Francis to the Synod Fathers: “Speak clearly, listen with humility, accept with an open heart”
Vatican City, 6 October 2014 (VIS) – This morning, in the presence of the Holy Father, the First General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops on “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of new evangelisation” took place in the Synod Hall. The Pope greeted the Synod Fathers and all the collaborators in the Synod – the relators, consultors, translators and all those “who have worked with dedication, patience and competence, for long months, reading and working on the themes, texts and the work of this Extraordinary General Assembly”.
Today I also thank you, dear cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests, men and women religious and laypersons for your presence and your participation that enriches the works and the spirit of collegiality and synodality for the good of the Church and families. … You bring the voice of the particular Churches, gathered at the level of the local Churches through the Episcopal Conferences. The universal Church and the particular Churches are of divine institution; the local Churches, understood in this way, are of human institution. You will bring this voice in synodality. It is a great responsibility: bring the reality and problems of the Churches to help them to walk the path of the Gospel of the family”.
“A general basic condition is this: speak clearly. Let no one say, 'this can't be said, they will think this or that about me'. Everything we feel must be said, with parrhesia. After the last Consistory in February 2014, which focused on the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying that it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, thinking perhaps that the Pope thought differently. This is not good – it is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord we feel must be said: without human respect, without timidness. And, at the same time, we must listen with humility and accept with an open heart all that our brothers say. With these two attitudes, synodality is achieved”.
“Therefore, I ask of you”, insisted Francis, “these two attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with parrhesia and listen with humility. And do so with great tranquillity and peace, because the Synod always takes place 'cum Petro et sub Petro', and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all and a protection of faith”.
At the end the Holy Father's brief address and that of Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, France, presiding at the session, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, gave a presentation of the various stages in the preparation of this Extraordinary Assembly, the number of participants, the novelties and the work of the Secretariat of the Synod following the last Ordinary General Assembly held in October 2012 under the papacy of Benedict XVI. He concluded by expressing the hope that this Synod may be “a privileged space for this synodal collegiality, that proclaims the Gospel while walking its path. May it be permeated by a new openness to the Spirit, by a method and a style of life and witness that guarantee unity in diversity, apostolicity in Catholicity”. Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and relator general of the Synod, went on to read the “Relatio ante disceptationem”, summarised in the following article.
Second General Congregation
Vatican City, 7 October 2014 (VIS) – The second general Congregation, held yesterday afternoon, opened the discussions of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The theme, according to the agenda set forth in the Instrumentum Laboris, was: “God’s Plan for Marriage and the Family” (Part I, Chapter 1), and “The Knowledge and Acceptance of the Teachings on Marriage and the Family from Sacred Scripture and Church Documents” (Part I, Chapter 2).
Based on the premise that the family is the basic unit of human society, the cradle of gratuitous love, and that taking about the family and marriage implies education in fidelity, it was reiterated that the family constitutes the future of humanity and must be protected.
From many quarters, however, there has emerged the need to adapt the language of the Church, so that doctrine on the family, life and sexuality is understood correctly: it is necessary to enter into dialogue with the world, looking to the example offered by the Vatican Council, or rather with a critical but sincere openness. If the Church does not listen to the world, the world will not listen to the Church. And dialogue may be based on important themes, such as the equal dignity of men and women and the rejection of violence.
The Gospel must not be explained, but rather shown – it was said in the Assembly – and above all, the lay faithful must be involved in the proclamation of the Good News, demonstrating the missionary charism. Evangelisation must not be a depersonalised theory, but must instead ensure that families themselves give concrete witness to the beauty and truth of the Gospel. The challenge, it was said, is that of passing from a defensive situation to an active, proactive one, or rather, reviving the capacity for proposing the heritage of faith with a new language, with hope, ardour and enthusiasm, offering convincing testimonies and creating a bridge between the language of the Church and that of society.
In this sense, the use of a “biblical” rather than a “theological-speculative” catechesis was called for, since, in spite of appearances to the contrary, people are no longer satisfied by selfishness and instead seek ideals. Humanity desires happiness and the Christian knows that happiness is Christ, but no longer succeeds in finding the suitable language to communicate this to the world. The Church, instead, must be “magnetic”; it must work by attraction, with an attitude of friendship towards the world.
With regard to couples in difficulty, it was emphasised that the Church needs to be close to them with understanding, forgiveness and mercy: mercy, it was said, is God’s first prerogative, but it must be seen in the context of justice, as only in this way will the whole of God’s plan be respected.
Marriage is and remains an indissoluble sacrament; however, since the truth is Christ, a Person, and not a series of rules, it is important to maintain the principles while changing the concrete forms of their implementation. In short, as Benedict XVI said, novelty in continuity: the Synod does not call Doctrine into question, but reflects on the Pastoral, or rather spiritual discernment for the application of such Doctrine in response to the challenges faced by contemporary families. In this sense, mercy does not eliminate the commandments, but it provides the hermeneutic key to them.
Furthermore, it was underlined that even imperfect situations must be considered with respect: for instance, de facto unions in which couples live together with fidelity and love present elements of sanctification and truth. It is therefore essential to look first and foremost at the positive elements, so that the Synod may infuse with courage and hope even imperfect forms of family, so that their value may be recognised, according to the principle of graduality. It is necessary to truly love families in difficulty.
In the context of a society in which there prevails a sort of “ego-latry”, leading to defamiliarisation, it is important to acknowledge the loss of a sense of the covenant between a man ( and a woman) and God. The proclamation of the beauty of the family, therefore, must not be simply aesthetic, the presentation of a mere ideal to imitate, but must instead present the importance of definitive commitment based on the covenant between married couples and God.
