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Inside the Synod 2015: A Review


The 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World focused largely on the family, language and church teaching. Join Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB and Italian Producer Matteo Ciofi as they delve deep into these issues in a special Italian-language episode of Inside the Synod. Episode premieres Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 4 pm ET.


6 things to consider ahead of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family

Synod Report Blog Photo

Among the many topics discussed in our recent 2015 Year in Review program was the highly anticipated and much debated Synod of Bishops part two, on the vocation and mission of the family today.

It was easily the biggest news story in the Catholic world last year, and could very well carry over into 2016. That’s because we’re still awaiting the definitive conclusion to the Synods on family life in the form of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation.

Since the 1960’s, an apostolic exhortation has been the traditional form of teaching that concludes a Synod of Bishops; a teaching document written by the Pope alone but factoring in the deliberations and propositions of the Synod Fathers. There’s no scheduled date for the release of Pope Francis’ exhortation on the family, but it is expected to drop sometime before the end of the Year of Mercy (November 20, 2016).

In the meantime it’s a good idea to read, study and discuss the Final Report from the 2015 Synod of Bishops, recently translated into English. This is the result of the more than two-year reflection that took place in the universal Church and among the Bishops gathered in Synod during October 2014 and 2015.

About a third of the 265 bishops who voted on this Final Report were also present at the Synod in October 2014. In that sense there was a great deal of continuity between the Synods. To get a sense of the content and tone of the Synods, this Final Report is key. Here are 6 things to consider as we await Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family:

  1. This will be Pope Francis’ second exhortation.  This doesn’t seem that important until we recall how revolutionary his first exhortation was. Evangelii Gaudium dropped in November of 2013, less than a year after his election. It was supposed to be an exhortation based on the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization under Pope Benedict. Then Cardinal Bergoglio wasn’t present at that Synod.  So instead of using the draft text that was prepared for him when he became Pope, Francis simply wrote his own document on evangelization. The document is unlike any papal teaching we’ve seen. It’s full of practical ideas that are easily understood by everyone. It also contains some profound challenges for the Church like this programmatic line from paragraph 49: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” If the new exhortation on the family is anything like Evangelii Gaudium, we’re in for another rollercoaster ride.
  2. This will be the second exhortation on the theme of the family. There have only been fourteen general Synods since their inception back in the 60’s. So it might be surprising to learn that two have dealt with the same topic: the family. The first took place under Pope John Paul II in 1980 from which came the influential document Familiaris Consortio. Now Saint John Paul II is widely regarded as “the Pope of the family” because of the frequency and depth of his teaching on the subject. Many in the Church still consider this body of teaching to be relevant, so the question can be asked, why was it necessary to have another Synod on the family? Along with the Final Report from the 2015 Synod, a reading or re-reading of Familiaris Consortio is vital for anyone interested in seeing where and how Francis might develop the teachings of JPII.

  3. An exhortation is official Catholic teaching. Considering what was just said in #2, it’s important to remember that all exhortations are “official” Catholic teaching. It wouldn’t make sense to say that Francis’ exhortation will diminish or discredit John Paul’s. History has shown that Popes will build on previous papal teachings rather than nullify them. Certainly there will be differences in tone, style and content between Francis’ and JPII’s exhortations, but don’t expect a complete whitewash. At the same time, we have to remember that Francis is the Pope, Peter, the Vicar of Christ, and whatever he says about family life at this moment in history is highly consequential for every Catholic.

  4. There is a clear shift in tone and approach. As with everything Francis, we witnessed at the 2014 and 2015 Synods a clear shift in tone and approach to important theological and pastoral issues. One example is the kind of language used to describe complex situations people find themselves in today and the Church’s pastoral attitude in response. In paragraph 70 the Synod Fathers wrote that in complex situations, “Pastoral ministry on behalf of the family clearly proposes the Gospel message and gathers the positive elements present in those situations, which do not yet or no longer correspond to this message.” Throughout this Final Report we find this type of pastoral approach: to begin the conversation by pointing out what’s good in people’s lives as opposed to where they fail to live up to the Christian ideal. Look for nothing less in Francis’ exhortation.

  5. The Final Report says a lot in what it doesn’t say. Navigating the 2014 and 2015 Synods can be difficult. It’s not always clear where developments happened. I often say that if a Catholic who didn’t follow the Synod picked up the Final Report out-of-the-blue and read it, he or she would conclude that nothing has changed. The Catholic Church doesn’t change drastically overnight—even under Pope Francis—rather many of the important developments in our understanding of teaching and practice happen subtly. Perhaps the best example of subtle development in the Final Report concerns the highly contentious issue of the reception of Communion by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. From the time of Familiaris Consortio the Church has articulated very clearly and directly its position of not admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. The issue reignited at the 2014 and 2015 Synods. Some Bishops advocated for re-examining the Church’s position in some cases, others defended the established teaching unequivocally. Interestingly, the Final Report did not mention at all the reception of the Sacraments by divorced and remarried Catholics. It simply did not make a definitive statement one way or the other. But considering the Church’s aforementioned categorical denial of the possibility of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, the fact that the Synod Fathers did not reaffirm this established position is highly significant. So generally speaking, in order to understand what’s happening we must read between the lines and see that something consequential can be said by not saying anything. In any case, it’s up to Francis as the Pope to make an authoritative decision.

