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Heart of bishops’ family synod is finding how to reach out with God’s mercy, Cardinal Wuerl says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The heart of the Synod of Bishops on the family is the challenge of discerning ways to reach out with God’s mercy to people, who might not be perfect, and to help them move closer to perfection, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington leaves a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington leaves a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The first step, the cardinal said, is to “recognize what the human condition is and that we are all caught up in it; that’s what the fall was all about and that’s what Jesus’ death on the cross was all about. We do live in an imperfect world and each one of us is imperfect, but we also have the salvific grace of God at work in each one of us.”

Cardinal Wuerl, speaking to Catholic News Service Oct. 9, said it was important for the synod members to show people around the world both that the church still believes firmly that marriage and family are blessings, but also that church leaders know there are challenges raised by society and by the individuals themselves.

“I think it’s good for people to hear that their shepherds recognize that they are struggling, that it isn’t as easy as it sounds in the catechism,” he said. “At the same time, God’s grace is at work in our lives.”

Many at the synod, he said, are echoing Pope Francis’ call, “Go out. Meet people. The church has an obligation to meet people where they are, encounter them where they are. Not to scold them, but to accompany them on the faith journey.”

Cardinal Wuerl said he is always touched by the pope’s addition of a reminder that “if you accompany them, maybe both of you will get closer to Jesus.”

The key to the pastoral care of families, both the strong and the weak, is Pope Francis’ call to go out and to encounter, the cardinal said.

“Now when you encounter someone, you have to do that with respect,” he said. “Does that mean acceptance of their lifestyle? Not necessarily. But you have to respect them for who they are. And then you begin to walk with them, trying to understand where they are while also inviting them to draw closer to Christ.

“I think that’s what this pope asks us to do: respect people,” he said. “You don’t have to approve what they’re doing, but if you are going to walk with them, you have to do so with a sense of respect.”

Speaking after hearing the reports of all the synod’s small working groups, Cardinal Wuerl said one common thread was that while the church needs to recognize “all of the problems that marriage is facing today, we also need to weave into that the witness, the testimony of all those people who are living successful family life, who are living successful marriages.”

But if the synod does not speak openly and honestly about the challenges, he said, nobody will listen to the rest of what the synod has to say.

While people do not need a “fervorino,” a pious pep talk, “admitting, recognizing and seeing the problems has to be balanced with encouragement that not everybody is succumbing to the problem.”

After listening to the small group reports, synod members, including Cardinal Wuerl, began talking about what the church brings to the reality of the family.

The third section of the synod’s work will deal with what the church’s pastoral response should be, the cardinal said, “and that’s where the challenge of this synod will be and that’s where this synod will be different from past synods because we have been asked to take a look at practical, pastoral responses.”

In his speech to the synod, the cardinal said, “One of the things I touched on was the need to remember a two-fold element: that the fullness of the teaching and the mercy, God’s mercy, as we try to live that teaching, are both elements of the faith. They are both essential and intrinsically related elements of the faith.”

The church always has presented its teaching and called people to live it fully, he said. At the same time, the church always has said, ‘“When you fail, here’s confession. And when you’re struggling, here’s absolution. The thing to do is to get up and keep trying.’ That’s the beauty of our faith.”

Some people who are living the faith more closely may be tempted to feel neglected or even annoyed, Cardinal Wuerl admitted. Jesus knew those people, too.

In the Gospels, he said, “the Good Shepherd goes out after the one lost sheep. In the parable of the prodigal son, the older son is encouraged by the father to be loving and forgiving so that the one who has been away is welcomed back.

“Remember, Jesus also used the parable about a man going out and hiring people at different hours,” but paying them all the same, Cardinal Wuerl said. When people complained, the landowner said, “Are you annoyed with me because I’m generous?”

“Yes, there could be a temptation to say, ‘Look, I’ve struggled in the heat of the sun all day and what reward do I get? Heaven. And this person comes along at the end of the day and what reward does he or she get? Heaven,’” the cardinal said. “What we need to say is, ‘Isn’t it a blessing that Jesus died on the cross so that all of us could have heaven?’”

