“We Must Foster a New Human Ecology” – Pope Francis

Pope-Francis

Below you will find the English language translation of the Holy Father’s address in Italian, delivered this morning at the Colloquium on the complementarity of Man and Woman at the Vatican.

Dear sisters and brothers,

I warmly greet you. I thank Cardinal Muller for his words with which he introduced our meeting. I would like to begin by sharing with you a reflection on the title of your colloquium.  You must admit that “complementarity” does not roll lightly off the tongue!  Yet it is a word into which many meanings are compressed. It refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. But complementarity is much more than that. Yet complementarity is more than this.

Christians find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each. (cf. 1 Cor. 12).  To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.

It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.  The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation.  Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is “indispensable”; that it “transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.” (n. 66)  And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.

In these days, as you embark on a reflection on the beauty of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.  I urge you to bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.

Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se.

I pray that your colloquium will be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.

I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.

Archbishop John Dew reflects on being part of the Synod on Marriage and the Family

ArchbishopDew

Archbishop John Dew of New Zealand offers a reflection about his experience in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. See below for full reflection:

As I return from the Synod on Marriage and the Family I’m aware that the gathering, the discussion and the topics have caught the attention of the secular media and Catholic media have followed it closely. I understand that many New Zealanders have followed the discussion with hopefulness and enthusiasm.

Shortly after Pope Francis announced that he would be calling for a Synod on marriage and the family the preparatory document was released with a set of questions relating to the wide range of topics that would fall under this heading for Bishops Conferences from each country to respond to in their submission and to form the working document of the Synod. The New Zealand Bishops chose to make these questions available online to ensure wider consultation that is normally able to be conducted.

It gave people from all walks of life, different vocations and backgrounds the opportunity to anonymously and in their own words share their own insights on these topics which are so important to all of us. More than 2,000 people responded here in New Zealand. Many shared deeply personal experiences, they shared stories of joy, of love and care, of judgement and exclusion and feelings of hope for our Church. We were moved and sincerely grateful for the insights people shared.

The themes that emerged from the responses formed the New Zealand Bishops submission and for me as the New Zealand representative I carried them with me to the Synod gathering in Rome.

In the days before leaving for Rome I was astounded at the emails, letters and messages that were sent to me, offering prayerful support to me and the Synod participants and expressing hope and enthusiasm that this discussion was taking place. This hasn’t happened before previous Synods but because it is about the family and issues people are deeply concerned about it was clear to me how important this was for people.

To open the Synod, Pope Francis called on all of us present to not be afraid to speak boldly and honestly, to listen with open hearts, not to leave things unsaid, to speak with peace and calm and to trust always that the Spirit of God is with us and that it is the Church of Jesus Christ, not ours.

The days began with a time for prayer and reflection and the discussion would begin with a presentation from a married couple who were participants in the Synod. From there, Cardinals and Bishops took turns to give their “interventions”. My own intervention on behalf of the New Zealand Church focussed on the need for Church language to be changed so that it gave people hope and encouragement. To find a language that speaks the truth of the gospel but in a way that doesn’t make them simply sanctions but draws people to God. Terms like intrinsically evil, or irregular situations don’t encourage people to see God present in their lives. We can then propose what we believe the gospel and the Church is calling us to as an invitation and a calling not an imposition.

There was quite a lot of discussion on graduality. At times this was misunderstood, with some bishops thinking that others were speaking about “graduality of doctrine of faith and morals,” while what they were speaking about was that we grow gradually, we go through stages of moral growth. It recognises that none of us are perfect but we’re all on a journey so what are we doing to help (or hinder) others on that journey who are often in very difficult and complex family situations.

The other interventions talked about communion for the divorced and remarried, the impact severe poverty has on families particularly as parents need to go abroad in order to be able to provide for the family which separates them. Many bishops spoke at length about homosexuality. The very fact that this topic was being discussed so openly is a change from previous discussions. They were genuinley trying to find a way to recognise those who live a homosexual lifestyle, but were on no way comparing such a union to Christian marriage.

While there was a sense of hope and excitement and positivity in the Synod Hall and probably by those following the discussions from a distance, this is only the beginning of the process. We’re not sure yet what will happen, this time we’re not asked to vote on propositions and we need to remember that things will not change overnight. However Pope Francis has announced a commission to look at simplifying the annulment process and there may be other areas that will need to be looked at as well in the next year before the Synod reconvenes.

Change in the Church can seem slow at times, but what has been clear is that this discussion is about people’s lives and people are hurting, and if the Church is to be a mother that consoles, encourages, reaches out and supports, it must listen to what is emerging from the discussion.

We can all have hope that questions have been raised and talked about in depth and at length with openness and readiness.

The very last presentation in the Synod Hall, before the closing Mass on the Sunday morning, was Pope Francis speaking. His words were welcomed with a five minute standing ovation and all – almost all, were saying that his words were the highlight of the Synod. I highly recommend people reading his speech at the end of the Synod, it is available online and I know I will be meditating on it for a long time to come.

My experience of the Synod is one of active collegiality. At the closing Mass of the Synod Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI. Fifty years ago Pope Paul VI talked about the need for collegiality in the Church at a time of great hope and change in the Church. And when Pope Francis was elected some of his first words to the world were that the Cardinals had gone to the ends of the earth to elect a bishop of Rome and he is, and during this Synod he has been, a bishop among brothers. Fifty years on we as a Church have got a lot to thank Pope Paul VI.

The text of Pope Francis’ final address to the Synod is available in full here.

You can read the daily blog posts from Archbishop John Dew that were posted throughout the Synod.

Pope’s ecumenism said to come from friendships, bridge-building

Ecumenism.Friendship

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
November 10, 2014

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Four of the daily homilies of Pope Francis over the 19 months of his pontificate in particular help explain the direction he has taken in ecumenism and interreligious efforts, said a priest who has served as a Vatican spokesman during events including the recent extraordinary Synod of Bishops.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, a U.S. priest who also is CEO of Salt and Light Television, Canada’s national Catholic network, said in a Nov. 9 workshop for bishops before their annual fall general assembly that Pope Francis’ daily Mass homilies and his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), give context to his approach.

In Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had a rabbi among his close friends and friendships with evangelicals and Pentecostals, who have participated in events at the Vatican since he became pope.

As pope, he has also reached out to other Christians, Jews and Orthodox in ways that have captivated many non-Catholics, who pore over the details of Francis’ writings and relish activities such as his Holy Thursday visit to an Italian prison to wash the feet of inmates of diverse faiths, said Father Rosica.

