput cited the French writer George Bernanos’ definition of hope: “despair, overcome.” “We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families,” he added. People attended the World Meeting of Families both because they love the Pope and because they believe in marriage and the family, he said. They were “hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Chaput made several recommendations to the synod. “We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them – not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman,” he said. “This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

What saves us from loneliness? Family! Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2015 / 04:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Family rescues us from indifference and loneliness and teaches us the essentials of life, Pope Francis said – adding that as the family of God, the Church has the same role and must evaluate how to live this out. “Like Saint Peter, the Church is called to be a fisher of men, and so too needs a new type of net. Families are this net,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Oct. 7 general audience. Families, he said, “free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference, so that we can all experience the freedom of being children of God.” Pope Francis made his comments in his first general audience after the Oct. 4 launch of the Synod of Bishops, which is meeting for three weeks to discuss the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.” After recently concluding a series of catechesis on the family as a lead-in to this year’s synod gathering, Pope Francis explained that he would start a new catechesis on the “indissoluble” relationship between the Church and the family, with the good of all humanity in mind. He began by drawing attention to the synod’s theme, and said that the family today “requires our full attention and care, and the Synod must respond to this demand.” “When families journey along the way of the Lord, they offer a fundamental witness to God’s love, and they deserve the full commitment and support of the Church,” he said. Francis stressed that it’s inside the family that we learn and develop the bonds of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation and respect which unite us, even when there are difficulties. It is families who teach children how to honor one's word, to respect others and to understand one's limits, he said, adding that they also give “an irreplaceable attention to members who are smallest, most vulnerable, wounded and devastated in life.” But the Pope also noted that despite the values families offer, they are frequently not supported by the political and economic sectors of life, which seem “to have lost the ability to incorporate the virtues of family life into the common life of society.” It is here, he said, that the Church is called to live out her mission by first evaluating to what extent she is living as the family of God. For the Church, the family “is like her Magna Carta: the Church is and must be the family of God,” he said. The Pope explained that this can be seen in scripture when St. Paul says that those who were once far off are no longer strangers or guests, but rather “fellow citizens of the saints and the family of God.” Through the Church, “Jesus again passes among us to persuade us that God has not forgotten us,” he said, adding that it is through the family that “the Church again goes out fishing in order to prevent men from drowning in the sea of loneliness and indifference.” Referring to how, after a night of catching nothing, Peter cast his net out into the deep waters at Jesus’ command, Francis prayed that the Church herself would “go out into the deep” with confidence that she will have a good catch. Pope Francis closed his audience by praying that the Synod Fathers, “inspired by the Holy Spirit, encourage the Church to cast out her net with confidence and faith in the Word of God.” He then greeted pilgrims present from various countries around the world, and asked that those present continue to pray for the ongoing Synod on the Family. He prayed that they would always be witnesses to God’s love and mercy in the world. Afterward, Francis offered a special greeting to a group of Iraqi refugees who were present in the audience, and entrusted both pilgrims and the work of the synod to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Pope Francis backs the new synod process in an unanticipated speech

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an unexpected speech at the synod on Tuesday, Pope Francis has stated that this gathering is in continuity with 2014 synod, which he said never called into question the Church's teaching on marriage. He also emphasized that the official documents of the 2014 synod are his two speeches, and its final report. The full text of the Holy Father's intervention has not made public, but Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, reported about it in his Oct. 6 press briefing. Pope Francis' speech came after Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, had taken the floor to give a long explanation about the synod’s new methodology, as there had been on Monday several synod fathers asking for explanations about the new process, which had alarmed not a few of them. According to Fr. Lombardi, Cardinal Baldisseri explained the synod’s new method, presented the 10 member commission the Pope appointed in order to assist in drafting the synod’s final report, and underscored that the procedure was approved by the Pope Sept. 7, during one of the sessions of the Council of the Synod. After Cardinal Baldisseri’s intervention, the Pope wanted to take the floor, Fr. Lombardi recounted. According to Fr. Lombardi, the Pope wanted “essentially to clarify two issues.” The first is that “this synod must be lived in continuity with last year’s extraordinary synod.” The Pope then stressed – ‘with these very words,’ Fr. Lombardi said – that “from the extraordinary session of the synod, three are the official documents: the Pope’s inaugural speech, the Pope’s final speech, and the final report.” The final report was controversial because it also included the midterm report paragraphs that had not gained the supermajority of two thirds – that is, they did not reach a consensus. Customarily, the propositions that do not reach a consensus have been removed from the final documents of synods. However, the Pope underscored – Fr. Lombardi recounted – that “the Council of the Synod looked into the 2014 synod’s final report in the time between the extraordinary and the ordinary synod, and that the report has been integrated with other contributions,” and that the Synod’s working document is a result of this effort taken between the 2014 and 2015 synods. “The Pope said the working document has been approved by the Synod’s Council in meetings in which the Pope himself took part,” Fr. Lombardi stressed. Then Pope Francis wanted to clarify a second issue: that “Catholic teaching on marriage has not been put into question by the previous synod, and that synod fathers should not be conditioned to circumscribe the Synod to only the issue of access to Communion for the divorced-and-remarried,” said Fr. Lombardi. While it is not unusual for the Pope to take the floor during a synod – Benedict XVI having done so in those held in 2008 and 2012 – it is however the first time the Pope's speeches at the synod are considered the official documents of the synod itself. These contents will then be the guidelines of the upcoming discussions at this year's synod. The synod fathers are now divided into small groups by language, to discuss particular issues, having been so divided the afternoon of Oct. 6. In these first two days, 72 synod fathers took the floor. Fr. Lombardi said there were 10 interventions from Latin America, 7 from North America, 26 from Europe, 12 from Africa, 8 from Asia and Oceania, and 6 from the Middle East. Italian and English have been the most used languages.

