Thursday, October 9, 2014: It is day four of the synod on the family and it continues to be non-stop activity for both synod participants and those of us who cover the synod as we interview people, stand outside the synod hall at both the start and end of each congregation, hoping for a quick answer to a question, a sound bite or photo op, and then attend press conferences and briefings. In what passes as free time, we have to upload photos and audio, download materials and write our stories (Photos are from outside the synod hall this afternoon). Lunch, if one is lucky, will be eaten at one’s desk, or perhaps a slice of pizza on the fly. Dinner, is one is lucky, is probably at a very late hour (as it will be tonight).
Today I was lucky enough to have lunch at my desk, but I’ve been less lucky with technology. In the last 48 hours, I have recorded two interviews for Vatican Insider as well as an amazing talk given last night at NAC by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the person and pontificate of Pope Francis. I went to upload the three audio files about an hour ago and all three are blank – no sound! The recording light was on as I taped the interviews, the elapsed time was constantly shown and I had no doubts in my mind that I had three great recordings! A techie friend is coming soon to see if there is anything to recover, or if the fault les in the recorder. I just did a test in my office – and no sound!
Back to better news – the synod.
In this column I don’t intend to be a one-person wire service like AP but I do hope to give you, on a daily basis, a sense of what is happening in the hallowed synod halls, sometimes through my own eyes and observations and often through the very thorough reports of Vatican Radio and VIS, as both are Vatican offices.
As you will see in the following VIS story, today’s morning session – the Seventh General Congregation – further debated some of the hot button topics of yesterday’s afternoon session and also discussed the theme scheduled for this morning – openness to life.
Following that report, I offer a beautiful homily given yesterday morning by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, and following that is a talk by a couple from South Africa who are leaders in Africa for Retrouvailles.
Lots of stuff, long reports but much food for thought!
P.S. Alessandro has come and gone and my recorder has died! Another little obstacle to overcome! I lost my interview with the Heizens, the American couple at the synod and will try yo re-schedule that if their busy days allow for time. I always try to look on the bright and the bright side for me is that I have not yet done interviews with some cardinals and with Abp.Kurtz so all is not lost! I did, however, lose the recording I did last night of Cardinal Dolan’s talk at NAC but will try to remedy the content so I can share it with you.
DIFFICULT PASTORAL SITUATIONS DOMINATE SYNOD DISCUSSIONS
(VIS) October 9 – The Seventh General Congregation took place this morning and was divided into two phases: the first consisting of further general debate on the theme of the previous afternoon, “Difficult Pastoral Situations,” and the second regarding the theme of, “The Pastoral Challenges concerning an Openness to Life”.
In the first part the assembly continued its reflection on the matter of access to the sacrament of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried persons. It re-emphasized the indissoluble nature of marriage, without compromise, based on the fact that the sacramental bond is an objective reality, the work of Christ in the Church. Such a value must be defended and cared for through adequate pre-matrimonial catechesis, so that engaged couples are fully aware of the sacramental character of the bond and its vocational nature. Pastoral accompaniment for couples following marriage would also be useful.
At the same time, said participants, it is necessary to look at individual cases and real-life situations, even those involving great suffering, distinguishing for example between those who abandon their spouse and those who are abandoned. The problem exists – this was repeated several times in the Assembly – and the Church does not neglect it. Pastoral care must not be exclusive, of an “all or nothing” type but must instead be merciful, as the mystery of the Church is a mystery of consolation.
It was in any case recalled that for divorced and remarried persons, the fact of not having access to the Eucharist does not mean that they are not members of the ecclesial community; on the contrary, it is to be taken into consideration that there exist various responsibilities that may be exercised. Furthermore, the need to simplify and speed up the procedures for the declaration of marriage nullity was underlined.
With regard to cohabitation in certain regions, it was shown that this is often due to economic and social factors and not a form of refusal of the teachings of the Church. Often, moreover, these and other types of de facto unions are lived while conserving the wish for a Christian life, and therefore require suitable pastoral care. Similarly, while emphasizing the impossibility of recognizing same sex marriage, the need for a respectful and non-discriminatory approach with regard to homosexuals was in any case underlined.
