Just a note about the two synod stories I present at the end of this column. The first story is my brief summary of a lengthy press briefing this morning about the Synod of Bishops that will open Sunday.

The second piece, The Synod for the Family: Listen to Africa’s Voice, is that one you absolutely want and need to read, perhaps over coffee or, if you do this later in the day, a glass of wine. Sit down in a quiet place (I know I ask you do that a lot but you will absorb a lot more if you can read this in a quiet corner). So much was said and written during and after last October’s synod on the family and in recent months in the leadup to this 2015 synod. Much was said and much confusion was sown as well.

The same questions are on people’s minds today as they were a year ago: What are the Church’s true teachings on marriage and the family? What is the Magisterium teaching on the family and marriage? What can be said or done for/about the divorced and remarried who want to receive communion? Are there traditions that can change with the times, even if dogma and the Magisterium cannot (for example, on the indissolubility of marriage).

Many of the voices that spoke loudly and with beauty about the family and marriage in the synod hall last year came from Africa. A new book on this synod is out by some African prelates and Andrea Gagliarducci does a masteful job of presenting their voices in his article for Catholic News Agency.


You are in for a real treat this weekend on the Vatican Insider interview segment as I welcome another member of the EWTN Rome family, Alan Holdren. Alan heads the Rome office of CNA, Catholic News Agency, is the correspondent for EWTN News Nightly that airs five days a week from Washington and he produces – with the help of a terrific staff here in Rome – EWTN’s weekly news magazine, “Vaticano.” Alan and I talk about his special privilege of being a member of the media aboard the papal flight to Cuba and the United States. This is a Do Not Miss conversation.

This is a special treat so make sure you find time this weekend to join us for Part 1 of that conversation.

From an appearance on News Nightly:

Alan Holdren

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:


(Vatican Radio) Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office has released a statement on the brief meeting between Kim Davis and Pope Francis during his visit to Washington, DC.:

“The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:

“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.

“The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”


Pope Francis has sent a personal letter to a young boy taking part in a “mission of peace” to the Marian sanctuary at Lourdes. Christopher Wells of Vatican Radio reported that 8-year-old Damian had written to the Pope, inviting him to Lourdes to be with the children taking part in the Mission, which was sponsored by UNITALSI, an Italian organization that helps sick people travel to Lourdes and other international sanctuaries. Pope Francis responded to Damian’s request for a video message with a personal letter that was read during the Eucharistic procession at Lourdes on Wednesday, on the occasion of the Tenth Pilgrimage of Children on the Mission of Peace.

In his message, the Holy Father assured the children that he was accompanying them in prayer, and was spiritually close to them. He asked the children to share with Mary and Jesus their expectations, hopes, joys, and sufferings, and to “trust in the help of Jesus and the support of Mary.” “Your mission is both a prayer and a testimony. You show adults that children are able to pray, to love Jesus, the friend who never betrays, to help each other, to hope for a better future.”

The Pope concluded his letter by asking the children to pray for all children who are attempting to make the voyage to Lourdes, and to pray, too, for him.


A briefing was held this morning in the Holy See Press Office about the Synod of Bishops on the family that starts this Sunday with a Mass presided over by Pope Francis. Last year’s two-week extraordinary synod in October focused on the family and this year’s three-week gathering continued that discussion but on the specific theme, “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.”

A lengthy presentation outlined the number and provenance of Synod Fathers, listed the religious and lay invited guests and outlined the methodology of this gathering of the world’s bishops, The synod this year marks the 50th anniversary of its constitution by Blessed Paul VI.

Saturday evening in St. Peter’s Square, in the presence of the Holy Father, a prayer vigil will be held in preparation for the Synod of Bishops. Synod Fathers will attend, as will other participants in the Synod and thousands of faithful from around the world. This is an initiative of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which has invited families, movements and ecclesial associations. All of Italy’s dioceses, in fact, are sending busses that will be filled with families.

A total of 270 Synod Fathers will participate in this 2015assembly, including 54 from Africa, 64 from the Americsa, 36 from Asia, 107 from Europe and 9 from Oceania. They include: 74 cardinals, 6 Patriarchs, 1 major archbishop, 72 archbishops, 102 bishops, 2 parish priests and 13 religious. In addition, other invitees from different cultures and nations include 24 experts and collaborators of the special secretary, 51 auditors and 14 fraternal delegates. As this synod is dedicated to the family, particular importance is given to spouses, parents and family heads, of whom a total of 18 are present

After a lengthy explanation of the synod methodology, it was announced that, on Saturday October 17, from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm, there will be a commemorative event for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops in the Paul VI Hall. The commemorative report will be entrusted to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna and president of the Episcopal Conference of Austria.