Cardinal Erdö's emphatic defense of Church teaching marked synod's first day

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 02:48 pm (National Catholic Register).- Monday, the first full day of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, was dominated by the introductory address of the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Peter Erd of Esztergom-Budapest. The entire text of Cardinal Erd's Oct. 5 speech was released only in Italian, but has been translated into English by the staff of Catholic News Agency. In his speech, Cardinal Erd reasserted much of the Church’s teaching, and cast doubt on the prospect of a controversial proposal to readmit civilly remarried divorcees to Communion. The proposal, first raised by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German and the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at a consistory in February 2014 and which is based on the practice of Eastern Orthodox Churches, was one of the most controversial issues at last year’s extraordinary synod on the family. The current gathering, which runs until Oct. 25 and is being attended by 279 bishops and priests from around the world, is to discuss the theme “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.” In his 2014 proposal, Cardinal Kasper said divorced-and-remarried Catholics could be readmitted to the sacraments after a period of penitence for their first marriage. Critics said it undermined the indissolubility of marriage, amounted to an attack on the sacrament of the Eucharist, and would precipitate many other abuses of Church teaching. Cardinal Erd, 63, whose position as general relator makes him responsible for underlining the goals of the synod at the beginning of the three-week meeting, stressed that civilly remarried Catholics “must be given merciful pastoral guidance,” but this “does not call into question the indissolubility of marriage as taught by Jesus Christ himself.” He added that “God’s mercy offers forgiveness to sinners but requires conversion,” and, in this case, “a couple’s sin does not lie first and foremost in whatever behavior may have led to the breakup of the first marriage.” The reason they cannot receive the Eucharist “is not because of the failure of their first marriage, but because of the cohabitation in their second relationship,” he said. Familiaris Consortio He said not admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion is not an “arbitrary ban” and requires “careful reflection,” but stressed St. John Paul II’s approach, specifically article 84 of his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which underlined the indissolubility of marriage. It also allowed for some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, provided that they live as brother and sister, in “continence,” and can access the sacraments “whilst avoiding scandal.” Cardinal Erd also said the Orthodox Church’s model cannot be feasibly applied to the West, where there is “great institutional difference.” The cardinal’s comments were given added weight by the fact that his assertion was reflective of wishes and concerns received by the synod secretariat in the time between the two synods. “I was trying to bring together all the elements of the Church’s voice,” Cardinal Erd told reporters afterward, adding that “most of the responses reflected a wish” for the magisterium’s existing documents on this issue to be “taken into consideration.” He also noted that the Gospel reading on Sunday, at the opening Mass of the synod, was providentially from Mark Chapter 10, in which Jesus says, “What God has united man must not divide.” Pope Francis also referenced the Gospel reading for the day in his homily at the Mass that opened the synod, calling the marital union of a man and a woman the foundation for God’s plan for the family. “This is God’s dream for his beloved creation,” the Holy Father said, “to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.” Setting the Course Although the words from the cardinal and the Pope do not completely put an end to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal (the Hungarian cardinal said the penitential path needs “further reflection”), one synod father told the Register on condition of anonymity that his speech “probably changes the direction of the synod.” Cardinal Kasper, he observed, was “stony-faced and didn’t applaud when it was read out.” According to sources, a lively discussion reportedly followed in the synod hall in the afternoon. Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, president of the German bishops’ conference, told reporters Monday in Rome that he uttered his displeasure about Cardinal Erd’s address during the afternoon session. Asked if the Church is essentially back to the discussion before the consistory, in February 2014, when Cardinal Kasper first raised his proposal, Cardinal Marx replied, “Yes,” but that in terms of synodality, he felt the Church had moved forward. He said expectations have never been so high before a synod and that Pope Francis had contributed to that; but he stressed one should go with openness into the meeting and with preparedness to learn. Cardinal Erd’s speech contrasts with the one he gave last year, when Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, pressured him into changing up to 40% of its content. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, told the Register he wasn’t sure Cardinal Erd’s address changed the synod’s course, but he thought it was “a good summary and gave a good, substantial direction.” Other synod fathers, speaking anonymously, said they thought the speech was very well executed. Cardinal Erd began his presentation, which he said “systemizes” the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the synod, by quoting Pope Francis’ Angelus from July 19. The Pope said the compassionate attitude of Jesus is “not the look of a sociologist or a photojournalist, because he always looks with ‘the eyes of the heart,’” Cardinal Erd reiterated. Observers said his words could be taken as a warning not to reduce theology to sociology, a common trait of many Western bishops and theologians, particularly in Germany, leading up to the synod. He devoted the whole of the second part of his speech to spotlighting healthy families and upholding the ideal of the family before turning to irregular situations. He then discussed the challenge of listening to the family, warned of individualism and subjectivism and discussed the various challenges of the family vocation. Humanae vitae The cardinal underlined the importance of “openness to life,” called for the message of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae – which reaffirmed Church teaching with regard to responsible parenthood, married love and the rejection of artificial contraception – to be “rediscovered” and spoke about reasons for low birth rates and the threat of euthanasia, among other threats to the family. Also mentioned was the missionary dimension of the family and the need to couple mercy with truth, such as in the case of cohabitation, a controversial topic of the last synod. He quoted in this context article 67 of the instrumentum laboris, which states: “Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion.” On the subject of same-sex relationships, Cardinal Erd pointed out that they have nothing to do with marriage, but that such people need to be treated “with respect and sensitivity.” In his homily at the Mass that opened the synod, Pope Francis exhorted participants to “assume apostolic courage of evangelical humility and of confident prayer” in order to give the Holy Spirit space to carry out his actions. Pope Francis went on to say that unless the bishops open themselves to guidance by the Holy Spirit, their decisions will become mere “decorations” that serve to “cover and hide” the Gospel, rather than glorify it. Synod Methodology In his opening speech to the synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, explained a new methodology of the synod, unveiled last Friday. He said the small-group dicsussions would help “foster more intense debate.” But some synod fathers still have expressed concerns about some of the new rules. Archbishop Kurtz said “there are a lot of questions” on the new methodology, specifically regarding the 13 small language groups that will present reports at the end of each of the three weeks. Archbishop Kurtz wondered how they will “lead up to votes.” “I still don’t have a lot of those answers. I don’t think any of the synod fathers have those,” he said, “but I think we’re going to have those at the end of the first week.” He also said details about whether a post-synodal apostolic exhortation would be published were also not ascertained. “It didn’t come up today, and I’m eager to find that out,” said Archbishop Kurtz. It’s still early in the process, but the archbishop is confident that the synod fathers will avoid the ideological agenda that threatened the 2014 synodal process and focus on strengthening Church teaching on marriage and the family. “I’m entering the synod with a very spiritual mindset,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The Holy Father is basically saying to all of us: ‘Speak frankly, but seek what God might be inspiring us to say for the sake of the Church and the family. Listen to one another, and be open to the Holy Spirit.’” Edward Pentin is the National Catholic Register’s Rome correspondent.

