29. Discussion at the synod has allowed for agreement on some of the more urgent pastoral needs to be addressed in the particular Churches, in communion cum Petro et sub Petro. Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family is urgently needed in the work of evangelization. The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4: 15), in faithfulness to the mercy displayed in Christ’s kenosis. Truth became flesh in human weakness, not to condemn it but to save it (cf. Gn 3: 16, 17).
30. Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to one’s ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of married people and families, proclamation, even if done in its proper way, risks being misunderstood or lost in a flurry of words which is characteristic of society today (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 50). On various occasions, the synod fathers emphasized that Catholic families, by reason of the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, are called upon to be the active agents in every pastoral activity on behalf of the family.
31. The primacy of grace needs to be highlighted and, consequently, the possibilities which the Spirit provides in the Sacrament. It is a question of allowing people to experience that the Gospel of the Family is a joy which “fills hearts and lives”, because in Christ we are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). Bearing in mind the Parable of the Sower (cf. Mt 13; 3), our task is to cooperate in the sowing; the rest is God’s work; nor must we forget that, in preaching about the family, the Church is a sign of contradiction.
32. Consequently, this work calls for missionary conversion by everyone in the Church, that is, not stopping at proclaiming a message which is perceived to be merely theoretical, with no connection to people’s real problems. We must continually bear in mind that the crisis of faith has led to a crisis in marriage and the family and, consequently, the transmission of faith itself from parents to children has often been interrupted. If we confront the situation with a strong faith, the imposition of certain cultural perspectives which weaken the family is of no importance.
33. Conversion also needs to be seen in the language we use, so that it might prove to be effectively meaningful. Proclamation needs to create an experience where the Gospel of the Family responds to the deepest expectations of a person: a response to each’s dignity and complete fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This does not consist in merely presenting a set of rules but in espousing values, which respond to the needs of those who find themselves today, even in the most secularized of countries.
34. The Word of God is the source of life and spirituality for the family. All pastoral work on behalf of the family must allow people to be interiorly fashioned and formed as members of the domestic church through the Church’s prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. The Word of God is not only good news in a person’s private life, but also a criterion of judgment and a light in discerning the various challenges which married couples and families encounter.
35. At the same time, many synod fathers insisted on a more positive approach to the richness of various religious experiences, without overlooking the inherent difficulties. In these different religious realities and in the great cultural diversity which characterizes countries, the positive possibilities should be appreciated first and then on this basis evaluate their limitations and deficiencies.
36. Christian marriage is a vocation which is undertaken with due preparation in a journey of faith with a proper process of discernment and is not to be considered only a cultural tradition or social or legal requirement. Therefore, formation is needed to accompany the person and couple in such a way that the real-life experience of the entire ecclesial community can be added to the teaching of the contents of the faith.
37. The synod fathers repeatedly called for a thorough renewal of the Church’s pastoral practice in light of the Gospel of the Family and replacing its current emphasis on individuals. For this reason, the synod fathers repeatedly insisted on renewal in the training of priests and other pastoral workers with a greater involvement of families.
38. They equally highlighted the fact that evangelization needs to clearly denounce cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic which prevents authentic family life and leads to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation need to be developed with the social entities and encouragement given to Christian lay people who are involved in the cultural and socio-political fields.
Guiding Engaged Couples in Their Preparation for Marriage
39. The complex social reality and the changes affecting the family today require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those who are about to be married. The importance of the virtues needs to be included, among these chastity which is invaluable in the genuine growth of love between persons. In this regard, the synod fathers jointly insisted on the need to involve more extensively the entire community by favouring the witness of families themselves and including preparation for marriage in the course of Christian Initiation as well as emphasizing the connection between marriage and the other sacraments. Likewise, they felt that specific programmes were needed in preparing couples for marriage, programmes which create a true experience of participation in ecclesial life and thoroughly treat the various aspects of family life.