He said he mentioned to Pope Francis recently that people the world over are reading “Evangelii Gaudium,” as Father Rosica has discovered from the many invitations he receives to speak on the topic.

“I said to the pope, ‘Do you realize what you’re doing?’ The pope replied, ‘I think so.'”

“Building bridges is the work of ecumenism, of evangelization,” said Father Rosica. “It’s the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and keep others out.

“Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross,” he said, especially the poor, those who have been marginalized and social outcasts.

“In ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Pope Francis invites — and challenges — all of us to move beyond our ‘comfort zones,'” Father Rosica said. “He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.”

There’s nothing new in any of that, said the priest. “It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.”

OrthodoxFriendship

The four homilies Father Rosica cited date from one a month after his election as pope to as recently as Nov. 4.

In the first, he discussed the “courageous attitude of St. Paul in Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel.” The pope said an attitude such as Paul’s that seeks dialogue is “closer to the heart” of the listener and why Paul was a builder of bridges, not of walls.

Last October, Father Rosica said, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though “the key is in their pocket and the door is closed.” He talked about Christians who have the key to the church in their hand but “take it away without opening the door.” People who may wish to enter find themselves on the street in front of a closed church, with excuses and justifications given for why they cannot enter, the pope said.

“Worse still,” said Father Rosica, citing the pope, they keep the door closed, don’t allow anyone to enter and in doing so, keep on the outside themselves. “When this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a pope it is worse,” said Francis.

The situation arises when “the faith passes, so to speak through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people.”

“When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith, he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought.” Father Rosica said the pope went on to say that when faith becomes ideology, it chases away people and distances the church from the people.

Father Rosica also quoted from an October homily this year, in which the pope spoke about unity in diversity. He used the image of a church made of living stones, as opposed to weak bricks.

“Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless; generosity, being open to all, having a big heart,” Father Rosica quoted. “And then he says more: Bearing with one another through love. Bearing with one another through love, having what at heart? Preserving unity. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this temple.”

The fourth key homily, according to Father Rosica, was the pope’s Nov. 4 teaching on the parable of the man who gave a banquet to which he invited many, but some declined.

As Pope Francis noted, Father Rosica said, “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate.”

He said that form of self-interest makes it difficult to listen to the voice of God, “when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear him.”

Pope Francis’ Homily During Synod Opening Mass

Opening-Mass-Homily

On October 5, 2014, Pope Francis presided over the Opening Mass for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Below you will find the full text of his address:

Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the Lord’s vineyard.  The Lord’s vineyard is his “dream”, the plan which he nurtures with all his love, like a farmer who cares for his vineyard.  Vines are plants which need much care!

God’s “dream” is his people.  He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice.

But in both the ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted.  Isaiah says that the vine which he so loved and nurtured has yielded “wild grapes” (5:2,4); God “expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but only a cry of distress” (v. 7).  In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests.

In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers.  To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream”, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nuture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.

But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard.  Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.

The temptation to greed is ever present.  We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Greed for money and power.  And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4)

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard.  Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent…  They are meant to better nuture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.  In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings.  God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants.  We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.

My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7).  In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).

Pope Francis’ Homily during Prayer Vigil for the Family

ope Francis greets crowd as he arrives to lead prayer vigil for extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Square at Vatican Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead an Oct. 4 prayer vigil for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The pope called for "sincere, open and fraternal" debate during the two-week long synod, which opens Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On October 4, 2014, Pope Francis presided over a prayer vigil leading up the the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Below is the full text of his address:

Dear families, good evening!

The evening falls on our assembly.

It is the hour in which one willingly returns home to the same meal, in the thick of affections, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates in the days of man the feast without end.

It is also the most weighty hour for he who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest – and the wisdom – of life. For one another we make our prayer heard.

It is significant how – even in the individualistic culture which distorts and  renders connections fleeting – in each person born of a woman, there remains alive an essential need of stability, of an open door, of someone with whom to weave and to share the story of life, a history to which to belong.

The communion of life assumed by spouses, their openness to the gift of life, the mutual protection, the encounter and the memory of generations, educational support, the transmission of the Christian faith to their children . . . With all this, the family continues to be a school without parallel of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a just and united society. (cfr Esort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 66-68).

And the deeper its roots, the more it is possible in life to leave and to go far, without getting lost or feeling out of place in foreign lands.

This horizon helps us to grasp the importance of the Synodal assembly, which opens tomorrow.

Already, the “convenire in unum” surrounding the Bishop of Rome is an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment.

To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the “scent” of the people today, so as to remain  permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with  credibility.

We know, in fact, as in the Gospel, there is a strength and tenderness capable of defeating that which is created by unhappiness and violence.

Yes, in the Gospel there is salvation which fulfills the most profound needs of man! Of this salvation – work of God’s mercy and grace – as a Church, we are sign and instrument, a living and effective sacrament.

If it were not so, our building would remain only a house of cards, and pastors would be reduced to clerics of state, on whose lips the people would search in vain for the freshness and “smell of the Gospel.” (Ibid., 39).

Thus emerges also the subject of our prayer.

Above all, we ask the Holy Spirit, for the gift of listening for the Synod Fathers: to listen in the manner of God, so that they may hear, with him, the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.

Besides listening, we invoke an openness toward a sincere discussion, open and fraternal, which leads us to carry with pastoral responsibility the questions that this change in epoch brings.

We let it flow back into our hearts, without ever losing peace, but with serene trust which in his own time the Lord will not fail to bring into unity.

Does not Church history perhaps recount many similar situations, which our Fathers knew how to overcome with persistent patience and creativity?

The secret lies in a gaze: and it is the third gift that we implore with our prayer. Because, if we truly intend to walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ – Lumen Gentium – to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face.

If we assume his way of thinking, of living and of relating, we will never tire of translating the Synodal work into guidelines and paths for the pastoral care of the person and of the family.

In fact, every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and un-thought of possibilities open up. This is what the Gospel hints at: “Do whatever he tells you.”

These are the words which contain the spiritual testament of Mary, “the friend who is ever-concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives” (EV 286). Let us make these words ours!

At that point, our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with the gaze of Christ, will become a providential occasion with which to renew – according to the example of Saint Francis – the Church and society.

With the joy of the Gospel we will rediscover the way of a reconciled and merciful Church, poor and friend of the poor; a Church “given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without.” (Lumen Gentium, 8)

May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all of humanity. Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.

