06/23/2015, 00.00
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Synod to focus on the challenges to the family, the discernment of the family vocation, and the mission of the family today

The Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris was made public today. Only “a minority lives, supports and proposes the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family. Increasingly, having children is seen as a tool of self-fulfilment by any means. The issue of remarried divorcés elicited a “mutual agreement” on the possibility of a “penitential journey” under the supervision of a bishop, based on repentance, confirmation of the nullity of the marriage and celibacy.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – This Instrumentum Laboris of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was made public this morning. Dedicated to ‘The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and contemporary world,’ the synod will take place between 4 and 25 October 2015. It will be divided in various parts, namely listening to the challenges of the family, the discernment of the family vocation, and the mission of the family today.

For Card Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the Instrumentum Laboris “closely reflects the perception and expectations of the whole Church in relation to the crucial issue of the family" insofar as it incorporates the 'Relatio Synodi', the report last October by the Special Synod on the family, and includes the summary of the 99 answers to the 46 questions directed at the synods of the sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches, the bishops’ conferences, Curia dicasteries and other bodies, as well as the 359 observations “freely sent by dioceses and parishes, church associations and grassroots groups, civic movements and organisations, as well as families and individual believers".

For Card Peter Erdo, general rapporteur to the General Assembly, the choice of the topic is indicative of “an approach that calls for special attention to the circumstances of the contemporary world". Thus, the anthropological and social changes that have come to pass in recent history can be dealt in light of the contradiction that exists between young people’s desire for a family and the deep crisis of the family as an institution, acknowledging that many people prefer civil unions and domestic partnerships, and noting that "only a minority lives, supports and proposes the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family, as the recognition of God’s goodness and part of creative plan.”

For the same reason, “putting the emphasis on individual rights without taking into account the communal aspect of human life has led to a form of individualism centred on the satisfaction of desires rather than the broad fulfilment of the person. The isolation of the individual is contrary to the Creator’s plan. The fact that many are afraid of making a commitment seem to be a manifestation of such individualism."

"At the same time, there is a growing tendency to see having children as a tool for self-fulfilment by any means. This view sees children as a means and does not respect their personal dignity." Thus, the working document stresses "the need to assert that a child’s education must be based on sexual differentiation, as well as procreation."

Increasingly, new trends are trying to widen the notion of marriage, family and parenthood, and are thus undermining the meaning of these concepts. Such confusion does not help define the social specificity of affection-based unions. However, it does hand over the special bond that exists between differentiation, procreation, human identity, etc. to the individualistic option. As Pope Francis said at the general audience on 15 April of this year, ‘The removal of difference [. . .] creates a problem, not a solution.’”

The problems created by economic hardships, job insecurity and “the rising costs of raising children” are become increasingly visible. The same is true for “the growing burden of caring for the sick and the elderly, which de facto falls on families” and “constitute a huge load on family life.”

For Mgr Bruno Forte, special secretary to the 14th General Assembly, “within the actual life of the Church, the document does not see families just as beneficiaries of pastoral work, but also as an active agent in its life. In fact, it highlights its constitutive missionary dimension, and acknowledges the 'way of the Church' in the reality of the family, one that is available to most so that they can understand and experience the divine measure of love. The family will be able to fulfil this mission that much more if it can pray and nurture the faith of each of its members. As for the catechesis, the family must not be simply seen as subordinate; instead, it must be viewed as an active agent in the fields of evangelisation and catechesis. Married couple thus play a fundamental role in bearing witness about the joy of living together.”

As for the family’s current mission, the Instrumentum focuses on four crucial areas in the lives of families. "The first one is that of evangelisation. After stressing how urgent and important is the role of the family in proclaiming the Gospel today in various contexts, the document focuses on the way in which the family itself can become an agent of evangelisation.

This occurs when we learn from tenderness, which is the capacity to love by giving and receiving joy, an experience that must be nurtured by constantly turning to God’s infinite tenderness. Hence, the family can offer itself as a pastoral agent of the Church ".

Education is also very important. It includes “preparing people for marriage, as well as training future priests, the clergy and pastoral workers. The latter are very important in accompanying family life, and holding public institutions to their responsibility, as well as related pro-family socio-political work.”

"More generally, the family needs careful Church accompaniment, on the path towards the nuptial sacrament, as well as in preparing for the daily work of mutual acceptance and forgiveness, nurtured by the ‘great river’ of divine mercy. When it comes to family life, the art of accompanying is a fundamental aspect of the pastoral activity of the Christian community. Special pastoral care should be given to those who have contracted a civil marriage or are in civil union. The same should be done for so-called wounded families (separated, divorcés who have not remarried, divorcés who have remarried, and single parents). Separated and divorced believers who are faithful to the bond must receive particular support through the pastoral ministry of the Church. All of these people should know that God does abandon no one."

Therefore, the Church must "take care of the 'wounded' families, of those who are separated, divorced and remarried and let them experience the infinite mercy of God". The Instrumentum reiterates that it is "the Church’s duty and mission" to proclaim the sacrament of marriage as the indissoluble union between a man and a woman,” but also "to accompany those who contracted a civil marriage or are in a civil union,” so that they may gradually subscribe to a full sacramental union. The latter must not be as "a difficult ideal to proclaim," but should instead be seen as “a gift that enriches and strengthens marriage and family life."

The Instrumentum also looks at the question of remarried divorcés, an issue that received media coverage during the special synod, and will do so again in October, with a good chance that it might overshadow other important issues.

As the Church has already said, "Some believe that it is necessary to encourage all those living in non-marital partnerships to come back. Others support these people, calling on them to look forward, and put behind them the prison of anger, disappointment, pain and loneliness, in order to go forward again. Of course, more say that the art of accompaniment requires prudent and merciful discernment, as well as a capacity to grasp fully the various individual situations."

“Current forms of exclusion of remarried divorcés in the liturgical-pastoral, educational and charitable areas need some rethinking” because these believers “are not outside the Church". Thought must be given as to whether “these exclusions should be dropped”. The paths of pastoral integration must however be preceded by "appropriate discernment" and achieved "in accordance with the principle of gradualness so as to respect the evolving conscience of each."

On the issue of remarried divorcés receiving the Eucharist, the Instrumentum focuses on "mutual agreement" towards the idea of a “penitential journey” under the supervision of a bishop, based on repentance, confirmation of the nullity of the marriage and the decision to live celibate.

Others referred to a "process of clarification and re-orientation", in which the individual is accompanied by a priest. In relation to spiritual communion, some noted that this process “must be based on the assumption of conversion and the state of grace, and is connected to the sacramental communion."

Mgr Forte noted that many people, from different parts of the world, called for a simplification of marriage nullity, and that it be free of charge. In view of this, "some highlighted the role of the faith of those to be married as a possible ground for the nullity of the bond. Many insisted on the importance of training staff, increasing the number of ecclesiastical courts, as well as adopting common pastoral lines to integrate remarried divorcés in the Christian community. A specific penitential journey to reach these goals was proposed.”

Some also called for enhancing the distinction and the relationship between spiritual and sacramental communion of those who are in difficult or irregular situations. Special attention ought to be given to situations created by mixed marriages and religious impediments. The peculiarity of the Orthodox tradition and its practice of merciful compliance in some difficult situations should be treated with respect even though it is different from Catholic theology and practice.

“Finally, recommendations were made in favour of appropriate pastoral care for the accompaniment of families with members with homosexual tendency as well as homosexual people themselves.”

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