For UK archbishop, the plight of migrant families strikes a chord

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- As Europe continues to face mass migration from crisis zones, the synod discussions cannot ignore the weighty impact this crisis has on families, said U.K. Cardinal Vincent Nichols. “We should have the integrity of the family foremost in our minds,” the cardinal told CNA, speaking about the many families who have become separated by the migrant crisis. He cited as an example the trials of Middle Eastern migrants who have family members in England. “They should be given the opportunity to reconnect with their families,” he said. “These family identities are important, and I don’t think that’s being given the attention that it could in the response of European governments to this flow of people across Europe.” Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and representative of the Bishops of England and Wales at the 2015 Synod on the Family, has been outspoken in his call for Britain to be more welcoming of migrants. The European commission has stated that more than 500,000 mostly African and Middle Eastern migrants have entered the European Union in 2015, in an attempt to escape conflict and poverty in their homelands. Scores of other migrants have died at sea en route to countries like Greece and Italy. Last month, the EU agreed on a quota plan to disseminate 120,000 migrants across the continent. “For European countries at the moment, the migration of people from the Middle East and from parts of Africa is a very considerable challenge,” Cardinal Nichols said. “Some of that is indeed to do with poverty, refugee status, and real desperation.” However, the cardinal noted there are additional difficulties faced by families who become separated due to British immigration laws. “The British government has some very strict rules, even for British citizens, as to whether they can bring their non-British spouses into the country,” he said. “There are aspects of British government policy which mitigate against the integrity of the family. That is something that we would want really to press, and have been doing so for a while.” This year's Synod on the Family, which runs from Oct. 4-25, is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.” In his interview with CNA, Cardinal Nichols touched on several other concerns expected to be discussed at the Synod on the Family, such as the pastoral care of divorced-and-remarried persons, and of men and women with same-sex attraction. CNA: Last year’s synod gave a lot of attention to the issue of divorce and remarriage -- at least in the media. What do you expect the Synod to focus on this time around? No doubt the media will continue to focus on that issue. In some ways, it is a very important issue, because it affects a lot of people’s lives, and because it is a real challenge for the Church to make it clear that there is a place in the Church for everyone who wishes to follow Christ, who wants to be a disciple of Christ, no matter the difficulties of those circumstances or of their personal experiences. So, it’s a challenge to the pastoral care that the Church offers. How do we best express that care, how do we get better at expressing the acceptance and the mercy of God are some of the basic themes of this Synod. CNA: There are some concerns with regard to how the Church’s teaching might be affected by this Synod with regards to divorce and remarriage. What’s your response to these concerns? I was very taken by the answer that Pope Francis gave on the airplane coming back from America the other day when he was asked if speeding up a process whereby a marriage can be examined for its validity was a way of introducing Catholic divorce. He said no, because this is not an administrative procedure. He went on to say it is perfectly clear that people who marry in the Church with Christ in their hearts, with freedom and understanding, that it is a valid sacramental marriage and then that is forever. That is indissoluble. That’s that. There is no change. That is not going to change. CNA: Since last year’s Synod on the Family the situation of migration has exploded, in a way. How would you like to see this issue explored in the Synod? How can the issue of migration for families be addressed in a way that demonstrates a pastoral and Christian solidarity, while maintaining a certain degree of prudence from a security standpoint? Clearly, for European countries at the moment, the migration of people from the Middle East and from parts of Africa is a very considerable challenge. Some of that is indeed to do with poverty, refugee status, and real desperation. We should have the integrity of the family foremost in our minds, frankly. For example, we would want to argue that, if there are family members already -- for example -- in England, of people who are at present caught in refugee camps in Northern Iraq or in Jordan, or in parts of Syria, then they should be given the opportunity to reconnect with their families. These family identities are important, and I don’t think that’s being given the attention that it could in the response of European governments to this flow of people across Europe. That’s a particularly dramatic thing at the moment. But, we see it in many issues. People, for example, who arrive in England, maybe are present legally, work very hard, but are still separated from their families. The British government has some very strict rules, even for British citizens, as to whether they can bring their non-British spouses into the country. So, there are aspects of British government policy which mitigate against the integrity of the family. That is something that we would want really to press, and have been doing so for a while. CNA: Another theme that is expected to receive attention at the Synod is the pastoral care of persons with same-sex attraction. There have been two conferences on this theme this weekend: One looking at a pastoral care from the viewpoint of encouraging chastity, and the other from a viewpoint of supporting same-sex relationships. Are the Synod fathers listening to what is coming out of these sorts of conversations? I think the Synod fathers -- and the vast majority are pastoral bishops who are close to their people -- listen to their priests. We in England have had consultations with the priests precisely on this question of pastoral care. I think we are very aware of the situation of people and the different opinions there are, but nevertheless in this there are some fundamental values and principles in the way the disciples of Jesus want to live and are asked to live which don’t change and they are to do with marriage being between a man and a woman and the place for sexual intimacy being within marriage. Everybody is on a journey when it comes to their sexual activity, their sexuality and their sexual maturity, and I think what is clear is that the ideals are there, the call of the Gospel is there whether for marriage or for people who experience their friendships and their deepest love with somebody of the same sex. The pathway is clear and it is the task of the pastor to try and help someone to walk on that pathway, towards the invitation of Christ, given out of love which will be to entrust themselves to him in their friendships and to deepen those friendships so they really do become a powerful presence of God’s presence in their lives. CNA: What will your contribution be to this Synod? My hope would be, just as after the Synod on evangelization the Holy Father published a document called “The Joy of the Gospel,” that at the end of this process he might publish an exaltation called “The Joy of the family.” I think we have to have a very positive view. (As) Pope Francis said in Philadelphia, ‘If we take the stance that sees the family as a problem, then we’re going to set off on the wrong foot.’ Photo credit: zouzou via shutterstock.com

Full text of Cardinal Erdo's introductory report for the Synod on the Family