Grant us this creative charity which consents to love as Jesus loved. And our message may reclaim the vivacity and enthusiasm of the first missionaries of the Gospel.

Official English Translation of Final Synod Document ‘Relatio Synodi’

Pope Francis attends morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Earlier this afternoon, Vatican released the full, official English language translation of the “Relatio Synodi” of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization” (5-19 October 2014). Read the full text of the document below, dated October 18, 2014, the day the text was approved in Italian.

Introduction

1.   The Synod of Bishops, gathered around the Holy Father, turned its thoughts to all the families of the world, each with its joys, difficulties and hopes. In a special way, the Assembly felt a duty to give thanks to the Lord for the generosity and faithfulness of so many Christian families in responding to their vocation and mission, which they fulfill with joy and faith, even when living as a family requires facing obstacles, misunderstandings and suffering. The entire Church and this Synod express to these families our appreciation, gratitude and encouragement. During the prayer vigil held in St Peter’s Square on 4 October 2014 in preparation for the Synod on the family, Pope Francis evoked, in a simple yet concrete way, the centrality [of the experience] of the family in everyone’s lives: “Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which hastens the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.”

2.   Within the family are joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded. The family is truly the “school of humanity” (Gaudium et Spes, 52), which is much needed today. Despite the many signs of crisis in the family institution in various areas of the “global village”, the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and serves as the basis of the Church’s need to proclaim untiringly and with profound conviction the “Gospel of the Family”,  entrusted to her together with the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and ceaselessly taught by the Fathers, the masters of spirituality and the Church’s Magisterium. The family is uniquely important to the Church and in these times, when all believers are invited to think of others rather than themselves, the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization.

3.   At the Extraordinary General Assembly of October, 2014, the Bishop of Rome called upon the Synod of Bishops to reflect upon the critical and invaluable reality of the family, a reflection which will then be pursued in greater depth at its Ordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in October, 2015, as well as during the full year between the two synodal events. “The convenire in unum around the Bishop of Rome is already an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment.” These were the words used by Pope Francis in describing the synodal experience and indicating the task at hand: to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves.

4.   With these words in mind, we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts: listening, looking at the situation of the family today  in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gazeis fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation,  transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and facing the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.

PART I

Listening: the context and challenges of the family

The Socio-Cultural Context

5.   Faithful to Christ’s teaching, we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows. We turn our thoughts to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, close and distant relatives and the bonds between two families forged by marriage. Anthropological and cultural changes in our times influence all aspects of life and require an analytic and diversified approach. The positive aspects are first to be highlighted, namely, a greater freedom of expression and a better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some parts of the world. On the other hand, equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by a troubling individualism which deforms family bonds and ends up considering each component of the family as an isolated unit, leading, in some cases, to the idea that a person is formed according to one’s own desires, which are considered absolute. Added to this is the crisis of faith, witnessed  among a great many Catholics, which oftentimes underlies the crisis in marriage and the family.

6.   One of the poorest aspects of contemporary culture is loneliness, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships. There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities which oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare or in overwhelming financial difficulties, which discourage the young from marrying. Families often feel abandoned by the disinterest and lack of attention by institutions. The negative impact on the organization of society is clear, as seen in the demographic crisis, in the difficulty of raising children, in a hesitancy to welcome  new life and in considering the presence of older persons as a burden. All these can affect a person’s emotional balance, which can sometimes lead to violence. The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family.

7.   Some cultural and religious contexts pose particular challenges. In some places, polygamy is still being practiced and in places with long traditions, the custom of “marriage in stages”. In other places, “arranged marriages” is an enduring practice.  In countries where Catholicism is the minority, many mixed and interreligious marriages take place, all with their inherent difficulties in terms of jurisprudence, Baptism, the upbringing of children and the mutual respect for each other’s  religious freedom, not to mention the danger of relativism or indifference.  At the same time, such marriages can exhibit great potential in favouring the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in a harmonious living of diverse religions in the same place. Even outside Western societies, many places are witnessing an overall increase in the practice of cohabitation before marriage or simply cohabitating with no intention of a legally binding relationship.

8.   Many children are born outside marriage, in great numbers in some countries, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family. Divorces are increasing, many times taking place solely because of economic reasons. Oftentimes, children are a source of contention between parents and become the real victims of family break-ups. Fathers who are often absent from their families, not simply for economic reasons, need to assume more clearly their responsibility for children and the family. The dignity of women still needs to be defended and promoted. In fact, in many places today, simply being a woman is a source of discrimination and the gift of motherhood is often penalized, rather than  esteemed. Not to be overlooked is the increasing violence against women, where they become victims, unfortunately, often within families and as a result of the serious and widespread practice genital mutilation in some cultures. The sexual exploitation of children is still another scandalous and perverse reality in present-day society. Societies characterized by violence due to war, terrorism or the presence of organized crime are witnessing the deterioration of the family, above all in big cities, where, in their peripheral areas, the so-called phenomenon of “street-children” is on the rise. Furthermore, migration is another sign of the times to be faced and understood in terms of its onerous consequences to family life.

The Importance of Affectivity in Life

9.   Faced with the afore-mentioned social situation, people in  many parts of the world are feeling a great need to take care of themselves, to know themselves better, to live in greater harmony with their feelings and sentiments and to seek to live their affectivity in the best manner possible. These proper aspirations can lead to a desire to put greater effort into building relationships of self-giving and creative reciprocity, which are empowering and supportive like those within a family. In this case, however, individualism and living only for one’s self is a real danger. The challenge for the Church is to assist couples in the maturation and development of their affectivity through fostering dialogue, virtue and trust in the merciful love of God. The full commitment required in marriage can be a strong antidote to the temptation of a selfish individualism.

10.   Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays a person’s affectivity is very fragile; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future.

Pastoral Challenges

11.   In this regard, the Church is conscious of the need to offer a particularly meaningful word of hope, which must be done based on the conviction that the human person comes from God, and that, consequently, any reconsideration of the great question on the meaning of human existence can be responsive to humanity’s most profound expectations. The great values of marriage and the Christian family correspond to the search that characterizes human existence, even in these times of individualism and hedonism. People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life. We need to know how to support them in their searching and to encourage them in their hunger for God and their wish to feel fully part of the Church, also including those who have experienced failure or find themselves in a variety of situations. The Christian message always contains in itself the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth which meet in Christ.