Further attention was paid to the matter of mixed marriages, demonstrating that in spite of the difficulties that may be encountered, it is useful to look also at the possibilities they offer as witness to harmony and inter-religious dialogue. The synod members then returned to theme of language, so that the Church may involve believers, non-believers and all persons of good will to identify models of family life that promote the full development of the human person and societal well-being. It was suggested that the family should be spoken of using a “grammar of simplicity” that reaches the heart of the faithful.
In the second part of the Congregation, the theme of responsible parenthood was considered, emphasising that the gift of life (and the virtue of chastity) are basic values in Christian marriage, and underlining the seriousness of the crime of abortion. At the same time, mention was made of the numerous crises experienced by many families, for instance in certain Asian contexts, such as infanticide, violence towards women and human trafficking. The need to highlight the concept of justice among the fundamental virtues of the family was underlined.
The debate turned to the issue of the responsibility of parents in educating their children in faith and in the teachings it offers: such responsibility is primordial, it was said, and it is important to pay it suitable attention. It was also noted that the pastoral care of children can create a point of contact with families who find themselves in difficult situations.
With regard to children, the negative impact of contraception on society and resulting decline in the birth rate was underlined. It was remarked that Catholics should not remain silent in relation to this issue, but should instead bring a message of hope: children are important, they bring life and joy to their parents, and they reinforce faith and religious practices.
Finally, attention turned to the essential role of the laity in the apostolate of the family and in its evangelization, and the role of lay movements accompanying families in difficulty.
AN ARCHBISHOP’S HOMILY ON LOVING HEARTS, BROKEN HEARTS
As the synod convened on Wednesday, October 8, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow praised the joys of a loving family and lamented the pain caused by divorce.
Preaching at midmorning prayer, he said that in the Church’s ministry to those wounded by separation and divorce, forgiveness does not entail “accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation,” so that there may be “new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love of husband and wife and their children.”
“When husband and wife are happy together and are blessed with children, then love expands from two to three and four and five,” he said. “There is every opportunity to renew faithfulness to one another by laughing together, crying together, supporting one another, saying sorry to one another, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, embracing one another, being happy for each other, just knowing the right word at the right time. And when those things happen, we are privileged to behold the beauty and simplicity and strength of married love and of family love, a love which truly through the grace of Christ endures all things.”
“But when families fracture, love is the first casualty,” he continued. “The love that was the glue between spouses turns to hate very quickly. Intimate communion of life is replaced with a terrible logic of division. Children’s peace of heart is shattered and they find themselves both loving and hating their parents at the same time.”
“Into this sadness,” he added, “the Church has to find a way to speak St Paul’s words of love, which compassionately excuse and forgive, but which also heal and renew and lift up again; where forgiveness is not accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation, engendering new trust, new hope, new endurance, and new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love of husband and wife and their children.”
”St. Paul’s inspiring words on love that we have heard today mean that we must have compassion for the pain and laceration of the human hearts caught up in separation, betrayal and divorce. St Paul’s words encourage us to find a way to uphold God’s holy purpose in marriage and in the family while also upholding those for whom that purpose has become almost impossible to attain. In times of distress and misfortune, people still instinctively turn to the Church for hope and consolation and inspiration. We must not fail them.”
ACCOMPANYING FAMILIES IN “DIFFICULT PASTORAL SITUATIONS”
(Vatican Radio) What can the Church do to accompany families in difficult pastoral situations such as the separated, divorced or divorced and remarried, single parents, teen mothers, children from broken homes? What is the Churches pastoral outreach concerning unions of persons of the same sex? These were the topics of discussion in the Wednesday afternoon session of the synod on ‘The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.’
The afternoon session was led by President Delegate Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida (Brazil). He warned against a shortsighted legalistic approach stating that the Church wants to fathom the depths of these difficult situations in order to welcome all of those involved so that it may be a paternal home where there is a place for everyone with his or her life’s difficulties.
The discussion was introduced by the testimony of auditors Stephen and Sandra Conway, from South Africa. They are regional Retrouvailles leaders for Africa, an organization that helps marriages in crisis.
They told participants that “financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems”. However they also pointed to a predominant “singles married lifestyle” which begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple.
They described the hurt and long-term anger they have encountered in couples who are in their second marriage and thus excluded from the Sacraments. In being excluded from the Eucharist, the Conway’s noted “they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of past relationships or mistakes”.
