On Monday at 9 a.m. the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world” commenced in the Vatican. In the presence of the Holy Father, the first to speak was the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who presented to the Synod Fathers a brief meditation summarizing the intentions and spirit of the Assembly.
“Brothers, who come from the four corners of the world summoned by Peter, moved by the love of Jesus and the Mother Church”, he began. “St. Paul invites us, indeed, to joy. The joy of the gospel that Pope Francisco tirelessly proclaims worldwide. But as he himself has told us, the greatest risk in the world today, with its multiple and overwhelming consumption, is an individualistic sorrow that springs from the comfortable and covetous heart, the feeble search for superficial pleasures, the isolated consciousness. Sometimes it saddens us to hear how the world has focused on this Synod as if we came together as two opposing sides to defend entrenched positions. Therefore, with Jesus Christ joy is always born and reborn’”.
“But let us take heart”, he continued. “We are not a Church in danger of extinction or indeed far less. Neither is the family, although it is threatened and opposed. Nor do we come to mourn or lament the difficulties. Psalm 26 tells us: ‘Be brave, take heart. Hope in the Lord’. Let us all have one mind: let us all seek the unanimity that comes from dialogue, not ideas defended at all costs. St. Paul reminds us to have same sentiments as Christ. Live in peace: as Evangelii Gaudium tells us, dialogue contributes to peace, because the Church proclaims the ‘Gospel of peace’. To proclaim Jesus Christ, Who is peace in person, the Mother Church encourages us to be instruments of peace and credible witnesses of a reconciled life. It is time to know how to plan a culture that favors dialogue and the pursuit of consensus and agreements as a form of encounter. We are not in need of a project of few and for the few, or an enlightened or minority that appropriates a collective sentiment”.
“Therefore, we wish to begin the Synod in peace”, he concluded. “It is not the peace of the world, made of compromises and commitments that frequently are not fulfilled. It is the peace of Christ, peace with ourselves. And the conclusion is clear: ‘The God of love and peace will be with you’. So we can say, ‘Stay with us, Lord’, not because the day is ending, but rather because it is beginning. A new day for the families of the world, believers or not, families tired of the uncertainties and doubts sown by various ideologies such as deconstruction, cultural and social contradictions, fragility and loneliness. Abide with us Lord, so that this Synod indicate a path of joy and hope for all families”.
The Holy Father than introduced the work of the first day, explaining that “the Synod is not a convention or a locutory; it is not a parliament or a senate, where an accord is sought. The Synod, instead, is an ecclesial expression, that is, the Church who walks together to read reality with the eyes of faith, and which therefore does not represent a museum to be looked at or even to be protected, but is rather a living source from which the Church slakes her thirst so as to slake the thirst and enlighten the deposit of life”.
The Synod is, furthermore, “a protected space where the Church can experience the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod the Spirit speaks through the language of all those who let themselves be guided by God, Who always surprises us, by God Who shows to the smallest among us what He hides from the wise and the intelligent, by God Who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa, by God Who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to seek the one lost sheep, by God Who is always greater than our logic and our calculations. However, let us remember that the Synod may be a space for the action of the Holy Spirit only if we participants clothe ourselves in apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trustful prayer”.
“Apostolic courage so that we do not let ourselves be afraid neither before the seductions of the world, that tend to extinguish in the heart of men the light of the truth, substituting it will small temporary lights, neither before the hardening of some hearts that, in spite of good intentions, distance people from God”, underlined the Pope.
“Evangelical humility so that we empty ourselves of our own conventions and prejudices in order to listen to our brother Bishops and to fill ourselves with God. Humility that leads us not to point a finger at others to judge them, but rather to offer them a hand to help them up without ever feeling superior to them”.
“Trustful prayer is the action of the heart when it opens to God, when it calms our mood so we hear the gentle voice of God that speaks in the silence. Without listening to God, all of our words will remain words alone, that nether satisfy nor serve. Without allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, all our decisions will be mere decorations that instead of exalting the Gospel, cover or conceal it”.
“Dear brothers”, concluded Francis, “as I said, the Synod is not a parliament where, in order to reach a consensus or a common accord we resort to negotiation, pacts or compromise; the only method of the Synod is to open itself to the Holy Spirit with apostolic courage, with evangelical courage and with trustful prayer so that He may guide us, enlighten us and let us put before our eyes not our own personal views, but our faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the salus animarum”.
The president delegate, the cardinal archbishop of Paris Andre Vingt-Trois, then commented that the Pope’s decision to convoke two sessions of the Synod of Bishops on the mission of the family in the contemporary world has been fruitful and that the episcopate has borne witness to this. The particular Churches have made efforts to contribute to the work by answering to the questionnaire that informed the Instrumentum Laboris. “Our Synod is led by the Church”. The cardinal also mentioned the Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, with which the Holy Father has reformed the canonical procedures regarding the declaration of nullity of marriage, which offers valuable direction on the spirit according to which this phase of the Synod should unfold. “Without casting doubt on the sacramental tradition of our Church, nor its doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, you invite us to share our pastoral experiences and to open the paths of mercy by which the Lord calls all those who wish to and are able to enter into a space for conversion with a view to forgiveness”.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod, explained the working methods of the Synod of Bishops in this extraordinary assembly, including the time available for interventions by the Synod Fathers and the greater space accorded to the Circuli Minori to foster more intense debate, as well as the importance conceded to the contributions by couples and the relationships between the Synod and the media.
Finally, the general rapporteur, the cardinal archbishop of Ezstergom-Budapest, Peter Erdo, illustrated the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, which begins by listening to the challenges to the family, placing them in the contemporary socio-cultural context, and its anthropological change, characterized by a “flight from institutions” leading to institutional instability and the predominance of individualism and subjectivism. He then spoke about the discernment of the family vocation, the divine pedagogy of the family and indissolubility as a gift and a task, mentioning the family in the Magisterium of the Church and its missionary dimension, as well as “wounded” families, placing them in the context of mercy and truth. The cardinal touched upon the theme of the evangelizing dimension of the family and ecclesial accompaniment of family units, as well as the issue of reproductive responsibility and the challenges of education.
“Listening to the Word of God, our response must show the sincere and fraternal attention to the needs of our contemporaries, to transmit to them the liberating truth and to be witnesses of our greatest mercy. To face today’s challenges to the family. The Church must convert and become more alive, more personal, and more community-based, also at the levels of the parish and the small community. It would appear that a community reawakening is already in process in many areas. So that it might be more general and increasingly profound, we ask that the light of the Holy Spirit show us also the concrete steps we need to take. In this way, the vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world, the theme of this Synod, would appear in the serene and concrete light that enables us to grow in hope and trust in God’s mercy; in that mercy to which Pope Francis wished to dedicate an extraordinary Jubilee. Let us thank the Holy Father for this decision of hope and entrust our work to the Holy Family of Nazareth”.