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Synod changes: Making less time for speeches, more time for dialogue

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Although the public is given glimpses of what happens inside the Catholic Church’s world Synod of Bishops, the meetings themselves take place behind closed doors.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Synod of Bishops has been the object of a continual hunt to balance creating a protected space where bishops could speak freely, something that was especially important a couple of decades ago when some members came from Soviet-bloc countries, with letting Catholics at home know that their bishops were working prayerfully and seriously on issues they, too, would find important.

Pope Francis leads the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. Also pictured are Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left, and Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, relator for the synod. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis leads the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. Also pictured are Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, left, and Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, relator for the synod. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As a theologian, bishop and then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict XVI had attended 15 of the 20 general, special and regional synod assemblies held between 1965 and his election as pope in 2005. One of the first things he did as pope was to institute an hour of “free discussion” at the end of the synod’s evening session each day. Unfortunately, several synod members said, some synod participants insist on reading a text there, too, basically giving themselves the chance to make two formal speeches.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, synod general secretary, said this year’s synod will see participants spending more time working and discussing issues in small groups and less time listening to speeches.

Because the number of bishops in the world and at the synods continues to grow, the amount of time they are given for speeches to the assembly has been reduced. Prior to 2005, they each had eight minutes. For the 2008 synod, it was reduced to five minutes. This year it has been slashed to three minutes.

The three-minute limit means that the full texts are often shorter than the speech summaries the Vatican used to hand out. With the extraordinary synod on the family last year, the Vatican stopped distributing summaries.

But this year, Cardinal Baldisseri announced, synod participants are free to give interviews and to distribute or publish the complete texts of their speeches. However, it seemed most participants were not aware of the change and, of the first 72 speeches at the synod, only a dribble of texts found their way into the public sphere during the synod’s first week.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released an expanded version of his synod speech through Catholic News Service.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, published his text on his French-language blog, “Chant et Marche.” The bishops’ conference of Belgium was releasing the texts of Belgian bishops.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia posted his text on his archdiocese’s news site, catholicphilly.com.

The archbishop said that while part of the synod working document “did a good job” describing the modern family, overall “the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and (to) the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals, which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the church.”

He urged the synod to affirm church teaching on marriage, sexuality and the family and demonstrate confidence in “the transformative power of grace and the ability of people to actually live what the church believes.”

“We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them, not confirm them in their errors,” Archbishop Chaput told the synod. “Marriage embodies Christian hope –- hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman. This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the cross and Resurrection.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York published his text on his blog, cardinaldolan.org.

The bishops are pastors called to guide the church, he said, but to do that they must first be disciples, who “listen with gratitude, humility, and openness to God’s Word, particularly His Incarnate Word, Jesus.”

“The starting point of the synod,” Cardinal Dolan said, “must be what God has revealed to us about marriage and the family: that one man and one woman, united in lifelong, life-giving, faithful love, eager for God’s gift of babies, raised with tenderness in the sacred ‘communio’ of the family, is the premier relationship of this life, so holy that it reflects the interior love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Most Blessed Trinity.”

The goal of the synod, he said, is “to defend, support, sustain, renew and restore that noble nature of marriage and family as God intended ‘from the beginning.’”

The German bishops’ conference posted on its website Oct. 8 the text of Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin.

He spoke of the large number of couples who live together without marriage because they do not see it as important and of the need to give special attention to couples in which one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant.

On the question of the treatment of divorced Catholics and particularly the discussion about the possibility of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, Archbishop Koch said most people he speaks with do not understand the church’s teaching; they see it as a matter of charity and mercy, not as a defense of the indissolubility of marriage.

Archbishop Koch said he hoped the synod and Pope Francis would find a new way to speak about marriage and family life, one that highlights what a blessing it is and how it helps people reach fulfillment and experience God’s love.

“We must not give the impression,” he said, that the synod spent most of its time quarreling about “the conditions for admission to the sacraments.”