The couple also spoke of requests from same sex unions or couples to take part in their counselling course.
Testimonies from married couples have introduced each session of debate at the Synod. To date a common factor running through these presentations which has received little or no media coverage is children. Passing on the faith to children, the effects of family breakdown on children, children from mixed marriages, abandoned children, the inability to have children.
Wednesday afternoon, the Conways again spoke at length about children. They emphasized that the best gift couples can give their children is to decide to love each other; to put their marriage first.
Testimony of Stephen and Sandra Conway, regional leaders for Retrouvailles (South Africa):
“Good day. We are Stephen and Sandra Conway – the Co-Ordinators for Retrouvaille in Africa. Retrouvaille is an organization that helps hurting couples who often attend our program as a last resort, before separation or divorce. We have been asked to share our experiences on difficult pastoral situations, in particular a) situations in families and b) concerning unions of persons of the same sex.
“In 2008, after 21 years of marriage, our relationship had hit rock bottom. I went to my doctor, with no positive response. I tried talking to members of my family, who offered advice.I went to my priest, who listened to my hurt and handed me a Retrouvaille brochure. It is now 6 years later – I am a different person because of Retrouvaille and our marriage relationship has been evangelized. The Church, through Retrouvaille, became the “house of the Father, with doors wide open, a place for us with our problems.”
“Our 3-month program begins with a live in weekend followed by 12 post sessions. We are open to any couple, regardless of their religious beliefs. Often we are approached by couples who have lived together for many years, have children but have not as yet married. Others have been married before and have a fear of making the same mistakes again. We also have couples on their second marriage, but fall into the trap of bringing the same problems from their previous marriage into the new one. The majority of couples, however, are in their first marriage but arrive at our weekend totally disillusioned and often on the verge of divorce.
“What leads couples to our program? Financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems which result in what we call “the singles married lifestyle”- couples married but doing things separately. Often this single married lifestyle begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple and they drift apart.
“Our program looks at the four stages of marriage – romance, disillusionment, misery and joy.
“Most couples get stuck between the stages of disillusionment and misery. It is in the misery stage that many throw in the towel. It is our aim to equip couples with tools and techniques to get to the joy stage of marriage – where the emphasis is on ‘us’ as opposed to the ‘me’ or ‘I’ attitude found in the single married lifestyle. We explain that love is a decision, not a feeling; as is trust and forgiveness. We also encourage forgiveness setting the hurt party free. We use the Parable of the Prodigal Son to show that just as the Father forgave his Son, we too can forgive ourselves and each other the hurts of the past – we can come back to the Father’s house – the Church and our homes. We can be the forgiving Father, by making the decision to forgive. We can also be the forgiven Son, by receiving forgiveness offered by our hurting spouse.
“Children are greatly affected by an unhappy marriage. We have a few teachers on our team – they often share on the pain and hurt shown in the children of separated, divorced or unhappy marriages. We emphasize that the best gift couples can give their children is to decide to love each other; to put their marriage first; and to stand united in all decision involving the children. It inspires us when we receive letters from children, after their parents have completed our program, and thank us for their new Mom and Dad.
“We have come across couples who are remarried and feel lost or aggrieved because they are unable to partake in the Eucharist. One example is that of a couple who married outside of the Catholic Church. The wife was non-Catholic and joined the RCIA to convert. As this was her second marriage, she had to apply to have her first marriage annulled. She became disillusioned with the Church and both husband and wife left the parish, after being in RCIA for 2 years and not being able to have the marriage annulled.
“If God is the ultimate forgiver and full of compassion then these couples should be forgiven for previous mistakes, however, they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of these past relationships or mistakes by not being able to partake in communion. We have also had requests from same sex unions or couples to attend Retrouvaille. We do chat with these couples and try to show understanding and compassion to them. However, we explain that our program is presented by teams of husbands and wives and that our stories and experiences would not relate to those in a same sex marriage or union. We also have a list of professional counsellors who offer their services to same sex unions and we pass this information on.
“Retrouvaille has served the citizens of Durban, South Africa for 15 years, and communities round the world for 35 years. Approximately 10 000 couples attend our programs internationally every year, about 90% of these managing to turn away from divorce, some at the last opportunity. Thank you for your time.”