PART II

Looking at Christ: the Gospel of the Family

Looking at Jesus and the Divine Pedagogy in the History of Salvation

12.   In order to “walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ, to pause in contemplation and in adoration of his Face. … Indeed, every time we return to the source of the Christian experience, new paths and undreamed of possibilities open up” (Pope Francis, Discourse, 4 October 2014). Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God.

13.   Since the order of creation is determined by its orientation towards Christ, a distinction needs to be made without separating the various levels through which God communicates to humanity the grace of the covenant. By reason of the divine pedagogy, according to which the order of creation develops through successive stages to the moment of redemption, we need to understand the newness of the Sacrament of Marriage in continuity with natural marriage in its origin, that is, the manner of God’s saving action in both creation and the Christian life. In creation, because all things were made through Christ and for him (cf. Col1:16), Christians “gladly and reverently lay bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden among their fellows; they ought to follow attentively the profound changes which are taking place among peoples” (Ad Gentes, 11). In the Christian life, the reception of Baptism brings the believer into the Church through the domestic church, namely, the family; thus beginning “a dynamic process [which] develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 9), in an ongoing conversion to a love which saves us from sin and gives us fullness of life.

14.   Jesus himself, referring to the original plan of the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman and says 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” Mt19:6), is not to be understood as a “yoke” imposed on persons but as a “gift” to a husband and wife united in marriage. In this way, Jesus shows how God’s humbling act of coming to earth might always accompany the human journey and might heal and transform a hardened heart with his grace, orientating it towards its benefit, by way of the cross. The Gospels make clear that Jesus’ example is paradigmatic for the Church. In fact, Jesus was born in a family; he began to work his signs at the wedding of Cana; and announced the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation which 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.

The Family in God’s Salvific Plan

15.   The words of eternal life, which Jesus gave to his disciples, included the teaching on marriage and the family. Jesus’ teaching allows us to distinguish three basic stages in God’s plan for marriage and the family. In the beginning, there is the original family, when God the Creator instituted the first marriage between Adam and Eve as the solid foundation of the family. God not only created human beings male and female (Gen 1:27), but he also blessed them so they might be fruitful and multiply (Gen1:28). For this reason, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This union was corrupted by sin and became the historical form of marriage among the People of God, for which Moses granted the possibility of issuing a bill of divorce (cf. Dt 24: 1ff.). This was the principal practice in the time of Jesus. With Christ’s coming and  his reconciling a fallen world through his redemption, the period begun by Moses ended.

16.   Jesus, who reconciled all things in himself, restored marriage and the family to their original form (Mk 10:1-12). Marriage and the family have been redeemed by Christ (Eph 5:21-32), restored in the image of the Holy Trinity, the mystery from which every true love flows. The spousal covenant, originating in creation and revealed in the history of salvation, receives its full meaning in Christ and his Church. Through his Church, Christ bestows on marriage and the family the grace necessary to witness to the love of God and to live the life of communion. The Gospel of the Family spans the history of the world from the creation of man in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1: 26-27) until it reaches, at the end of time, its fulfilment in the mystery of the Christ’s Covenant with the wedding of Lamb (cf. Rev 19: 9) (cf. John Paul II, Catechesis on Human Love).

The Family in the Church’s Documents

17.   “Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage and family. One of the highest expressions of this teaching was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which devotes an entire chapter to promoting the dignity of marriage and the family (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 47-52). This document defined marriage as a community of life and love (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48), placing love at the center of the family and manifesting, at the same time, the truth of this love in counter distinction to the various forms of reductionism present in contemporary culture. The ‘true love between husband and wife’ (Gaudium et Spes, 49) implies a mutual gift of self and includes and integrates the sexual and affective aspects, according to the divine plan (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48-49). Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes, 48 emphasizes the grounding of the spouses in Christ. Christ the Lord ‘comes into the lives of married Christians through the Sacrament of Matrimony,’ and remains with them. In the Incarnation, he assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment. Through his Spirit, he enables the bride and groom to live their love and makes that love permeate every part of their lives of faith, hope and charity. In this way, the bride and groom are, so to speak, consecrated and, through his grace, they build up the Body of Christ and are a domestic church (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11), so that the Church, in order fully to understand her mystery, looks to the Christian family, which manifests her in a real way” (Instrumentum Laboris, 4).

18.   “In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a special way, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life. Pope St. John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catechesis on human love, his Letter to Families(Gratissimam Sane) and, especially, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In these documents, the Pope called the family the ‘way of the Church,’ gave an overview on the vocation of man and woman to love and proposed the basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and the presence of the family in society. In specifically treating ‘conjugal love’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 13), he described how the spouses, through their mutual love, receive the gift of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holiness” (Instrumentum Laboris, 5)

19.   “Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, again took up the topic of the truth of the love between man and woman, which is fully understood only in light of the love of Christ Crucified (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 2). The Pope emphasized that ‘marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love’ (Deus Caritas Est, 11). Moreover, in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he emphasizes the importance of love as the principle of life in society (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 44), the place where a person learns to experience the common good” (Instrumentum Laboris, 6).

20.   “Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei, treating the connection between the family and faith, writes: ‘Encountering Christ, letting themselves (young people) be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, 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’ (Lumen Fidei, 53)” (Instrumentum Laboris, 7).

The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Joy of Sharing Life Together

21.   Mutual self-giving in the Sacrament of Marriage is grounded in the grace of Baptism, which establishes in all its recipients a foundational covenant with Christ in the Church. In accepting each other and with Christ’s grace, the engaged couple promises a total self-giving, faithfulness and openness to new life. The married couple recognizes these elements as constitutive in marriage, gifts offered to them by God, which they take seriously in their mutual commitment, in God’s name and in the presence of the Church. Faith facilitates the possibility of assuming the benefits of marriage as commitments which are sustainable through the help of the grace of the Sacrament. God consecrates the love of husband and wife and confirms the indissoluble character of their love, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to new life. Therefore, the Church looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus.

22.   From the same perspective, in keeping with the teaching of the Apostle who said that the whole of creation was planned in Christ and for him (cf. Col 1:16), the Second Vatican Council wished to express appreciation for natural marriage and the valid elements present in other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2) and cultures, despite their limitations and shortcomings (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 55). The presence of the seeds of the Word in these cultures (cf. Ad Gentes, 11) could even be applied, in some ways,  to marriage and the family in so many societies and non-Christian peoples. Valid elements, therefore, exist in some forms outside of Christian marriage  —  based on a stable and true relationship of a man and a woman  —  which, in any case, might be oriented towards Christian marriage. With an eye to the popular wisdom of different peoples and cultures, the Church also recognizes this type of family as the basic, necessary and fruitful unit for humanity’s life together.