 

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Bishops’ synod should recognize the vitality and strength of families, Archbishop Kurtz says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops on the family must find ways to give Catholic families a leading role in evangelizing and supporting other families, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the synod. Read more »

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Archbishop Chaput says bishops at synod lobby in search of truth

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When a big group of people gathers to discuss something important, people start lobbying, even if that group is the world Synod of Bishops, said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis told participants Oct. 6 “we should avoid thinking of each other as conspiring against one another, but to work for unity among the bishops,” Archbishop Chaput told reporters at a synod press briefing at the Vatican Oct. 7.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput concelebrates Mass with Pope Francis during the closing of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia Sept. 27. When a large group of people gathers to discuss something important, people start lobbying, even if that group is the world Synod of Bishops, said Archbishop Chaput. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput concelebrates Mass with Pope Francis during the closing of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia Sept. 27. When a large group of people gathers to discuss something important, people start lobbying, even if that group is the world Synod of Bishops, said Archbishop Chaput. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I have never been at a church meeting where there aren’t groups that get together and lobby for a particular direction and that’s going on, I assure you,” the archbishop said. “That’s what happens when human beings get together. We shouldn’t be surprised or scandalized by that as long as it’s done up front and honestly and not in a way that tries to win rather than to arrive at the truth.”

French Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille told reporters he heard Pope Francis’ admonition as an encouragement “to safeguard serenity in our discussions.”

“And the pope told us last year, didn’t he, that we should speak with all freedom and listen to each other with all humility,” added Peruvian Archbishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia-Calderon of Ayacucho.

A journalist asked the bishops about the possibility that national or regional bishops’ conferences would be given more responsibility for some matters, including pastoral approaches to marriage, given the diversity issues impacting families around the world.

The reporter cited Pope Francis’ exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which said: “A juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church’s life and her missionary outreach.”

Archbishop Chaput responded, “The Catholic Church is described as ‘catholic’ if it reaches everywhere and reaches out to everyone in welcome, but also it believes the same thing everywhere about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. Some of that can be handled better universally and some of that can be handled better locally.”

“At the same time, diversity is always in the service of unity in the Catholic Church,” so “I don’t think we would say it is appropriate for bishops’ conferences to decide matters of doctrine and things like that.”

Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp had told the synod Oct. 6, “In their local churches bishops encounter a great variety of questions and needs to which they must provide a pastoral answer today.”

Responses to the questionnaire set out by the Vatican before the synod and the consultations bishops carried out in preparation for the synod showed that many of the most important questions raised “clearly differ between countries and continents,” Bishop Bonny said.

“There is, however, a common theme in those questions, namely the desire that the church will stand in ‘the great river of mercy.’ It is important that the synod give space and responsibility to the local bishops to formulate suitable answers to the pastoral questions of that part of the people of God, which is entrusted to their pastoral care. The individual bishops’ conferences have a special role in this.

“The synod not only deals with ‘the family as church,’ but also with ‘the church as family,’” he said. “Every family knows what it means to work on unity in diversity, with patience and creativity.”

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Church and society must learn from families, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Society and the church have much to learn from the family and, in fact, the bond between the church and the family is “indissoluble,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets a baby during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 7. The pope said that when families mirror God's love for all, they teach the church how it should relate to all people. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets a baby during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 7. The pope said that when families mirror God’s love for all, they teach the church how it should relate to all people. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Families bring needed values and a humanizing spirit to society and, when they mirror God’s love for all, they teach the church how it should relate to all people, including the “imperfect,” the pope said Oct. 7 during his weekly general audience.

While members of the Synod of Bishops on the family were meeting in small groups, Pope Francis held his audience with an estimated 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. He asked them to accompany the synod with their prayers.

While the Catholic Church insists that governments and the economy need families and have an obligation to give them greater support, Pope Francis said, the church itself recognizes that it, too, must have a “family spirit.”

Using the Gospel story of Jesus telling the disciples he would make them fishers of men, Pope Francis said, “a new kind of net is needed for this. We can say that today families are the most important net for the mission of Peter and the church.”

“It is not a net that imprisons,” he said. “On the contrary, it frees people from the polluted waters of abandonment and indifference that drown many human beings in the sea of solitude.”

Families are the place where individuals learn that they are “sons and daughters, not slaves or foreigners or just a number on an identity card,” the pope said. “The church must be the family of God.”

Pope Francis asked people to join him in praying that “the enthusiasm of the synod fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, would energize the impulse of the church to abandon its old nets and start fishing again, trusting in the word of its Lord. Let us pray intensely for this.”