Accompanying the Married Couple in the Initial Years of Marriage
40. The initial years of marriage are a vital and sensitive period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the Sacrament (Familiaris Consortio, Part III). In this regard, experienced couples are of great importance in any pastoral activity. The parish is the ideal place for these experienced couples to be of service to younger couples. Married couples need encouragement in a basic openness to the great gift of children. The importance of a family spirituality and prayer needs emphasis so couples might be encouraged to meet regularly to promote growth in their spiritual life and solidarity in the concrete demands of life. Meaningful liturgies, devotional practices and the Eucharist celebrated for entire families were mentioned as vital factors in fostering evangelization through the family.
Pastoral Care for Couples Civilly Married or Living Together
41. While continuing to proclaim and foster Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives which can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. Pastors ought to identify elements which can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.
42. The synod fathers also noted in many countries an “an increasing number of people live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In some countries, this occurs especially in traditional marriages which are arranged between families and often celebrated in different stages. Other countries are witnessing a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a general attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and income). Finally, in some countries de facto marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values concerning the family and matrimony but primarily because celebrating a marriage is too expensive. As a result, material poverty leads people into de facto unions.
43. All these situations require a constructive response, seeking to transform them into opportunities which can lead to an actual marriage and a family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be provided for and guided patiently and discreetly. With this in mind, the witness of authentic Christian families is particularly appealing and important as agents in the evangelization of the family.
Caring for Broken families (Persons who are Separated, Divorced, Divorced and Remarried and Single-Parent Families)
44. Married couples with problems in their relationship should be able to count on the assistance and guidance of the Church. The pastoral work of charity and mercy seeks to help persons recover and restore relationships. Experience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, though grace, a great percentage of troubled marriages find a solution in a satisfying manner. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life. Forgiveness between husband and wife permits a couple to experience a never-ending love which does not pass away (cf. 1 Cor 13:8). At times, this is difficult, but those who have received God’s forgiveness are given the strength to offer a genuine forgiveness which regenerates persons.
45. The necessity for courageous pastoral choices was particularly evident at the Synod. Strongly reconfirming their faithfulness to the Gospel of the Family and acknowledging that separation and divorce are always wounds which causes deep suffering to the married couple and to their children, the synod fathers felt the urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family, knowing oftentimes that couples are more “enduring” situations of suffering than freely choosing them. These situations vary because of personal, cultural and socio-economic factors. Therefore, solutions need to be considered in a variety of ways, as suggested by Pope St. John Paul II (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 84).
46. All families should, above all, be treated with respect and love and accompanied on their journey as Christ accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In a particular way, the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3: 5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting a closeness and compassion which, at the same time, heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169).
47. A special discernment is indispensable for pastorally guiding persons who are separated, divorced or abandoned. Respect needs to be primarily given to the suffering of those who have unjustly endured separation, divorce or abandonment, or those who have been subjected to the maltreatment of a husband or a wife, which interrupts their life together. To forgive such an injustice is not easy, but grace makes this journey possible. Pastoral activity, then, needs to be geared towards reconciliation or mediation of differences, which might even take place in specialized “listening centres” established in dioceses. At the same time, the synod fathers emphasized the necessity of addressing, in a faithful and constructive fashion, the consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the situation. Children must not become an “object” of contention. Instead, every suitable means ought to be sought to ensure that they can overcome the trauma of a family break-up and grow as serenely as possible. In each case, the Church is always to point out the injustice which very often is associated with divorce. Special attention is to be given in the guidance of single-parent families. Women in this situation ought to receive special assistance so they can bear the responsibility of providing a home and raising their children.
48. A great number of synod fathers emphasized the need to make the procedure in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop; and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident. Some synod fathers, however, were opposed to this proposal, because they felt that it would not guarantee a reliable judgment. In all these cases, the synod fathers emphasized the primary character of ascertaining the truth about the validity of the marriage bond. Among other proposals, the role which faith plays in persons who marry could possibly be examined in ascertaining the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage, all the while maintaining that the marriage of two baptized Christians is always a sacrament.
49. In streamlining the procedure of marriage cases, many synod fathers requested the preparation of a sufficient number of persons clerics and lay people entirely dedicated to this work, which will require the increased responsibility of the diocesan bishop, who could designate in his diocese specially trained counselors who would be able to offer free advice to the concerned parties on the validity of their marriage. This work could be done in an office or by qualified persons (cf. Dignitas Connubii, art. 113, 1).