  6. There’s much more in the Final Report than the issue of the reception of the sacraments by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Considering what was just said in #5, it’s important to remember that the Synods were about much more than the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The Final Report consists of 94 paragraphs that address countless challenges facing families today. They also express much hope and faith in families and promote a spirit of encouragement and accompaniment among the pastors of the Church. One of the great developments of the 2014 and 2015 Synods often overlooked was the call for a new kind of language that reaches people today. The mission of evangelization is still at the heart of the Catholic Church, and what permeates the Final Report is that positive and hopeful spirit that we’ve come to know and love in the Church under Pope Francis.  We should remember that before getting bogged down in any one particular issue.



On Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice for dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and host at Salt+Light TV.

SideNote Catholic Podcast: Pope Francis


Before some of the students of University of Prince Edward Island gathered to discuss the Synod on the Family, Daniel Brown of the SideNote Catholic Podcast sat down with Sebastian Gomes and Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt + Light Media to discuss Pope Francis’ amazing impact on both the Catholic and the secular world.

Listen to full podcast here:


From Synod to Synod Airs on S+L

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On October 2, 2014, Pope Francis said, “A synod means walking together and also praying together.” Three months ago, the Church was given a gift in the form of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. We are very thankful that S+L could be a part of the historical moment in Church. Last year, Fr. Thomas Rosica led a S+L TV production team in Rome to cover the Synod in English, French and Chinese at the Vatican. It was a fruitful experience and a huge blessing for us all.

On January 26, 2015, we experienced yet another fruitful moment. We hosted a special presentation on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family at St. Michael’s College School. The presentation was led by Fr. Thomas Rosica with three of our producers, Sebastian Gomes (who covered the Synod in English), Charles Le Bourgeois (who did the French coverage) and Rodney Leung (who led our Chinese coverage). The evening was a beautiful time to share our Synod experience with our board members and general public.

The evening kicked off with the premiere of a short S+L video production on the Synod, titled “This is the Synod of Bishops – 2014 Synod Recap.” Check it out below!

After the video premiere, Fr. Rosica gave a short summary of the evening to come and introduced our producers! Each producer then gave a short presentation ranging from 6-15 minutes on their own experience at the Synod. It was quite interesting to hear about all the stuff that happened INSIDE the Synod, stuff that wasn’t usually reported on by the media. And since our three reporters each reported in their own language, we lived three different experiences!

Following the short presentations came the Q&A period of the night. The audience members asked excellent questions on euthanasia and homosexual unions, just to name a few. The whole evening was a huge success! Afterwards, we received many positives remarks and compliments on all the great work our producers did.

(Check out a few photos of the evening at the end of the post!)

The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was just a preparatory stage for the Synod that is come in October 2015. There is still a long way to go for the Church and for the faithful.

Let us all learn not to judge, but to love and to pray with people and for all people.

Let us also keep Pope Francis, all the cardinals and bishops in our prayers. May the Holy Spirit be with them always and guide them in the upcoming Synod this October.

Lastly, thank you for your prayers and your generous support for us! We will broadcast this special program – “From Synod to Synod” soon. We would love to share this special moment with all of you and your family.

God Bless!

Holy Family of Nazareth, pray for us!


AudienceReception1 Reception NoelTony Emilie BillyTable

Check out our Facebook page for more photos!

From Synod to Synod airs Thursday, February 19, 2015.


Now or never: urgency needed in run-up to Synod 2015


When in October 2013 the Vatican announced the first ever two-stage Synod of Bishops, many in the Catholic Church were hopeful about the possibilities of an in-depth discussion and consultation. After all, a year in between the two Synods is a lot of time, right?

Not necessarily. The Vatican didn’t publish the Lineamenta—a discussion guideline consisting of the final document of the October Synod and a series of questions looking at particular family issues—until over one month after the Synod, on December 9th, 2014. At that time, the Vatican also requested that responses from the Bishops’ conferences on behalf of the local churches be submitted to Rome no later than April 15th.

In Toronto, where Salt and Light is headquartered, Cardinal-Archbishop Thomas Collins invited “a concise response” to the Lineamenta from concerned Catholics with a submission deadline of February 16th. Time is needed, obviously, to organize the responses and send them to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) where the Conference will then need time to organize the responses from around the country.