“Christ promised, and this comforts us, that even bad fathers do not refuse to give bread to their hungry children, so it is impossible that God would not give the Spirit to those who, even imperfect as they are, ask with passionate insistence,” he said.

The world itself needs “a robust injection of family spirit,” he said. Even the best organized economic, juridical and professional relationships are “dehydrated” and anonymous without concern for people, especially for the weakest members of society.

Family ties, the pope said, teach individuals and society the value of “bonds of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation, respect; they encourage people to work toward a world that is livable and to believe in relationships even in difficult situations; they teach people to honor their word.”

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Pope Francis says ministry to divorced, remarried is not only topic for bishops’ discussions on family

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the discussion began at the world Synod of Bishops on the family, Pope Francis urged members not to act as if the only question that mattered was the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, his spokesman said.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, talk as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, talk as they leave the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Oct. 6 that the pope took the microphone that morning to affirm again that “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question.”

Pope Francis told the bishops that the only documents that are “official” for their work are the speeches he gave at the opening and closing of last year’s synod and the final report voted on by synod members in October 2014. The report, along with additions made based on responses to a questionnaire, is the working document for this year’s synod, Father Lombardi said.

The pope also said, “We should not let ourselves be conditioned by or to reduce the horizons of our work as if the only problem were that of Communion for the divorced and remarried or not,” Father Lombardi said. The Vatican did not release the text of the pope’s remarks.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, writing on his blog, said that during the hour of open discussion at the synod Oct. 5, some bishops were “uneasy about the impression given by the presentation of Cardinal (Peter) Erdo in the morning that some key questions are already decided and seemingly off the table. They felt that such a stance was premature.”

Cardinal Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, chosen by Pope Francis to introduce the synod’s work, had made it appear there was little support for or possibility that the church would adopt German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to design a “penitential path” that eventually would allow some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion even without an annulment and without a promise to abstain from sexual relations.

Responding to reporters later, Cardinal Erdo said his report’s affirmation of the indissolubility of marriage and moving away from seeking a pastoral approach to allowing those couples to receive Communion were the result of the input the synod sought from Catholics around the world after the extraordinary synod on the family last year.

Using his Twitter account to report Pope Francis’ comments to the synod Oct. 6, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, a synod member, said the pope asked the synod “not to give into a hermeneutic [interpretation] of ‘conspiracy,’ which is sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.”

Instead, Father Spadaro tweeted, the pope called for a “profound discernment” in order “to understand how the Lord wants his church.”

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and member of the synod, told reporters the discussion about the “penitential path” or other forms of outreach to divorced Catholics “is open. I think the intervention of the pope this morning … was to recall that the documents to which we are to refer are the final report (of the 2014 synod) and his two speeches, opening and closing the synod, which leave open the possibility.”

At the same time, the archbishop told reporters, “the synod does not have this as its only point of reference” as the pope himself said. “It is just one of the points.”

“If everything was concluded with the report yesterday (by Cardinal Erdo), then what are we doing here?” Archbishop Celli asked.

Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, a synod member who also attended last year’s extraordinary synod on the family, said participants see a growing distance between modern cultural attitudes toward marriage and family life and what the church teaches and proposes.

Catholic pastors have different attitudes about what the response should be, he said. “One reaction is to emphasize what the teaching is for fear that, as the culture moves away from that vision, our own understanding gets diluted. The other fear is that we lose contact with that culture and that we close in on ourselves and become a kind of a ghetto or a sect that no longer has an impact on culture.”

“All the bishops agree,” he said, “that the teaching of the church coming from Jesus is a gift for the world; it’s not just for a select few.”

The challenge, Archbishop Durocher said, is to not lose the teaching while learning to enter into dialogue with the world as it is “in a way that will speak to the world and provoke its imagination and its interest. So some bishops will emphasize the teaching and some bishops will emphasize the dialogue,” which is the importance and beauty of the synod, he said.

“Cardinal Erdo’s talk was a beautiful and classical presentation of the church’s teaching,” he said. “Other bishops are saying, ‘This is important. We need to hold on to this. Now how do we enter into dialogue with this world.’”

Cardinal Erdo’s presentation, he said, “is an important piece, but it is one piece” of finding a way to bring the good news about the family to the world.

