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Viewpoint: Pope puts out the welcome mat

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I don’t know if there are Home Depots in Rome, but an enterprising household goods sales person over there might call on Pope Francis to sell him a gigantic welcome mat for St. Peter’s Basilica. “You’re welcomed in the church” has been the pope’s continuing theme since his pontificate began in 2013.

He extended that welcome again last week when he released his postsynodal apostolic exhortation “‘Amoris Laetitia’ (“The Joy of Love”) on Love in the Family.”

The document’s title might be unwieldy, but its message is positive, clear-eyed and traditional.

Francis begins, “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the church.” Then the pope notes his task, to expound on the discussions held in 2014 and 2015 by the Synod of Bishops that met in Rome to discuss the life of families.

“As the Synod Fathers noted, for all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, ‘the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the church.’ As a response to that desire, “the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed.”

More than 60,000 words follow in which Pope Francis reminds families of God’s love and mercy and the church’s care and help for the challenges they face in the 21st century.

The pope’s main theme is that the church wants to help the faithful and the not so faithful, including those who mistakenly think they were excommunicated when they married outside the church.

In the Year of Mercy, the pope emphasizes that people once Catholic in practice are always welcomed home. The pope asks church officials and the faithful to help and accompany families in all sorts of difficult situations on their life’s journeys.

Pope Francis has a talent with teaching without sounding like he’s reading from an ancient text of the church’s magisterium.

In “Amoris Laetitia” when he calls for loving, pastoral care for families, he doesn’t abandon any church teachings; he just wants doctrine to be the road map for pastoral care.

Readers of The Dialog in print and online will notice much of the document echoes the pope’s talks at his Wednesday general audiences in recent months when his topic has been family life.

The pope’s way with words at his audiences is evident in the new text. Here are a few samples of his thoughts:

  • “Young love needs to keep dancing toward the future with immense hope.”
  • “The grace of the sacrament of marriage is intended before all else ‘to perfect the couple’s love.’”
  • “I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”
  • “We are called to form consciences not replace them.”

And he quotes himself in a footnote: “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

“Amoris Laetitia” as an “apostolic exhortation” is more than a homily and somewhat less than an encyclical, but in plain talk it’s a bracing reminder of Pope Francis’ love for families and his call for the church to accompany all families and faithful during their journey on earth with love, mercy and truth.

Ryan is Editor and Manager of The Dialog.