Though the Archdiocese of Toronto is unique in terms of its size and complexity, we can assume that other dioceses find themselves in the same boat. Suffice it to say, the preparing of the Lineamenta, its wide dissemination and the three-tier organization of material from the local level up to the Vatican quickly turn “one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment,” into only a few weeks of actual discussion and consultation of Catholics in the local churches.

In a sense, no one can be blamed for this. The genuine desire of Pope Francis for real consultation involving the whole Church has been deflated by the reality of a complex bureaucratic system that is characteristic of any global institution. But perhaps a greater focus could be on the discussion and consultation rather than the organization of the material.

There are other challenges, including creating for people a “protected space so that the Holy Spirit may speak,” as the Pope likes to say about the Synods. In other words, conducting an effective and in-depth discussion/reflection even at the parish level is no walk in the park—many parishes have never done that. Considering these limitations, it would be easier to do nothing. But that cannot be the response of Catholics at an historic moment like this. In his landmark document on evangelization today, Pope Francis wrote:

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 33)

There are two key points to be made here: first, the emphasis on thinking outside of the box. It’s clear; an attitude towards the Synod and this consultation of the People of God which reflects the status quo at the parish or diocesan level is not acceptable. Second, the link between this consultation and evangelization. The Pope is speaking about “pastoral ministry in a missionary key,” which we may not naturally attribute to a Synod consultation. But a process like this is as much about evangelizing ourselves—changing the way we think about being church—as it is about sharing our experiences of family life today.

All of this to speak a word of encouragement to Catholics participating in—or thinking of starting—a conversation around the Synod document at their parish, school or other community. The challenges are many and the timeline is short, but this is also a learning process for every community; “synod” literally means “journeying together.” “Even a bad shot is dignified when one accepts a duel,” as Chesterton wrote. Rest assured, if you consider the direction in which the Church is going, it won’t be the last consultation.  When the reality suggests we’re nowhere close to perfecting the process, practice is exactly what is needed.  Even if deadlines are missed.

The Pope has said clearly that there are only three authoritative documents to consider during this church-wide consultation: The Lineamenta, the Message to the People of God and the Pope’s final address to the Synod Fathers on October 18th. For those who wish to go a bit deeper, S+L provides you with a complete list of related documents on the Synod of Bishops on the Family:

Important texts for discussion/reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family


1) Lineamenta (Dec. 2014)

2) Message to the People of God (Oct. 2014)

3) Pope Francis’ final address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)


4) Pope Francis’ homily during the concluding Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

5) Midterm report (Oct. 2014)

6) Pope Francis’ opening address to the Synod (Oct. 2014)

7) Pope Francis’ homily during the opening Mass of the Synod (Oct. 2014)

8) Pope Francis’ homily during the prayer vigil for the Synod (Oct. 2014)

9) Instrumentum Laboris for the Extraordinary Synod (June 2014)

10) Cardinal Kasper addresses consistory (Feb. 2014)

11) Pope Francis’ letter to families (Feb. 2014)

A Personal Experience of a Synod Father


Corriveau John 1By Most Reverend John Corriveau, OFM Cap.
Bishop of Nelson, British Columbia

Between 1994 and 2012, I was privileged to participate in five Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. These five Synods touched a variety of challenges in the Church: Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and the World (1994), Special Assembly for America (1997), Special Assembly for Oceania (1998), The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church (2005), and The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith (2012).

Synods were inaugurated by Pope Paul VI to give continuing expression to the collegial nature of the leadership and governance of the Church. This was certainly my experience. At four of these five Synods I was not yet a Bishop and I was inevitably perched high up in the corner of the Synod Hall where I could survey in the delegates the very face of humanity gathered from every corner of the earth. It was a graced moment for me to experience in this diversity the palpable unity and the vibrancy spoken of in Acts of the Apostles: “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Pope Paul VI also saw the Synod as a privileged instrument to continue the reforming spirit of Vatican Council II. Vatican II initiated the most profound reconsideration of the identity of Church since the Council of Trent: “The universal Church is seen to be a people brought into unity from the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (LG, 4). The theology of communion was a strong thread which wove through all of the Synods. The Synods began to enunciate for me the Trinitarian source of the communion of the Church emphasizing that communion is not simply the sociological result of faith, but a constitutive element of faith itself. To be Church is to be drawn into the dynamic, creative relationship of the love of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.