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 10:26 am (CNA).- On Oct. 5, the opening day of the 2015 Synod on the Family, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest -- who is the synod's relator general -- gave an introductory speech to the synod fathers. Drawing from the working document for the synod as well as recent magisterial documents, Cardinal Erdo surveyed the work the assembly is called to do. He examined current challenges to the family and marriage, the vocation of the family, and the family's mission today. The full text of his prepared remarks were published in Italian on the Vatican's website. Please find below CNA's English translation of the entirety of his remarks: Introduction Holy Father, Most eminent and excellent synod fathers, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is our master, our Lord, and the Good Shepherd. When, according to the evangelist Mark, he saw a great crowd, he had compassion on them: “and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). In this regard, Pope Francis has indicated the method and the program which in certain ways we too should follow in our work: “...to see, to have compassion, to teach. We can call them theverbs of the Shepherd … The first and second,to seeandto have compassion, are always found together in the attitude of Jesus: in fact his gaze is not the gaze of a sociologist or a photojournalist, for he always gazes with “the eyes of the heart” … From this tenderness is born Jesus’ wish to nourish the crowd with the bread of his Word, that is, to teach the Word of God to the people. Jesus sees, Jesus has compassion, Jesus teaches us.” (Pope Francis, Angelus, July 19, 2015). This vision corresponds with the three great themes of the instrumentum laboris, the fruit of an intense, collegial path. Without being able to mention in this introductory relation all the important themes which have emerged in the discussion and the document of the last synod, and since then, we try then to follow in particular only the principal themes. I. Listening to the challenges to the family I.1 The social-cultural context In its first part, the instrumentum laboris speaks of a listening which is nothing more than “seeing”, an acknowledgement of the challenges currently facing the family. There seem to be in the world, in external circumstances, and in the discussions or in the mentality of peoples, at least two great sorts of problems. The first is traditional, seemingly constant, but which assumes in our globalized world new dimensions and new, unexpected consequences. These are the effects of climate and environmental change, and those of social injustice, of violence, of war, which push millions of persons to leave their homeland and try to survive in other parts of the world. If we look, for example, at the thousands of immigrants and refugees arriving daily in Europe, we see immediately that the vast majority is composed of rather young men, though they arrive, sometimes, with their women and children. Already from this picture it is evident that the migratory movement is disintegrating families, or at least makes it difficult to form them. In many parts of the world, young parents leave their home and their children to seek work abroad. In not a few parts of the world persons work for a salary so low that it permits them to survive to continue to work, but it does not make it feasible to care for a family. In this context one cannot forget that commercial enterprises, too, have a responsibility in this situation. It also happens that to ensure the so-called mobility of the “workforce”, entire families have to transfer to other cities or regions, ever lacerating the human and social structures of family, friends, and neighbors, school and work mates. So all this great mobility seems to be one of the factors which drive persons to individualistic attitudes and tendencies. So the industrialization which began the 19th century, has arrived today to all parts of the world. The typical form of labor becomes one of dependence. The employee, working outside of his family, is payed for what he does outside his family, while the most precious work done inside the family community, such as the education of children and care of the sick and elderly at home, are but rarely recognized and aided by society. As Pope Francis has said: “We experience the shortcomings of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores its elderly. And the elderly are a wealth not to be ignored.” (General Audience, March 4, 2015) I. 2 Anthropological change: fleeing from institutions In the more wealth regions of the world, there is another elementary phenomenon, not independent of the first, and present now in other parts of the world, that is the so called “anthropological change”, which runs the risk of becoming an “anthropological reductionism.” (Pope Francis, address to participants in a seminar on his proposal for a "more inclusive economy", July 12, 2014) The person, in seeking his freedom, often tries to be independent of any link, at times even of religion, which constitutes a link with God, or of social links, especially those which relate to the institutional form of life. The life of society, in fact, especially of those called 'developed', risks being 'suffocated' by bureaucratic formalism. A phenomenon which does not follow necessarily only from the complexity of economic and social structures or the complexity of scientific conquest, but which seems also to have another source – a change of attitude. If we do not have the confidence to know objective truth and objective values which are based on reality, then we risk looking for the guidelines of our social comportment on the basis of purely formal criteria, such as majority votes, independent of content, or the formality of proceedings, at various organizations, as the only justification for a choice. This phenomenon can push legislators to multiply juridical norms, and even to control information, for fear that otherwise there will not be a voluntary observance of laws, which can only come from a moral conviction, by a common, objective knowledge of reality. From this picture comes a notable alienation, which explains the instinctive flight of many people from institutional forms. So it seems we can explain the growth in the number of couples cohabiting seemingly stably, but without contracting any kind of marriage, neither religious nor civil. In certain countries the high percentage of this kind of choice shows a correlation with a high percentage of those who do not wish to bury their parents with any ceremony. Where the law allows it, they prefer to bring home their ashes, or to spread them without any formality. It is clear, here, that the fundamental escape from institutions also affects some forms of live which have per se a communitarian and institutional aspect. Marriage and family are not only for isolated individuals; rather, they transmit values, and offer a possibility of development to the human person, which is irreplaceable. In all the crises of instiutions and of institutional forms for human relations, and not only in the sphere of marriage and the family, though there in a special way, there is manifest the internal tension of the human person and the question of what is the human being. Already, linguistic expression and speech involve an institutional element in communication. Using words with precise content, we come more easily to abstraction and logical reasoning, which relieve the single person of having to create always new ways of communicating. Following customs and institutional forms of society are easier and more secure ways of comporting oneself in many of life's situations. Institutions, in general, seem to be 'checks' which facilitate, and lighten, interpersonal relationships. Even unwritten norms of social comportment have a similar function. One can communicate the ideal of just comportment by giving an example, a story told or represented in a film, but one can also express it in a verbally conceived norm – in a law. Jesus Christ was the greatest of communicators, the living Word of God, who was able to relate the parables and then to say “go and do likewise”, but was also able to speak as the Lawgiver. Current anthropological change touches on the deepest layers of the human being. It comes in among planning the smallest details of a wedding, providing everything – the music, the menu, the tablecloths. You see young engaged couples totally preoccupied with these details, while at the same time neglecting the true significance of marriage. In this 'magnetic field' of the necessity and the apparent inaccessibility of many institutional forms, is located the issue of the law, as well as those of marriage and the family. Before this current, and truly new situation, it seems providential that this present synodal assembly is dedicated to this theme. Let us then deal with the ambit of this synod, as Pope Francis has indicated: “... to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves” (Instrumentum laboris 3). I. 3 Institutional instability In addition to the flight from institutions, there is growing institutional instability which is manifest also in the high rate of divorce. That people are getting married at a later age, and youths' fear in assuming the responsibility of definitive commitments such as marriage and family, are seen in this context. Indeed, if one's sole objective is to feel good in the moment, then neither the past nor the future have any importance; indeed there appears a certain general fear of the future, for one might not feel good anymore then. Thus it seems too perilous to make a definitive