50. Divorced people who have not remarried, who oftentimes bear witness to their promise of faithfulness in marriage, ought to be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment they need to sustain them in their present state of life. The local community and pastors ought to accompany these people with solicitude, particularly when children are involved or when in serious financial difficulty.
51. Likewise, those who are divorced and remarried require careful discernment and an accompaniment of great respect. Language or behavior which might make them feel an object of discrimination should be avoided, all the while encouraging them to participate in the life of the community. The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but, precisely in this way, the community is seen to express its charity.
52. The synod father also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Some synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present regulations, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as the teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others expressed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).
53. Some synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access “sacramentally”. As a result, the synod fathers requested that further theological study in the matter might point out the specifics of the two forms and their association with the theology of marriage.
54. The problems relative to mixed marriages were frequently raised in the interventions of the synod fathers. The differences in the matrimonial regulations of the Orthodox Churches creates serious problems in some cases, which require due consideration in the work of ecumenism. Analogously, the contribution of the dialogue with other religions would be important for interreligious marriages.
Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies
55. Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church’s teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.”Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” )Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4(.
56. Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: this is equally so for international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws which establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.
The Transmission of Life and the Challenges of a Declining Birthrate
57. Today, the diffusion of a mentality which reduces the generation of human life to accommodate an individual’s or couple’s plans is easily observable. Sometimes, economic factors are burdensome, contributing to a sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, thus compromising relations between generations and rendering a future outlook uncertain. Openness to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. In this regard, the Church supports families who accept, raise and affectionately embrace children with various disabilities.
58. Pastoral work in this area needs to start with listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional openness to life, which is needed, if human life is to be lived fully. This serves as the basis for an appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation, which allow a couple to live, in a harmonious and conscious manner, the loving communication between husband and wife in all its aspects, along with their responsibility at procreating life. In this regard, we should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births. The adoption of children, orphans and the abandoned and accepting them as one’s own is a specific form of the family apostolate (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, III, 11), and oftentimes called for and encouraged by the Magisterium (cf. Familiaris Consortio, III, II; Evangelium Vitae, IV, 93). The choice of adoption or foster parenting expresses a particular fruitfulness of married life, not simply in the case of sterility. Such a choice is a powerful sign of family love, an occasion to witness to one’s faith and to restore the dignity of a son or daughter to a person who has been deprived of this dignity.
59. Affectivity needs assistance, also in marriage, as a path to maturity in the ever-deepening acceptance of the other and an ever-fuller gift of self. This necessitates offering programmes of formation which nourish married life and the importance of the laity providing an accompaniment, which consists in a life of witness. Undoubtedly, the example of a faithful and deep love is of great assistance; a love shown in tenderness and respect; a love which is capable of growing over time; and a love which, in the very act of opening itself to the generation of life, creates a transcendent mystical experience.
Upbringing and the Role of the Family in Evangelization
60. One of the fundamental challenges facing families today is undoubtedly that of raising children, made all the more difficult and complex by today’s cultural reality and the great influence of the media. Consideration, then, needs to be given to the needs and expectations of families, who are able to bear witness, in their daily lives, to the family as a place of growth in the concrete and essential transmission of the virtues which give form to our existence. Parents, then, are able freely to choose the type of education for their children, according to their convictions.
61. In this regard, the Church can assume a valuable role in supporting families, starting with Christian Initiation, by being welcoming communities. More than ever, these communities today are to offer support to parents, in complex situations and everyday life, in their work of raising their children, accompanying children, adolescents and young people in their development through personalized pastoral programmes, capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging them in their choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel. Mary, in her tenderness, mercy and maternal sensitivity can nourish the hunger of humanity and life itself. Therefore, families and the Christian people should seek her intercession. Pastoral work and Marian devotion are an appropriate starting point for proclaiming the Gospel of the Family.
62. These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World. These are not decisions taken nor are they easy subjects. Nevertheless, in the collegial journey of the bishops and with the involvement of all God’s people, the Holy Spirit will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all. This has been the wish of Pope Francis from the beginning of our work, when he invited us to be courageous in faith and to humbly and honestly embrace the truth in charity.
[03044-02.01] [Original text: Italian]
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