The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy Towards Broken and Fragile Families

23.   With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. In fact, they witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of an indissoluble marriage, while always remaining faithful to each other. Within the family, “which could be called a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), a person begins a Church experience of communion among persons, which reflects, through grace, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. “In a family, a person learns endurance, the joy of work, fraternal love, and generosity in forgiving others  —  repeatedly at times  —  and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1657). The Holy Family of Nazareth is a wondrous model in whose school we “understand why we have to maintain spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teachings of the Gospel and become Christ’s disciples” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Address at Nazareth, 5 January 1964). The Gospel of the Family also nourishes the seeds which are still waiting to grow; and serves as the basis for caring for those trees which might have withered and need treatment.

24.   The Church, a sure teacher and caring mother, recognizes that the only marriage bond for those who are baptized is sacramental and any breach of it is against the will of God. At the same time, the Church is conscious of the weakness of many of her children who are struggling in their journey of faith. “Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. […] A small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which outwardly appears in order and passes the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings”(Gaudium Evangelii, 44).

25.   In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of the God’s plan for them. Looking to Christ, whose light illumines every person (cf. Jn 1: 9; Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.

26.   The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they  assumed and to take on another. These lay people, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention which is merciful and encouraging, so they might adequately determine their situation. Young people, who are baptized, should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.

27.   In this regard, a new aspect of family ministry is requiring attention today  —  the reality of civil marriages between a man and woman, traditional marriages and, taking into consideration the differences involved, even cohabitation. When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for  children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Oftentimes, a couple lives together without the possibility of a future marriage and without any intention of a legally binding relationship.

28.   .In accordance with Christ’s mercy, the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and lost love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm. 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. We understand the Lord’s attitude in the same way; he does not condemn the adulterous woman, but asks her to sin no more (Jn 8: 1-11).

Part III

Facing the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives

Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family Today in Various Contexts

29.    Discussion at the synod has allowed for agreement on some of the more urgent pastoral needs to be addressed in the particular Churches, in communion cum Petro et sub Petro. Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family is urgently needed in the work of evangelization. The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4: 15), in faithfulness to the mercy displayed in Christ’s kenosis. Truth became flesh in human weakness, not to condemn it but to save it (cf.Gn 3: 16, 17).

30.    Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to one’s  ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of married people and families,  proclamation, even if done in its proper way, risks being misunderstood or lost in a flurry of words which is characteristic of society today (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50). On various occasions, the synod fathers emphasized that Catholic families, by reason of the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, are called upon to be the active agents in every pastoral activity on behalf of the family.

31.    The primacy of grace needs to be highlighted and, consequently, the possibilities which the Spirit provides in the Sacrament. It is a question of allowing people to experience that the Gospel of the Family is a joy which “fills hearts and lives”, because in Christ we are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). Bearing in mind the Parable of the Sower (cf. Mt 13; 3), our task is to cooperate in the sowing; the rest is God’s work; nor must we forget that, in preaching about the family, the Church is a sign of contradiction.

32.    Consequently, this work calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, not stopping at proclaiming a message which is perceived to be merely theoretical, with no connection to people’s real problems. We must continually bear in mind that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in marriage and the family and, consequently, the transmission of faith itself from parents to children has often been interrupted. If we confront the situation with a strong faith, the imposition of certain cultural perspectives which weaken the family is of no importance.

33.    Conversion also needs to be seen in the language we use, so that it might prove to be effectively meaningful. Proclamation needs to create an experience where the Gospel of the Family responds to the deepest expectations of a person: a response to each’s dignity and complete fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This does not consist in merely presenting a set of rules but in espousing values, which respond to the needs of those who find themselves today, even in the most secularized of countries.

34.    The Word of God is the source of life and spirituality for the family. All pastoral work on behalf of the family must allow people to be interiorly fashioned and formed as members of the domestic church through the Church’s prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. The Word of God is not only good news in a person’s private life, but also a criterion of judgment and a light in discerning the various challenges which married couples and families encounter.

35.    At the same time, many synod fathers insisted on a more positive approach to the richness of various religious experiences, without overlooking the inherent difficulties. In these different religious realities and in the great cultural diversity which characterizes countries, the positive possibilities should be appreciated first and then on this basis evaluate their limitations and deficiencies.

36.    Christian marriage is a vocation which is undertaken with due preparation in a journey of faith  with a proper process of discernment and is not to be considered only a cultural tradition or social or legal requirement. Therefore, formation is needed to accompany the person and couple in such a way that the real-life experience of the entire ecclesial community can be added to the teaching of the contents of the faith.

37.    The synod fathers repeatedly called for a thorough renewal of the Church’s pastoral practice in light of the Gospel of the Family and replacing its current emphasis on individuals. For this reason, the synod fathers repeatedly insisted on renewal in the training of priests and other pastoral workers with a greater involvement of families.

38.    They equally highlighted the fact that evangelization needs to clearly denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic which  prevents authentic family life and leads to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be developed with the social entities and encouragement given to Christian lay people who are involved in the cultural and socio-political fields.

Guiding Engaged Couples in Their Preparation for Marriage

39.   The complex social reality and the changes affecting the family today require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be married. The importance of the virtues needs to be included, among these chastity which is invaluable in the genuine growth of love between persons. In this regard, the synod fathers jointly insisted on the need to involve more extensively the entire community by favouring the witness of families themselves and including preparation for marriage in the course of Christian Initiation as well as emphasizing the connection between marriage and the other sacraments. Likewise, they felt that specific programmes were needed in preparing couples for marriage, programmes which create a true experience of participation in ecclesial life and thoroughly treat the various aspects of family life.

Accompanying the Married Couple in the Initial Years of Marriage

40.   The initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the Sacrament (Familiaris Consortio, Part III). In this regard, experienced couples are of great importance in any pastoral activity. The parish is the ideal place for these experienced couples to be of service to younger couples. Married couples need encouragement in a basic openness to the great gift of children. The importance of a family spirituality and prayer needs emphasis so couples might be encouraged to meet regularly to promote growth in their spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for entire families were mentioned as vital factors in fostering evangelization through the family.

Pastoral Care for Couples Civilly Married or Living Together

41.    While continuing to proclaim and foster Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives which can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. Pastors ought to identify elements which can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.