choice regarding career and family. It so happens that many do not even feel their own responsibility, either for the present or the future. I. 4 Individualism and subjectivism Thus, as Pope Francis reiterated in his discourse at Strasbourg: “Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a 'monad' (μονας), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding 'monads'. The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights. As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself.” “I believe, therefore, that it is vital to develop a culture of human rights which wisely links the individual, or better, the personal aspect, to that of the common good, of the 'all of us' made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society.” (Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament, Nov. 25, 2014) Therefore the current tendency to pass off those things which are simply desires, often selfish ones, as true and proper rights, while denying the basic objective of all law, must be avoided. “An aspect of great importance for our responsibility is the need to rethink the orientation of world systems through an ecological culture … which includes not only an environmental dimension but also those of society and economics, which allow sustainable development and a culture of creation" (Instrumentum laboris 16). It is in the light of our relationship with the Creator that we find the fullness of our responsibility and vocation. In addition to these individualistic and anti-institutional tendencies, one can observe the phenomenon of confounding or rendering uncertain the continues of such fundamental institutions as marriage and the family. This also contributes to the growth of individualism, which ultimately results in both cause and effect. I. 5 Biological and cultural aspects With the development of the natural sciences, new possibilities have appeared regarding the biological relationship between persons and cultures. Consumer society has separated sexuality and procreation. This too is one of the causes of the falling birth rate. It stems at time from poverty, and in other cases from the difficulty of having to assume responsibility. While in developing countries the exploitation of women and the violence done to their bodies and the tiring tasks imposed on them, even during pregnancy, are oftentimes compounded by abortion and forced sterilization, not to mention the extreme negative consequences of practices connected with procreation (for example, a womb 'for rent' or the marketing of embryonic gametes). In advanced countries, the desire for a child at any cost “has not resulted in happier and stronger family relationships.” (Instrumentum laboris 30) All things considered the so-called bio-technological revolution has introduced new possibilities for the manipulation of the generative act “... making it independent of the sexual relationship between man and woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples.” (Instrumentum laboris 34) Immaturity and affective fragility are of great relevance here. First of all it is forgotten that these are the effects of a true lack of effective and affective education among families, in that parents do not have time for their children, or are divorced and the children are not able to see the example of adults, and are confronted only with the comportment of their peers. So the affective maturity remains held back and is not given permission to develop. Of prime importance in this context is pornography and the commercialization of the body, helped by a distorted use of the internet. Do not forget, however, that this more of a consequence than a cause of the current situation. Thus the crisis of couples destabilizes the family and weakens family links between generations. (cf Instrumentum laboris 33) “Finally, there are theories according to which personal identity and emotional intimacy ought to be radically detached from the biological difference between male and female. At the same time, however, some want to recognize the stable character of a couple’s relationship apart from sexual difference, and place it on the same level as the marital relationship, which is intrinsically connected to the roles of a father and a mother and determined on the biological basis of child-bearing. The resulting confusion relegates the special bond between biological difference, reproduction and human identity to an individualistic choice. 'The removal of difference [...] creates a problem, not a solution.'” (Instrumentum laboris 8) II. The discernment of the family vocation II. 1 Family and the divine pedagogy The gaze of Jesus is that of mercy, of the mercy which is based on truth. Jesus' teaching on marriage and family are from creation (cf Mt 19:3). The life of the human being and of humanity is part of a great project: that of God the creator. As in all aspects of life, we find our wholeness and our felicity if we can insert ourselves freely and consciously into this great project full of wisdom and love. If we seek the truth about marriage and family, according to the best of our natural capacities, and if we listen to the teachings of Jesus Christ, then we grasp it in all its fullness and all its holiness. So resplendent are marriage and family in their beauty, that Saint Paul said this is a great mystery which manifests the love of Christ for the Church (cf Eph 5:32). This beauty is not simply the meaning of something that attracts without interest, it does not have merely an aesthetic value, but is found to be a true and profound, objective interest in human existence, a true way to felicity, which in turn makes of sacramental marriage a means of sanctification and a font of grace. “The truth [as the Council teaches] is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. […] Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes 22). So we must understand, using a Christocentric key, also the rich and varied natural characteristics of marriage (cf Instrumentum laboris 40). II. 2 Jesus and the family: the gift and task of indissolubility “Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, though saying to the Pharisees that 'for your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so' (Mt 19: 8). The indissolubility of marriage ('what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder' Mt 19:6), is to be understood not as a 'yoke' imposed on persons but as a 'gift' to a husband and wife united in marriage. Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana and he announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation that restores the original divine plan (Mt 19:3). At the same time, however, he put what he taught into practice and manifested the true meaning of mercy, clearly illustrated in his meeting with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and with the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11). By looking at the sinner with love, Jesus leads the person to repentance and conversion ('Go and sin no more'), which is the basis for forgiveness.” (Instrumentum laboris 41) This project of God for marriage and the family offers the possibility of fullness for the life of the person, relevant still today, despite the difficulties encountered in maintaining commitments forever. The virtues of marital and family life are, for example: “... respect and mutual trust; mutual acceptance and gratitude; and patience and forgiveness” (Instrumentum laboris 43). II. 3 The family, image of the Trinity Marriage and the family express in a special way that the human being is create in the image and likeness of God. In this context, Pope Francis recalled that: “... man alone is not the image of God nor is woman alone the image of God, but man and woman as a couple are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God.” (General Audience, April 15, 2015). The complementary nature, in fact, of the unitive and procreative character in marriage is written into the divine plan in creation. (cf Instrumentum laboris 45). Family and marriage have been redeemed by Christ (cf Eph 5:21-32), restored to the image of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery from which comes every true love. This implies at the same time that they are, for the baptized, a gift and a special commitment. II. 4 The family in the Magisterium of the Church The Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of the promotion of the dignity of marriage and of the family (cf Gaudium et spes 47-52), reiterating the fact that marriage is a community of life and love (cf GS 48). True love in fact is not reduced to some elements of the relationship but implies a mutual gift of self (cf GS 49). Thus the sexual and affective dimensions are built up during daily life. In the Creator the human couple is already a bearer of the divine blessing. In fact, in Genesis