At the official media briefing for the synod, Father Lombardi and the others charged with summarizing the synod’s activity each day listed dozens of other topics raised by the first 72 synod members to speak: the challenges to families and the church posed by the “cultural revolution”; the need to be careful in using language that appears immediately judgmental; how to help all Catholics and families grow in the Christian life; war, anti-Christian persecution and migration; violence against women and children; polygamy; and the role of the family in the new evangelization.

Preparing priests to minister with and to families was another topic, said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the English-language briefer. He also listed the topics of the role of the extended family; multiple calls for better and longer marriage preparation programs; and the need to love and respect homosexual Catholics, who are “our children, our family, not outsiders, but our flesh and blood.”

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Hunger is a ‘true scandal’ in a world where food goes to waste, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hunger is a “true scandal” that threatens the life and dignity of millions of people while tons of food go to waste, Pope Francis said.

A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Philadelphia Sept. 26. Pope Francis says hunger is a "true scandal" that threatens the life and dignity of millions of people. (CNS photo/CJ Gunther, EPA)

A homeless man sits on a sidewalk in Philadelphia Sept. 26. Pope Francis says hunger is a “true scandal” that threatens the life and dignity of millions of people. (CNS photo/CJ Gunther, EPA)

“We must face this injustice, this sin,” the pope told more than 7,000 volunteers and coordinators of Italian food banks, along with representatives from food banks in other countries.

Pope Francis met the volunteers and coordinators Oct. 3 in the Vatican at a meeting sponsored by the Italian Food Bank Foundation, which assists the local food-distribution outlets and has a special focus on encouraging large-scale food producers to donate their excess or imperfect products to local food banks rather than destroy the products.

The pope praised their efforts “to fight the waste of food, recover it and distribute it to families in difficulty and to the poor.”

Developing nations are not the only countries with a hunger problem, he said. Even the richest countries seem to struggle to feed their poor despite the world being able to produce enough food to feed everyone.

In the Gospel, the pope said, Jesus makes clear that people will be judged on how they responded to the hunger of others.

“We see in the Gospel that the Lord, when he realizes that the crowd who came to listen to him is hungry, does not ignore the problem and he doesn’t give a nice speech about fighting poverty,” the pope said, “but he does something that leaves them all in awe: He takes the little that the disciples have, blesses it and multiplies the bread and fish.”

While “we cannot do a miracle like Jesus,” every person and every food bank, even those that struggle, can do at least a little something to fight hunger and to educate their families and communities about the need for solidarity, the pope said.

Pope Francis pleaded with the volunteers and coordinators to remember always that the people who come to them “are persons, not numbers, each with their burden of pain that sometimes seems impossible to carry.”

“Look at their faces, look them in the eye, shake their hand, see in them the flesh of Christ and help them regain their dignity and get back on their feet,” the pope said. “Be brothers and friends of the poor; let them know they are important in God’s eyes.”

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Pope says bishops’ meeting on families is not a parliament, but place to listen to Holy Spirit

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The world Synod of Bishops on the family is not a parliament where participants will negotiate or lobby, Pope Francis said, but it must be a place of prayer where bishops speak with courage and open themselves to “God who always surprises us.”

Pope Francis participates in prayer at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis participates in prayer at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Opening the first working session of the synod Oct. 5, the pope said the synod’s 270 voting members need courage, “pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness and to keep always before our eyes the good of the church and of families and the supreme law — the salvation of souls.”

Arriving about 15 minutes before the session began, Pope Francis welcomed to the synod hall the members, delegates from other Christian communities and the men and women who will serve as experts and observers.

The synod is not a convention or a parliament, Pope Francis said, “but an expression of the church; it is the church that walks together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God.”

Synod members must be faithful to church teaching, “the deposit of faith, which is not a museum to be visited or even simply preserved, but is a living spring from which the church drinks to quench the thirst and enlighten” people, he said.

The synod hall and its small working groups, he said, should be “a protected space where the church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit.”

In a spirit of prayer, the pope said, the Spirit will speak through “everyone who allows themselves to be guided by God, who always surprises us, by God who reveals to the little ones that which he has hidden from the wise and intelligent, by God who created the Sabbath for men and women and not vice versa, by God who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one missing sheep, by God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.”