42.   The synod fathers also noted in many countries an “an increasing number of people live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In some countries, this occurs especially in traditional marriages which are arranged between families and often celebrated in different stages. Other countries are witnessing a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a general attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and income). Finally, in some countries de facto marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values concerning the family and matrimony but primarily because celebrating a marriage is too expensive. As a result, material poverty leads people into de facto unions.

43.   All these situations require a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and a family in conformity with  the Gospel. These couples need to be provided for and guided patiently and discreetly. With this in mind, the witness of authentic Christian families is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelization of the family.

Caring for Broken families (Persons who are Separated, Divorced, Divorced and Remarried and Single-Parent Families)

44.   Married couples with problems in their relationship should be able to count on the assistance and guidance of the Church. The pastoral work of charity and mercy seeks to help persons recover and restore relationships. Experience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, though grace, a great percentage of troubled marriages find a solution in a satisfying manner. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life. Forgiveness between husband and wife permits a couple to  experience a never-ending love which does not pass away (cf. 1 Cor 13:8). At times, this is difficult, but those who have received God’s forgiveness are given the strength to offer a genuine forgiveness which regenerates persons.

45.   The necessity for courageous pastoral choices was particularly evident at the Synod. Strongly reconfirming their faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family and acknowledging that separation and divorce are always wounds which causes deep suffering to the married couple and to their children, the synod fathers felt the urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family, knowing oftentimes that couples are more “enduring” situations of suffering than freely choosing them. These situations vary because of personal, cultural and socio-economic factors. Therefore, solutions need to be considered in a variety of ways, as suggested by Pope St. John Paul II (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84).

46.   All families should, above all, be treated with respect and love and accompanied on their journey as Christ accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In a particular way, the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3: 5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting a closeness and compassion which, at the same time, heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

47.   A special discernment is indispensable for pastorally guiding persons who are separated, divorced or abandoned. Respect needs to be primarily given to the suffering of those who have unjustly endured separation, divorce or abandonment, or those who have been subjected to the maltreatment of a husband or a wife, which interrupts their life together. To forgive such an injustice is not easy, but grace makes this journey possible. Pastoral activity, then, needs to be geared towards reconciliation or mediation of differences, which might even take place in specialized “listening centres” established in dioceses. At the same time, the synod fathers emphasized the necessity of addressing, in a faithful and constructive fashion, the consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the situation. Children must not become an “object” of contention. Instead, every suitable means ought to be sought to ensure that they can overcome the trauma of a family break-up and grow as serenely as possible. In each case, the Church is always to point out the injustice which very often is associated with divorce. Special attention is to be given in the guidance of single-parent families. Women in this situation ought to receive special assistance so they can bear the responsibility of providing a home and raising their children.

48.   A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident. Some synod fathers, however, were opposed to this proposal, because they felt that it would not guarantee a reliable judgment. In all these cases, the synod fathers emphasized the primary character of ascertaining the truth about the validity of the marriage bond. Among other proposals, the role which faith plays in persons who marry could possibly be examined in ascertaining the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage, all the while maintaining that the marriage of two baptized Christians is always a sacrament.

49.   In streamlining the procedure of marriage cases, many synod fathers requested the preparation of a sufficient number of persons  —  clerics and lay people  —  entirely dedicated to this work, which will require the increased responsibility of the diocesan bishop, who could designate in his diocese specially trained counselors who would be able to offer free advice to the concerned parties on the validity of their marriage. This work could be done in an office or by qualified persons (cf. Dignitas Connubii, art. 113, 1).

50.   Divorced people who have not remarried, who oftentimes bear witness to their promise of faithfulness in marriage, ought to be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life. The local community and pastors ought to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when children are involved or when in serious financial difficulty.

51.   Likewise, those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect. Language or behavior which might make them feel an object of discrimination should be avoided, all the while encouraging them to participate in the life of the community. The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but, precisely in this way, the community is seen to express its charity.

52.   The synod father also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried  access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Some synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present regulations, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as the teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others expressed a more individualized  approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).

53.   Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access “sacramentally”. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter might point out the specifics of the two forms and their association with the theology of marriage.

54.   The problems relative to mixed marriages were frequently raised in the interventions of the synod fathers. The differences in the matrimonial regulations of the Orthodox Churches creates serious problems in some cases, which require due consideration in the work of ecumenism. Analogously, the contribution of the dialogue with other religions would be important for interreligious marriages.

Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies

55.   Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church’s teaching: “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(.

56.    Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: this is equally so for international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws which establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

The Transmission of Life and the Challenges of a Declining Birthrate

57.   Today, the diffusion of a mentality which reduces the generation of human life to accommodate an individual’s or couple’s plans is easily observable. Sometimes, economic factors are burdensome, contributing to a sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, thus compromising relations between generations and rendering a future outlook uncertain. Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. In this regard, the Church supports families who accept, raise and affectionately embrace children with various disabilities.

58.   Pastoral work in this area needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human life 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. Apostolicam Actuositatem, III, 11), and oftentimes called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. Familiaris Consortio, III, II; Evangelium Vitae, IV, 93). The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility. Such a choice is a powerful sign of family love, an occasion to witness to one’s faith and to restore the dignity of a son or daughter to a person who has been deprived of this dignity.

59.   Affectivity needs assistance, also in marriage, as a path to maturity in the ever-deepening  acceptance of the other and an ever-fuller gift of self. This necessitates offering programmes of formation which nourish married life and the importance of the laity providing an accompaniment, which consists in a life of witness. Undoubtedly, the example of a faithful and deep love is of great assistance; a love shown in tenderness and respect; a love which is capable of growing over time; and a love which, in the very act of opening itself to the generation of life, creates a transcendent mystical experience.

Upbringing and the Role of the Family in Evangelization

60.   One of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising children, made all the more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality and the great influence of the media. Consideration, then, needs to be given to the needs and expectations of families, who are able to bear witness, in their daily lives, to the family as a place of growth in the concrete and essential transmission of the virtues which give form to our existence. Parents, then, are able freely to choose the type of education for their children, according to their convictions.

61.   In this regard, the Church can assume a valuable role in supporting families, starting with Christian Initiation, by being welcoming communities. More than ever, these communities today are to offer support to parents, in complex situations and everyday life, in their work of raising their children, accompanying children, adolescents and young people in their development through personalized pastoral programmes, capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging them in their choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel. Mary, in her tenderness, mercy and maternal sensitivity can nourish the hunger of humanity and life itself. Therefore, families and the Christian people should seek her intercession. Pastoral work and Marian devotion are an appropriate starting point for proclaiming the Gospel of the Family.