we read that: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply...'” (Gen 1:27-28). In the incarnation, then, God assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment and gives to the spouses, with his Spirit, bestowed already in the sacrament of Baptism, the capacity to realize it fully and through his grace, to build up the Body of Christ and to be a domestic Church (cf Lumen gentium 11; Instrumentum laboris 47). II.5 The missionary dimension of the Family The missionary dimension of the family is rooted in the sacrament of Baptism and is realized within the Christian community. The Christian family, a domestic Church based on the sacramental marriage of two Christians, by its nature tends to diffuse its faith by sharing it with others. The Christian family, in fact, are called to witness to the Gospel either by its life according to the Gospel itself, or by a missionary proclamation. Spouses mutually reinforce their faith and transmit it to their children, but the children, moreover, together with the other family members, are also called to share their faith. In the family you can experience who the spouses in their mutual love, reinforced bu the spirit of Christ, live their call to holiness. So the family constitutes, as Saint John Paul II said in Familiaris consortio, the way of the Church (cf FC 13). It is in this framework that the teaching of Blessed Paul VI fits, which highlights the intimate relationship between conjugal love and the generation of life (cf Humanae vitae). This truth seems to be particularly important today, when there are so many technical possibilities for separating procreation from conjugal love. The love lived in marriage and the family is the principle of life in society, as recalled by Benedict XVI in his encylical Caritas in veritate (n. 44). The family, in fact, is the place where a person learns to experience the common good (cf Instrumentum laboris 50). The teaching of the Popes deepens also the spiritual dimension of family life, beginning from the rediscovery of family prayer and listening in common to the Word of God. Equally fundamental is the rediscovery of Sunday as a sign of the profound rootedness of the family in the ecclesial reality. The spirituality of the family must be nourished by strong experiences of faith, in particular by participation in the Eucharist. (cf Instrumentum laboris 51; LG 11). Above all in the Sunday Eucharist, the Christian family announces that great and definitive family to which we are all called in eternal life. Pope Francis in his encyclical Lumen Fidei spoke of family ties and the faith, saying: “Faith is no refuge … but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” (LF, 53). The reciprocal gift constitutive of marriage, rooted for Christians in the grace of Baptism, stabilizes the fundamental alliance of each person with Christ in the Church. The engaged promise a total gift, fidelity, and openness to life, recognized as the constitutive elements of marriage and gifts given them by God, taking seriously their commitment in his name and before the Church. In sacramental marriage God consecrates the love of spouses and confirms indissolubility, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to life (cf Instrumentum laboris 54). II. 6 The indissolubility of marriage and the joy of living together The teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage was very demanding, to the point of provoking a certain confusion among his own disciples (cf Mt 19:10). The Gospels and Saint Paul confirm equally that the repudiation of one's wife, practiced first among the people of Israel, does not render possible a new marriage for either party. This affirmation, so unusual and so demanding, has continued through the course of centuries in the disciplinary tradition of the Church, constituting an element still to the point which draws people back to Christianity, a disciplinary question that matters nearly as much as monogamy and the indissolubility of marriage (cf Mt 19:1-10; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10-16). This teaching of Christ regarding marriage is truly Good News and is a source of joy, as it is the full realization of the human person and of his vocation to gratuitous personal relationships, to giving himself, to be fully accepted (cf Instrumentum laboris 55). II. 7 The project of the Creator and natural marriage The Church, it should be remembered, has always recognized the existence of true, natural marriage between two unbaptized persons. Since the beginning of humanity such an alliance between a man and a woman has corresponded to the creative plan of God, and was blessed (Gen 1:27-28). So, among true marriages, even today there are in the world many natural marriages, and other marriages sacramental, contracted between the baptized, which involves a special grace (cf Instrumentum laboris 57). “The seriousness of adhering to this divine plan and the courage required to witness to it is especially to be esteemed in these times” (Instrumentum laboris 57). II. 8 Mercy for wounded families: mission of the Church In virtue of the sacrament of marriage the Christian family becomes a good for the Church, but its insertion into the ecclesial context is always good for the family being helped at the spiritual and communitarian levels despite difficulties, and helps to guard the marital union and to discern any respective obligations or eventual shortcoming. The organic insertion of marriage and the family among Christians in the reality of the Church, requires also that the Church community pay realistic and merciful attention to the faithful who cohabit or who live in civil marriage only, because they do not feel prepared to celebrate the sacrament, given the difficulties that such as choice to result in today. If the community can prove to show itself welcoming to these persons, in the varied situations of life, and presents articulately the truth about marriage, it will help these faithful to arrive at a decision for sacramental marriage. II. 9 Mercy and truth revealed From this intimate connection between the sacrament of marriage and the reality of the Church it follows that the Church community has a vocation to help even those Catholic couples and families who find themselves in crisis. It has a duty to care for all those who cohabit or are in marital or family situations which cannot become a valid marriage, much less a sacramental one. “Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion (cf John 8:1-11)” (Instrumentum laboris 67). III. The mission of the family today III. 1 The family and evangelization Among the practical consequences and tasks regarding the mission, some require the Church's commitment to families, others regard the family itself, and others require the concerted efforts of both. Marriage preparation, which often engages the attention of engaged person at the exterior and emotional level, should be enriched by placing a proper accent on the spiritual and ecclesial character of marriage. In pastoral preparation for marriage we have to go deeply into the aspects underlining the essential properties of marriage at the natural and supernatural levels. It is extremely useful to have the joyous participation of the Christian community which welcomes the new family, which is to be a living member of the ecclesial family (cf instrumentum laboris 73; 103). Thus it is very useful for Catholic families to be involved in the preparation of engaged couples. The newlyweds can come to know a community of true friends, and from these encounters there can be born human relationships of enrichment, support, and help in difficult situations or in problems within the couple. Belonging to such a group, the faith of the couple can mature, especially if these communities of family meet regularly, read Sacred Scripture, pray together, and cultivate their faith in the light of the teaching of the Church, especially through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Beside all this, and as its 'fruit', there is accomplished a mutual help in daily problems which are part of the life of every family. The formation of such groups of families seems to be a sign of the times. They often arise within new communities or ecclesial movements, but are also often rooted in the parish. It seems an urgent and fascinating task to form such communities, and promote them among all the dioceses. It will often be good to animate these groups with the presence of a priest or a pastoral worker who is well prepared (cf Instrumentum laboris 75). At both the level of small communities and of parish ministry and the mass media there is needed a “... conversion of language that it might prove to be effectively meaningful” (Instrumentum laboris 77-78). This constitutes a challenge for bishops, priests, and other ministers of the Word