Synod members need “an apostolic courage that does not allow itself to be afraid in the face of the seductions of the world” that are attempting “to extinguish in human hearts the light of truth” and replace it with “little and temporary lights,” he said.

However, at the same time, Pope Francis said, apostolic courage does not tremble in fear “before the hardening of certain hearts that despite good intentions drive people further from God.”

Evangelical humility is “emptying oneself of one’s own convictions and prejudices in order to listen to our brother bishops and fill ourselves with God,” he said. It is a humility, “which leads us not to point a finger in judgment of others, but to extend a hand to help them up again without ever feeling superior to them.”

Trust-filled prayer is an attitude of openness to God and silencing one’s own preferences “to listen to the soft voice of God who speaks in silence,” Pope Francis told the synod members. “Without listening to God, all of our words will be just words that don’t quench or satisfy.” Without prayer, “all our decisions will be just decorations that instead of exalting the Gospel cover and hide it.”

The gathering began with mid-morning prayer, which included the reading of a passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Throughout the synod, members will offer a brief meditation during the morning prayer. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucipalpa began Oct. 5, telling the bishops: “We are not a church in danger of extinction, far from it. Neither is the family, although it is threatened and struggling.”

The synod, he said, is not a place “to mourn or lament” the challenges families face, but to rejoice and seek perfection and to help families do the same.

The discussions aim at “the unanimity that comes from dialogue,” he said, but can be disturbed by “ideas defended to the extreme.”

Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, chosen by the pope to introduce the discussion, spoke for close to an hour, outlining the questions the synod will be called to discuss over the course of three weeks. The gathering is set to conclude with a Mass Oct. 25.

Looking at the situation of families around the world, he said, one of the primary challenges is economic. Too many families do not have food, shelter or employment. Young people delay marriage and parenthood because they do not have or think they do not have the means to support a family. Millions of families are torn apart by war and migration.

In addition, the cardinal said, with an exultation of individualism there is a widespread distrust of institutions — including of the church, the state and the institution of marriage.

The Catholic Church at every level, he said, must affirm the missionary role of families, ensuring married couples are part of marriage preparation programs, family support groups and outreach to families in crisis emotionally or economically.

“The life of the human being and of humanity is part of a great project, that of God the creator,” he said. “As in all aspects of life, we find our fullness and our happiness if we are able to freely and wisely put ourselves into this great project that is full of wisdom and love.”

Turning to the widely debated topic of the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Cardinal Erdo said pastors must be ready to help couples verify whether or not their church marriage was valid.

If it was a valid marriage, he said, it is indissoluble, as Jesus himself taught.

“The mercy of God offers pardon to the sinner, but requires conversion,” Cardinal Erdo said. If it is impossible for a person to return to his or her spouse, then the church requires that in the new union the partners refrain from sexual relations.

“It is not the failure of the first marriage, but living together in a second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist,” he said.

Cardinal Erdo said the synod would be called to examine more carefully the idea of offering a “penitential path” to such couples, a path that would lead to their receiving absolution and having access to the Eucharist, perhaps gradually. But, he said, his opinion was that such a path necessarily would require a promise of sexual abstinence.

“Between the true and false, between good and evil, there is no graduality,” he said. “Even if some forms of cohabitation have some positive aspects,” for example in the joint care of children, “that does not imply the unions can be presented as good.”

Responding to reporters later, Cardinal Erdo said his report’s affirmation of the indissolubility of marriage and moving away from seeking a pastoral approach to allowing those couples to receive Communion were the result of the input the synod sought from Catholics around the world after the extraordinary synod on the family last year.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, one of the synod presidents, told reporters, “If you are looking for a spectacular change in church doctrine you will be disappointed.”

At the same time, said Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, special secretary of the synod, “the synod is not gathering to say nothing.” The goal is to find new pastoral methods to bring the church “closer to the men and women of its time.”

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Fidelity, truth, love must guide church outreach to families, pope says at Mass for Synod of Bishops

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a world filled with challenges to marriage and family life, the Catholic Church is called “to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love,” Pope Francis said at the Mass opening the world Synod of Bishops on the family.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arrives for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the family celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 4. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arrives for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the family celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 4. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Formally opening the synod Oct. 4 with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said the church must encourage families and defend faithful love, the sacredness of every human life and “the unity and indissolubility” of marriage.