Conclusion

62.   These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World. These are not decisions taken nor are they easy subjects. Nevertheless, in the collegial journey of the bishops and with the involvement of all God’s people, the Holy Spirit  will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all. This has been the wish of Pope Francis from the beginning of our work, when he invited us to be courageous in faith and to humbly and honestly embrace the truth in charity.

 

– Photo Credit: CNS (Pope Francis attends morning session on final day of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican)

Pope Francis’ Opening Address of 2014 Synod of Bishops

Francis

Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ opening address of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops:

Your Eminences, Your Beatitudes, Your Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

I give you my warm welcome to this meeting and I thank you from my heart for your caring and qualified presence and assistance.

On your behalf, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the people who have worked with dedication, with patience and with competence, for many months, reading, evaluating, and elaborating the themes, texts and studies for this Extraordinary General Assembly. Allow me to address a special and warm ‘thank you’ to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, to Bishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary, and with them to all the Relators, writers, consultants, translators and to the entire staff of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

They have worked tirelessly, and continue to work, for the successful outcome of this Synod: Thank you so very much and may the Lord repay you!

I likewise thank the Post-Synodal Council, the Relator and the Special Secretary; the Bishops’ Conferences, which have worked very hard and with them, I thank the three President Delegates.

I thank also you, dear Cardinals, Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay men and women for your presence and for your participation which enriches this work and to collegiality and synodality spirit for the good of the Church and of the family! I also wanted this spirit of synodality in the election of the Relator, the Special Secretary and the President Delegates. The first two were elected directly by the Post-Synodal Council, by participants who attended the last Synod. However, given that the President Delegates must be chosen by the Pope, I asked that Post-Synodal Council to propose a few names, and I have appointed those proposed to me.

You bring the voice of the Particular Churches, assembled at the level of local Churches through the Bishops’ Conferences. The Universal Church and the Particular Churches are divine institutions; the local Churches are thus understood as human institutions. You will give voice in synodality . It is a great responsibility: to bring the realities and problems of the Churches, in order to help them to walk on that path that is the Gospel of the family.

One general and basic condition is this: speaking honestly. Let no one say: “I cannot say this, they will think this or this of me…”. It is necessary to say with parrhesia all that one feels. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which the family was discussed, a Cardinal wrote to me, saying: what a shame that several Cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, perhaps believing that the Pope might think something else. This is not good, this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome, with an open heart, what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two approaches.

For this reason I ask of you, please, to employ these approaches as brothers in the Lord: speaking with parrhesia and listening with humility.

And do so with great tranquility and peace, so that the Synod may always unfold cum Petro et sub Petro, and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all and a safeguard of the faith.

Dear brothers, let us all collaborate so that the dynamic of synodality shine forth.

Thank you.

 

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri Address to British Parliamentarians on 2014 Synod

Cardinal-Baldisseri

Photo Credit: CNS

This morning at the Vatican, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops, addressed the British Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Nigel Baker, and a group of British Parliamentarians on the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. The full text of his English language address is found below. It is a good summary of the recent Preparatory Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Mr. Ambassador,

Distinguished Members of the British Parliament,

Dear Friends,

It is an honor and privilege for me to address you today on the theme of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization that we just concluded in the Vatican one week ago. I am very grateful for your kind invitation.

First allow me to offer you some background on the meaning of “synod.” The very word “synod” comes from a Greek word formed by combining roots meaning “together” and “going” or “way;” literally, journeying forward on the way together. The word “Synod” has been used over the centuries to refer to an assembly of bishops, as in the Oriental Church, at which Church leaders would elect the patriarch and establish church law.

In September 1965 at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI, the Council’s helmsman, desired to build upon the tremendous fraternal spirit that reigned during the Council’s sessions and to strengthen the bonds that united the Bishop of Rome with the bishops of the world. He created the Synod of Bishops to give the world’s bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative.

Since Blessed Paul VI established the format in 1965, the global gatherings have certainly not produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.

No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. Pope Francis mentioned this in an interview last year. He said, “Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality” (Civiltà Cattolica, Sept. 19, 2013).

Within months of his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis appointed me as the new General Secretary to head the Vatican’s Synod office. The Synod of Bishops is a body outside the Curia itself, accountable to the Pope but also to the bishops. The Holy Father’s desire was clear: he wished to give new life to this important body and allow it to become once again a sounding board, a place for authentic dialogue, debate and fraternal sharing – all for the good of the Church. Pope Francis wished to reform the synodal structure so that it could better discuss and consult on major questions facing the Church, just as it did in the early centuries of Christianity.

The most recent Synod, from October 5-19, did not come in the normal sequence of every four years. It was an Extraordinary Synod bringing together the presidents of national bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic churches and members of the Roman Curia. Although the number of participants in the extraordinary synod was smaller, it also included twenty-six voting members named by the Pope, three priests chosen by the Union of Superiors General, sixteen expert advisers, eight representatives of other Christian communities and thirty-six observers, more than half comprised of married couples who addressed our assembly.

The “Ordinary” Synod of Bishops, which will include a larger assembly of Church leaders, will meet at the Vatican from October 4-25, 2015, to continue the discussion on pastoral approaches to the challenges facing families today. The most recent Extraordinary Synod prepared the agenda for discussion for that Ordinary Synod which will have as its theme: The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.

Many of you undoubtedly followed the recent Extraordinary Synod in the mainstream media, and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. This morning I would like to share with you what this experience was for us – a journeying together – and how the results of this Extraordinary Synod have an impact not only on the Church but on the world.

I wish to stress one of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods – the rediscovery of the synodal process. A very important aspect of the Church’s life is based on our understanding that the Spirit of the Risen Christ is given to all the baptized. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Last fall, in preparation for the recent Synod, Pope Francis had the Synod office send out a questionnaire to the whole Church, raising very important topics that included the problems facing the family today: the extensive practice of divorce, cohabitation, contraception, procedures of artificial procreation, same-sex unions and polygamy (cf. Instrumentum Laboris, n. 27). We received responses to the consultation from 101 bishops’ conferences (an almost 89% response rate) and nine-hundred and eighty-three Catholic organizations and individuals. Though the timing of the questionnaire was somewhat problematic given the short turnaround for responses, the process nevertheless ensured that the Synod did not begin with abstractions and hypotheses but from a real, direct knowledge of the many challenges sweeping across the globe.