and requires, or may require, new forms of catechesis and testimony, in full fidelity to the truth revealed by Christ. If we speak from the depths of our heart, if we never tire of being accountable to ourselves and our faith, then we can turn to others with conviction and courage. If we speak frankly to others about what we believe, we don't need to be afraid of being misunderstood, because we, too, are children of our time. While not everyone will accept what we announce, they will at least understand the proposal. This is confirmed especially by the experience of missionaries in large cities. Beyond the joyous announcement of the Gospel, and within the context of announcing the good news of the family, it is necessary also to help those living in problematic and difficult situations to discern their living conditions in the light of the gospel. This discernment must not be content with subjective criteria, as a test for justification, but must bring together mercy with justice. The project of God in marriage and family is the way to happiness for the human being. In this work of announcing, the pastors of the Church, particularly where other worldviews or religions are present, should know such ways to conceive of and implement marriage and family to illuminate them with the light of the Gospel. III. 2 Family, formation, and public institutions In the preparation of both clergy and pastoral workers, and in their continuing formation, we must bear in mind that fact that their affective and psychological maturation is indispensable for the pastoral accompaniment of families. Diocesan offices and other structures for the family should collaborate in this regard. “Given that the family is "the first and vital cell of society" (Apostolicam actuositatem, 11), the family ought to rediscover its vocation of involvement in all aspects of living in society. Essentially, families, in gathering together, need to find ways to interact with public, economic and cultural institutions so they can build a more just society” (Instrumentum laboris 91). Collaboration with public institutions is desired for the interest of the family. Yet in many countries and many institutions the official concept of the family is “...not in keeping with the Christian view or the sense of the family based on nature” (Instrumentum laboris 91). This mode of thinking influences the mentality of not a few Christians. Family associations and Catholic movements ought to work together to assert the real instances of the family in society (cf instrumentum laboris 91). “Christians ought to engage directly in the socio-political life by actively participating in the decision-process and introducing the Church’s social doctrine into discussions with institutions. This commitment would foster the development of appropriate programs to assist young people and needy families at risk of social isolation and exclusion” (Instrumentum laboris 92). Christians ought to try to create economic structures to support those families who are particularly affected by poverty, unemployment, job insecurity, lack of social and health care, or who are victims of usury. All of the Church community should try to assist those families who are victims of war and persecution. III. 3 Family, accompaniment, and ecclesial integration The mission of the Church is delicate and demanding regarding those who live in problematic marital or family situations. First are those who could be married in the Church but who are content with a civil marriage or simple cohabitation. If their attitude comes from a lack of faith or religious interest, it is truly a missionary situation. When, however, they have some relationship with the Church community, frequenting perhaps parish groups or ecclesial movements, a way is opened for their approach of sacramental marriage. The dynamics of pastoral relationships on a personal level can provide a solid basis for a sound teaching method which might foster the gradual opening of minds and hearts to the fullness of God's plan (cf Instrumentum laboris 103). Regarding the separated and the divorced who have not remarried, the community of the Church can help those who live these situations in a path of pardon and possibly of reconciliation, and can help the children who are victims of these situations and may encourage those left alone after such a failure, to persevere in faith and in the Christian life and also “to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life” (Instrumentum laboris 118). It is important to have, at least at the diocesan level, listening centers which can in part help in moments of crisis, but also afterwards (cf Instrumentum laboris 117). Another kind of counseling, equally important, is offered to the divorced to help to clarify the possible invalidity of their failed marriage, as is previewed in the motu proprio Mitis Iudex. Regarding the divorced-and-civilly-remarried, a merciful, pastoral accompaniment is only right – an accompaniment, however, which leaves no doubt about the truth of the indissolubility of marriage taught by Jesus Christ himself. The mercy of God offers to sinners pardon, but demands conversion. The sin in this case does not lie first and foremost in whatever comportment which may have led to the breakup of the first marriage. With regard to that failure it is possible that both parties were equally culpable, although very often both are to some extent responsible. It is therefore not the failure of the first marriage, but cohabiting in the second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist. “Many parties request that the attention to and the accompaniment of persons who are divorced and civilly remarried take into account the diversity of situations and be geared towards a greater integration of them into the life of the Christian community” (Instrumentum laboris 121). What impedes some aspects of full integration does not consist in an arbitrary prohibition; it is rather an intrinsic demand of varied situations and relationships, in the context of ecclesial witness. All this requires, however, a profound reflection. With respect to a way of penance, this expression is used in diverse ways (cf Instrumentum laboris 122-123). These ways need to be deepened and specified. It can be understood in the sense of St. John Paul II's Familiaris consortio (cf n. 84) and referred to those who are divorced-and-remarried, who because of the needs of their children cannot interrupt their common life, but who can practice continence by the strength of grace, living their relationship of mutual help and friendship. These faithful will also have access to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, avoiding the provocation of scandal (cf Instrumentum laboris 119). This possibility is far from being physicalist and does not reduce marriage to the exercise of sexuality, but recognizing its nature and purpose, is applied coherently in the life of the human person. “In order to deepen in the objective situation of sin and moral culpability, the Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the reception of Eucharistic Communion on the part of divorced and remarried faithful by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Sept. 14, 1994) (should) be taken into consideration as well as the Declaration on the admissibility to Holy Communion of the divorced and remarried by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (June 24, 2000),” (IL 123), as also said in the Post-synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by Benedict XVI. The integration of the divorced and remarried in the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist, as already suggested in Familiaris consortio 84. In the traditional practice of the Latin Church the penitential path could have signified for those who were not ready to change their living conditions, but who tried to communicate the desire for conversion, that confessors could hear their confession, giving them good advice and proposing penitential exercises, in order to direct them to conversion, but without giving them the absolution which was possible only for those who actually intended to change their lives (cf RI 5 in VI; F. A. Febeus, S. I., De regulisiuris canonici Liber unicus, Venetiis 1735, pp. 91-92). True marriages among Christians of different confessions and those celebrated with the dispensation of the impediment from the disparity of worship, between a Catholic and a non-baptized individual, they are valid marriages, but present some pastoral challenges. “Consequently, dealing constructively with differences regarding the faith would necessitate paying particular attention to people who are actually living in these marriages and not simply to couples during the period of preparation before the wedding” (Instrumentum Laboris 127). For what regards the reference