Another essential point is the rejection of clericalism: at times the Church seems more concerned with power than with service, and for this reason she does not inspire the hearts of men and women. It is therefore necessary to return to the imitation of Christ, and to rediscover humility: the reform of the Church must begin with the reform of the clergy. If the faithful see pastors who imitate Christ they will therefore draw close to the Church once more, enabling her to proceed from the act of evangelising to being inherently evangelical.
The theme of the essential value of sexuality within marriage was also considered: sexuality outside marriage is discussed so critically that married sexuality can appear almost as a concession to imperfection. The Synod indicated, more briefly, the need for a greater formation of priests in relation to policies in favour of the family and the re-launching of the transmission of faith within the family.
During the hour of free discussion, from 6 to 7 p.m., two suggestions emerged: that the Synod send a message of encouragement and appreciation to families in Iraq, threatened by extermination perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists and forced to flee so as not to renounce their faith. The suggestion was subject to vote and approved by a majority.
Another call was the need to reflect on the married clergy of the oriental Churches, as they too often live through “family crises”, which may extend to the question of divorce.
Third General Congregation
Vatican City, 7 October 2014 (VIS) – The general debate continued throughout today’s third general Congregation. The theme according to the order of the Instrumentum Laboris was: “The Gospel of the Family and the Natural Law” (Part I, Chapter 3) and “The Family and Vocation of the Person in Christ” (Part I, Chapter 4).
At the opening of the Congregation, it was announced that the Ordinary Consistory, convoked by the Holy Father for Monday 20 October, will be devoted to the situation in the Middle East, on the basis of the results of the meeting of various Papal Representatives and Superiors of the competent Dicasteries, held in the Vatican from 2 to 4 October. The theme of the Consistory will be presented by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. The meeting will also be attended by six Oriental Patriarchs and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal.
The general debate then continued in relation to the issues stated above. It was agreed that greater preparation for marriage is necessary, so that it is not only valid but also fruitful. The suggestion was to look not only towards remedies for failure of the conjugal union, but also to focus on the conditions that render it valid and fruitful. It is necessary to transmit a vision of marriage that does not regard it as a destination, but rather as a path to a higher end, a road towards the growth of the person and of the couple, a source of strength and energy. The decision to marry is a true vocation and as such requires fidelity and coherence in order to become a true locus for the growth and the protection of the human being.
For this reason, married couples must be accompanied throughout their path in life, by means of intense and vigorous family pastoral care. The path of preparation for the marriage sacrament, must therefore be long, personalised and also severe, without the fear of eventually leading to a reduction in the number of weddings celebrated in Church. Otherwise, there is the risk of filling the Tribunals with marriage cases.
A further point that emerged during the discussion was the influence of the mass media, at times intrusive, in presenting ideologies contrary to the doctrine of the Church in relation to family and marriage. In this respect, it was said, Catholics must be protected but must also be better prepared: the Church must offer her teaching in a more incisive manner, presenting doctrine not merely as a list of prohibitions, but also by drawing closer to the faithful, as Jesus did. In this way, acting with empathy and tenderness, it will be possible to reduce the gap between doctrine and practice, between the teachings of the Church and the daily life of families. What is needed is not a choice between doctrine and mercy, but rather the beginning of an enlightened pastoral care to encourage above all those families in difficulty, who are often aware of a sense of not belonging to the Church.
Today’s debate then turned again to couples in difficulty and divorced and civilly remarried persons, for whom, it was said, that the Church should offer not judgement but truth, with a gaze of understanding, because people follow the truth, and will follow the Church if she speaks the truth. The “medicine” of mercy offers acceptance, care and support. Also because – it was shown – suffering families do not seek rapid pastoral solutions, and they do not wish to be a mere statistical figure, but rather feel the need to be inspired, to feel that they are welcomed and loved. More space must be allowed for a sacramental rather than a juridical form of logic.
With regard to the approach to the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried, it was emphasised that it is not the sacrament of the perfect, but rather of those who are on the way.
Like yesterday afternoon, the debate focused on the need to renew the language of the proclamation of the Gospel and the transmission of doctrine: the Church must be more open to dialogue, and must listen more frequently (and not only in exceptional cases) to the experiences of married couples, because their struggles and their failures cannot be ignored; on the other hand, they can be the basis of a real and true theology. Again, in relation to language, some perplexity was expressed at the suggestion – included in the Instrumentum Laboris – to deepen the concept, of biblical inspiration, of the “order of creation” as a possibility of rereading “natural law” more meaningfully: it was added that it is not enough to change the vocabulary if a bridge to effective dialogue with the faithful is not then created. In this sense, the much foretold and widespread need for change may be understood, it was said, as pastoral conversion, to make the proclamation of the Gospel more effective.
In the Assembly, three specific dimensions of the family were presented: the vocation to life, the missionary aspect understood as witnessing Christ through the family unity, and acceptance of the other, as the family is the first school of otherness, the place in which it is possible to learn patience and slowness, in contrast to the frenzy of the contemporary world. A further dimension of the family unit is shown also in holiness, as the family educated in holiness is the icon of the Trinity, the domestic Church in the service of evangelisation, the future of humanity.
Other points indicated during the third general Congregation related to the importance of catechesis for families, especially for children, and prayer between domestic walls, so that it may give rise to a true generation of faith, enabling its transmission from parents to children. Finally, the need for a more thorough formation for priests and catechists was underlined