Some responses questioned the Church’s teaching or encouraged greater understanding of people who cannot always live up to that teaching. I stressed on several occasions over the past year that we must recognize that the faithful perceive the truth about the Gospel and its values and their input cannot be ignored. But the bishops have the responsibility and authority to discern ways to apply the constant teaching of the Church,

Synodal Members who took part in the recent Extraordinary Synod described an honest and prayerful attempt to discern answers to complex pastoral challenges across many cultures and ways of thinking. They said the discussions allowed for a genuinely dynamic synod, and that its overall purpose was achieved: to find ways of preaching the Gospel of the family in contemporary society and to find pastoral solutions for families facing difficult situations. The Synod’s purpose was to highlight the Church’s teaching on the family, which always reveals the missionary and pastoral dimension of that teaching, and the Church as merciful, healing, loving and welcoming.

During the first week of the Synod, instead of reading their presentations, the bishops had three or four minutes to summarize their texts – focusing only on one theme – and included ideas or clarifications that had come from listening to their brother bishops.

The second week of the synod was taken up mainly by work in small groups, organized according to language, that treated every theme that had been raised during the prior week. Instead of brainstorming propositions for the Pope, the small groups worked, theme by theme, on amending the summary report, which will be used as the working document for the 2015 Synod.

The recent Synod ended with a ‘Synod Report’, each paragraph of which Synod Members were able to vote for or against. The votes, which were published with the final text, indicated where there was or was not a two-thirds majority. This Report or “Relatio” now forms the starting point for the next Synod on the family, to take place in a year’s time.

We spoke together about the beauty, dignity and sacredness of marriage – as a vital institution for the Church and for the world. We recalled the words of St. John Paul II, that “the future of humanity passes through the family.” The pastoral mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel of the family clearly and with humility, accompanying people in difficult or exceptional situations. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the “Relatio” or Synod Report.

Pope Francis spoke about his duty to guarantee the unity of the Church and to remind the faithful to follow the Gospel of Christ. He also stressed that pastors must see it as their duty to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, not only welcoming the lost sheep with fatherly care, but also going out and finding them.

It was hardly surprising that there was such a huge media interest in the recent Synod, unlike many previous Synods. Our Synodal experience together in Rome focused on important issues pertaining to marriage, family, and sexual morality – including those that are controversial both within and outside the Church. For this reason, it generated increased interest in certain areas of Church teaching. The themes we addressed touched on the reality facing the majority of Catholics in their every day life.

The Synod was an attempt to “lend an ear to the rhythm of our time,” as Pope Francis put it. Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations.

The recovery of the Gospel of the family is key to a more missionary Church that can walk with contemporary people, binding their wounds and guiding them into the spiritual life. The Church is called to live in the harmony of mercy and justice, the pastoral and doctrinal, working out how to be both compassionate mother and clear teacher.

His Eminence, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, participated as a Member of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and recently published a very timely Pastoral Letter to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Westminster, which sums up beautifully the experience of the Synod. He wrote that it was an opportunity to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church. Allow me to quote from that Letter: “This Synod … was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life … At the end of our meeting Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber” (Pastoral Letter on the Synod on the Family, October 26, 2014).

I would like to conclude with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015. The Holy Father said, “I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of ‘Synod,’ a path of solidarity, a ‘journey together.’ And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say ‘enough’; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour (…). A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations (…). This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy(…). It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.”

Thank you very much for your attention and interest. Let us continue our journey together.

 

+Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri

Secretary General, Synod of Bishops

Vatican City

Francis during Paul VI Beatification: Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness

FrancisHomily

Below you will find the full text of Pope Francis’ homily during the closing mass of the Synod and the beatification of Pope Paul VI.

We have just heard one of the most famous phrases in the entire Gospel: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21).

Goaded by the Pharisees who wanted, as it were, to give him an exam in religion and catch him in error, Jesus gives this ironic and brilliant reply. It is a striking phrase which the Lord has bequeathed to all those who experience qualms of conscience, particularly when their comfort, their wealth, their prestige, their power and their reputation are in question. This happens all the time; it always has.

Certainly Jesus puts the stress on the second part of the phrase: “and [render] to God the things that are God’s”. This calls for acknowledging and professing ‘in the face of any sort of power’ that God alone is the Lord of mankind, that there is no other. This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear which we often feel at God’s surprises.

God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness!”

“Rendering to God the things that are God’s” means being docile to his will, devoting our lives to him and working for his kingdom of mercy, love and peace.

Here is where our true strength is found; here is the leaven which makes it grow and the salt which gives flavour to all our efforts to combat the prevalent pessimism which the world proposes to us. Here too is where our hope is found, for when we put our hope in God we are neither fleeing from reality nor seeking an alibi: instead, we are striving to render to God what is God’s. That is why we Christians look to the future, God’s future. It is so that we can live this life to the fullest ‘with our feet firmly planted on the ground’ and respond courageously to whatever new challenges come our way.

In these days, during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops, we have seen how true this is. “Synod” means “journeying together.” And indeed pastors and lay people from every part of the world have come to Rome, bringing the voice of their particular Churches in order to help today’s families walk the path the Gospel with their gaze fixed on Jesus. It has been a great experience, in which we have lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and renews the Church. For the Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope.

For the gift of this Synod and for the constructive spirit which everyone has shown, in union with the Apostle Paul “we give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Th 1:2). May the Holy Spirit, who during these busy days has enabled us to work generously, in true freedom and humble creativity, continue to guide the journey which, in the Churches throughout the world, is bringing us to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015. We have sown and we continued to sow, patiently and perseveringly, in the certainty that it is the Lord who gives growth to what we have sown (cf. 1 Cor 3:6).

On this day of the Beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops: “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society” (Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo).

When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!

In his personal journal, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom ‘and at times alone’ to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.

Paul VI truly “rendered to God what is God’s” by devoting his whole life to the “sacred, solemn and grave task of continuing in history and extending on earth the mission of Christ” (Homily for the Rite of Coronation: Insegnamenti I, 1963, p. 26), loving the Church and leading her so that she might be “a loving mother of the whole human family and at the same time the minister of its salvation” (Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Prologue).

Photo Credit: CNS

Pope Francis’ Closing Remarks at Synod of Bishops

FrancisClosingRemarks

At the end of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, Pope Francis addressed the Synod Fathers and everyone involved with the Synod. Below is the full text of the Holy Father’s remarks.

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.

From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!

I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

– The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro(with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of  their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

This text was originally published on Vatican Radio.