to the pastoral practices of the Orthodox Churches, this cannot be properly evaluated using only the conceptual apparatus developed in the West in the second Millennium. It should be kept in mind (that there are) great institutional differences regarding the tribunals of the Church, as well as the special respect for the legislation of the States, which at times can become critical, if the laws of the State are detached from the truth of marriage according to the design of the Creator. On the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulty of certain divorced and civilly remarried, it must be kept in mind that fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be linked to the practical recognition of the goodness of concrete situations that are opposite and therefore irreconcilable. Between true and false, between good and evil, in fact, there is no graduality, even if some forms of cohabitation bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not imply that they can be presented as good. However, that the objective truth of the moral good and the subjective responsibility of single persons stand out. There may be a difference between the disorder, ie. the objective sin, and the concrete sin realized in particular conduct that also implies, but not only, the subjective element. “The imputability and responsibility of an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, duress, violence, fear, habits, inordinate attachments and by other psychological or even social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1735). This means that in objective truth good and evil are not given gradually (gradualness of the law), while at the subjective level the law of graduality can take place, and therefore the education of conscience and in the same sense of responsibility. The human act, in fact, is good when it is in every aspect (ex integra causa). Both in the last synodal assembly and during the preparation of the present general assembly the question of pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies was treated. Even if the problem doesn’t directly affect the reality of the family, situations arise when such behavior influences the life of the family. In every case the Church teaches that “’There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.’ Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity.’ Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4, Instrumentum Laboris 130). It reiterates that every person must be respected in their dignity independently of their sexual orientation. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programs to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves (Instrumentum Laboris 131). Instead, “Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: it is equally unacceptable for international organizations to link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws that establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex” (Instrumentum Laboris 132). III. 4 Family, generativity, education Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of conjugal love. The generation of life, therefore, cannot be reduced to a variable of the plan of the couple or individual. The individualistic vision of procreation can contribute to the sharp fall in the birth rate, weakening the social fabric, undermining the relationship between generations and rendering the future more uncertain (cf Instrumentum Laboris 133). We should therefore continue to make known the documents of the Magisterium of the Church which promote the culture of life in front of the increasingly widespread culture of death. Pastoral activity on behalf of the family should involve more Catholic bio-medical specialists in preparing couples for marriage and in accompanying married people (cf Instrumentum Laboris 134). “Every effort should be made to establish a dialogue with international bodies and policy makers in order to promote respect for human life, from conception to natural death. In this regard, special care needs to be given to families with disabled children” (Instrumentum Laboris 135). III. 5 Generative responsibility For what regards generative responsibility: “…needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human love is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the encyclical Humanae vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births. The adoption of children, orphans and the abandoned and accepting them as one’s own is a specific form of the family apostolate (cf. AA 11), and has oftentimes been called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. FC 41; Evangelium Vitae, 93)" (Instrumentum Laboris 136). It’s necessary to offer guiding paths which nurture conjugal life and the importance of the laity, which provide an accompaniment made with living witness (cf Instrumentum Laboris 139). III. 6 Human Life, an Intangible Mystery “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading” (Evangelii gaudium 53). “In this regard, the task of the family, supported by everyone in society, is to welcome an unborn human life and take care of human life in its final stage” (Instrumentum Laboris 140). Regarding the drama of abortion the Church reaffirms the inviolable character of human life. She offers advice to pregnant women, sustains teen mothers, assists abandoned children and is a companion for those who have suffered abortion and become conscious of their mistake. Equally the Church reaffirms the right to natural death, at the same time avoiding both aggressive treatment and euthanasia (cf Instrumentum Laboris 141). Death, in reality, is not a private and individual fact. The human person is not and should not feel isolated in the moment of suffering and death. In the world today, when families have become small and at times isolated and broken or headed by a single parent, their ability to care for their for their members has diminished, including the elderly, disabled and dying. Besides the great public social systems, often of the state, they (families) have great difficulties working, also due to the aging of society and the advancement of an exclusive market logic that considers social expenditures as factors which diminish competitiveness. In this context the Church is confronting a double challenge. On one part through her institutions and voluntary services seeking to make up for the deficiencies of the state welfare system and on the other hand the inability of families seeking to strengthen the human side of that service, offering more material aid, as well as human and spiritual support. Values which cannot be quantified with money. III. 7 The challenge of education and the role of the family in evangelization A special challenge the family must confront is that of education and evangelization. Parents are and remain the first ones responsible for the human and religious education of their children. All the crisis which threaten or weaken the family, however, impede the development of this task. However, many places “are witnessing a progressive weakening in the role of parents in upbringing, because of an invasive presence of the media in the family as well as the tendency to delegate this task to other entities. This requires that the Church encourage and support families in their vigilant and responsible supervision in a school’s academic and formative programs which affect their children” (Instrumentum Laboris 144). In all this educative activity families can receive essential help from other families, especially from the community of Christian families, who seem to assume ever more certain important tasks of the Church, constituting a form of fundamental apostolate of the laity. In the context institutional crisis, they (laity) represent the community element in a providential way for single families and for the Church. Conclusion Listening to the Word of God, our response must give sincere and fraternal attention to the needs of our contemporaries, in order to transmit to them the liberating truth and being witnesses of the greatest mercy. To face the challenge of the family today the Church must therefore convert and become more alive, more personal, more communitarian even at the parochial and small community levels. A certain reawakening seems to already be taking place in many places. So that this is more general and increasingly deeper, we ask for the light of the Holy Spirit, who indicates to us the concrete steps to make. In this way the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world, which is the theme of the current synod, appears in a serene and concrete light which makes us grow in hope and courage in the mercy of God. That mercy for which Pope Francis wanted to dedicate an extraordinary Jubilee. Let us thank the Holy Father for this choice of hope and entrust our work to the Holy Family of Nazareth.