There is a two-fold newness to the Synod on the Family convoked by Pope Francis, namely, its strong pastoral emphasis and its methodology. Church teaching on marriage and the family is already well-established and we do not need another Synod to describe it. Pope Francis has challenged the Church to bring this teaching to bear upon the concrete situation of families in our world today. Pope Francis has also broken new ground by involving the entire Church in this Synod experience. The Family Questionnaire which is being discussed throughout the world, including Canada, utilizes a see – judge – act model of enquiry. We are asked to enunciate the actual situation of family life in Canada today, to judge this reality in the light of the gospel of joy and mercy and to propose directives for the future. As the Church gathered in small groups, we give expression to the faith-experience of all Catholics as we chart our way toward the future.

The convocation of the Synod of Bishops to address The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World has provoked both hope and concern within the Church and intense interest in our wider society. My experiences cause hope to trump concern and fear in my heart! Why? Not because I am unaware of the intense challenges facing the family in our highly secularized society, nor because I take lightly the task of safeguarding the sanctity of Christian marriage, nor I hope, am I unmoved by the pain experienced by those who have experienced marriage-breakdown. Hope trumps concern because the Synod is first and foremost an experience of the unifying power of the Holy Spirit. The Bishops gathered in Synod are very conscious that they gather as the successors of the Apostles and are charged with safeguarding the faith which has been handed down to us and to continually discover its richness and relevance for the people of God in every age and place. The Bishops bear a special responsibility for the unity of the Church.  Through this Synod the family is being summoned to an encounter with Jesus alive in his gospel of mercy and hope and in the Eucharistic community gathered to celebrate his passion, death and resurrection. Pope Francis tells us the result of such an encounter: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG,1).


From Synod to Synod: Special Invitation


The recent extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” will be remembered as a milestone in the history of the Church. At this world gathering of Catholic Church leaders Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together and reflect on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.

Salt and Light Catholic Television Network played a lead role in documenting this synod on a daily basis. Our own CEO, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, served as the English language Vatican spokesperson for the Synod. Three of our young producers, Sebastian Gomes, Charles LeBourgeois and Rodney Leung were inside the Synod and did the daily interviews and video summaries for television networks around the world.

Pope Francis has asked dioceses around the world to share the story of the Synod and carefully study the final document of this Extraordinary Synod, which now serves as the working document for the major Synod on the Family that will take place between October 4-25, 2015 .

I would like to invite you to a special event on the Synod, on Monday, January 26, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the theater of St. Michael’s College School, 1515 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario. Parking is available behind the school.

As chair of Salt and Light Catholic Television Network and on behalf of our Board of Directors, we are honored to offer presentations by Fr. Thomas Rosica and producer Sebastian Gomes to share with us the findings of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, present the working document for next year’s Synod and consider the new directions and vision of Pope Francis for the Church. We will also have the opportunity to view some of the key filmed moments of the past Synod of Bishops prepared by Salt and Light Television. A reception will follow the 90-minute presentation.

For more information, contact Sandy Vieira-Gallo at sandy.vieira@stjoseph.com or 905-660-3111, ext 328.

We hope you can join us for a true behind-the-scenes rare opportunity to explore this milestone for the Catholic Church.

Yours truly,

Tony Gagliano
Executive Chairman & CEO, St. Joseph Communications
Chair, S+L Catholic Television Network

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, delivers Christian Culture Lecture in Windsor on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops


On Sunday, November 23, 2014, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, delivered a lecture on the topic: “What really happened at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops” in the Christian Culture Lecture Series at Windsor’s Assumption University. It was the first in a series of this year’s theme “The Call to Holiness.” The lecture took place in St. Paul’s Church in LaSalle, Ontario, just outside of Windsor. Salt and Light Television filmed the lecture which will air on our network early in 2015.


Excerpt from Fr. Rosica’s lecture:

The recent extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme ‘Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,’ will be remembered as a milestone in the history of the church. Blessed Paul VI shared this vision and established in Rome ‘a permanent council of bishops for the universal church,’ called ‘the Synod of Bishops’ on September 15, 1965. Many say that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord.

You may have heard or read that this Synod has been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true! It 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.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is not true! At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.  It is a very complicated journey that involves everyone in the Church, and that requires a profound, systematic reflection on the pastoral and dogmatic issues. At the end of our two intense weeks together, 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.

In his opening address to all of us in the Synod hall on Monday morning, October 6, Pope Francis shared these words with us: “After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which there was discussion on the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying: too bad that some Cardinals didn’t have the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, thinking, perhaps, that the Pope thought something different. This is not good; this is not Synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that one feels should be said in the Lord, without a merely human respect, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome with an open heart what the brothers say. With these two attitudes one practices Synodality. And so I ask you, please, to observe these fraternal attitudes in the Lord: to speak with parresia and to listen with humility.”

“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,” Pope Francis said in his homily on Sunday Oct. 19, as he closed that assembly and beatified Paul VI.


“We Must Foster a New Human Ecology” – 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

Dew Archbishop John

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.