At the same time, he said, the church must carry out its mission with charity, not only “not pointing a finger in judgment of others,” but also seeking out all who are lonely and in pain, caring for “hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy.”

The synod was scheduled to last until Oct. 25, discussing ways to strengthen the church’s support of families and its outreach to those struggling to live fully the Catholic ideals of marriage and family life. Marriage preparation, sexuality, procreation, communication, support for couples at risk of separation, accompaniment of divorced Catholics and possible ways to bring back the divorced and civilly remarried were all expected to be on the synod’s agenda.

The readings for the Mass were the same as those used in Catholic parishes around the world for Oct. 4, the 27th Sunday in ordinary time. But, the pope said, they seemed tailor-made for opening an assembly dedicated to the family. The first reading was the Genesis account of God seeing Adam alone and creating a helpmate for him; the Gospel included Jesus’ teaching that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The Genesis story, the pope said in his homily, makes clear that the “drama of solitude” experienced by too many people — the elderly, the abandoned, widows and widowers, migrants, the persecuted — is not part of God’s plan.

The modern world, he said, seems to offer “many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom” and “the number of people who feel lonely keeps growing.”

Yet the experience of Adam, and of human beings down through history, shows that “nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him,” the pope said. God made man and woman “to complement” each other, “to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children.”

Many people today doubt whether a lifelong marriage is possible or even desirable, thinking that it limits individual freedom and potential, the pope said. But at the same time, people “chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.”

Reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass, Pope Francis said the 270 synod members would keep their “gaze fixed on Jesus to identify on the basis of his teaching of truth and mercy the best paths” for helping families “so that the Creator’s original plan for man and woman can be realized and can function in all its beauty and strength in the world.”

Pope Francis, synod members and tens of thousands of people had gathered in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 3 for a nighttime prayer vigil for the synod. Before the pope spoke, Italian families and an engaged couple shared their stories of finding love, overcoming obstacles and experiencing reconciliation and healing.

The formal prayer began with an invocation of the Holy Spirit on the pope and synod members.

In his homily, Pope Francis asked people to pray that the synod would show the world “how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling.”

The pope prayed that the synod would “acknowledge, esteem and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy” about family life.

But he also prayed that synod members would “embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship,” not forgetting those suffering because of “war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness.”

Pope Francis prayed that the synod would find a way to remind broken families “and every family, that the Gospel is always ‘good news,’ which enables us to start over.”

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On synod’s eve, a priest at Vatican declares his homosexuality

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — On the eve of the start of the Synod of Bishops on the family, a Polish monsignor who works in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, publicly declared he is homosexual and has a stable partner.

Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, 43, gave interviews to Polish and Italian media Oct. 2 and planned a news conference the following day outside the offices of the congregation. The conference, however, was moved to a restaurant nearby.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Oct. 3 that Msgr. Charamsa and his reflections on his life and sexuality were deserving of respect, but “the decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure.”

The world Synod of Bishops on the family was scheduled to begin Oct. 4 with a Mass.

“Msgr. Charamsa will certainly be unable to continue to carry out his previous work in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the pontifical universities,” where he had been teaching: the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Father Lombardi said.

“The other aspects of his situation shall remain the competence of his diocesan ordinary,” the bishop of Pelplin, Poland, Father Lombardi said. Msgr. Charamsa, who has worked at the doctrinal congregation since 2003, was ordained for the Diocese of Pelplin in 1997.

In one of the interviews before his news conference, Msgr. Charamsa told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “I want the church and my community to know who I am: a gay priest who is happy, and proud of his identity. I’m prepared to pay the consequences, but it’s time the church opened its eyes, and realized that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.”

Most priests, like Msgr. Charamsa, in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church take a vow of celibacy. Exceptions, for example in the case of former Anglican priests, have been made for some clergy who were married before becoming Catholic.

On the topic of homosexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The catechism also says, homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity,” the catechism says.

In connection with the synod on the family, Msgr. Charamsa planned to participate in a conference Oct. 3-4 organized by the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics to discuss issues related to the Catholic Church, family life and homosexuality.

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