On Sunday October 18 at 10:30 am in the Vatican Basilica, there will be a Mass for the canonization of, among others, the Blessed spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guérin, parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Each day, in St. Mary Major Basilica, the Holy Rosary will be recited at 5 p.m. and Mass will be celebrated at 6. Near the Synod Hall there is a chapel for prayer for the participants in the Synod, where the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, her parents and the Beltrame Quattrocchi spouses will be displayed.


(CNA/EWTN News) – Andrea Gagliarducci- Ten prelates from Africa have stood up against a pastoral approach to new challenges to marriage and the family that would effectively modify the Church’s doctrine, by writing essays for a book meant to be a “contribution to the Synod onf the Family by African pastors.”

This is the subtitle of Christ’s New Homeland – Africa, published this week by Ignatius Press, and which features a preface by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

In the book, cardinals and bishops from Africa tackles the main issues of the upcoming Synod on the Family; shed light on shortcomings in the synod’s instrumentum laboris (working document); stress the importance of formation of Christians; and face challenges such as polygamy and interreligious marriages.

Above all, the African prelates claim the importance of their continent in facing secularizing trends, and explain that a strong faith is the best response to them.

The book is divided in three parts: “The Synod on the Family: From one Assembly to Another”; “The Gospel of the Family”; and “Pastoral Care of Families that are Hurting”. There is also an epilogue, an “Appeal from the Church in Africa to the State”, which explains why governments should support families.

The books contributors are Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; Bishop Barthélemy Adoukonou, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah of Lomé; Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou; Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa; Cardinal Christian Tumi, Archbishop Emeritus of Douala; Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou; Cardinal Théodore-Adrien Sarr, Archbishop Emeritus of Dakar; Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala; and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan. (photo by CNA)

Cardinal Sarah –


The first part of the book is constituted by two essays, by Cardinal Sarah and Bishop Adoukonou, critiquing the instrumentum laboris of the upcoming synod.

Both found numerous deficiencies – “slippery language” and “treacherous expressions” among them –  in the synod’s working document, and underscored the role the  media has played in discussions leading up to the synod.

According to Cardinal Sarah, “the media coverage of this debate gives the impression that, on the one hand, there are those who are in favor of ‘closed doctrine’ and, on the other hand, those who are for ‘pastoral openness’.”The cardinal underscored, “in reality, there is no doctrinal party opposed to a pastoral party; instead, both parties claim to be attached to the Church’s perennial doctrine and want pastoral practice to express God’s mercy toward everyone … Might there be some, then, who would argue for the continuation of a pastoral practice that, if it changed, would ipso facto modify the doctrine?

Cardinal Sarah added that “new developments in pastoral practice would not mean changing doctrine, they maintain, but rather would allow the Church to make God’s loving heart more apparent and accessible.” He countered, however, that such “developments” would be “a sort of ‘mercy’ that accomplishes nothing but lets them seek deeper into evil.”

“But could they seriously think that the bishops and cardinals who were warning about a real danger of doctrinal deviation have a fixed concept of pastoral practice? If God’s pedagogy changes, that of the Church should not become rigid,” concluded the prefect.

He noted that the media who push for a change to pastoral practice “forget to say that now most practicing Christians are found no longer in the Northern Hemisphere but rather in the Young Churches.”

Cardinal Sarah also highlighted some “perplexities” raised by the synod’s working document, especially as it seems to propose civil marriage as a preparation for  sacramental marriage.

“To what population does the document address this reality of civil marriages as a preparation for sacramental marriage? To the baptized members of the Church or to sympathetic pagans in areas where an initial evangelization is being conducted? Unless it applies to the neo-pagans in the countries of former Christendom!”

Set God and doctrine aside, and you create a major pastoral confusion,” Cardinal Sarah wrote.

Cardinal Sarah also underscored that “the Church’s pastoral ministry, as her pastors strive to conduct it in the Young Churches, has never outlawed from the community those who are in difficult marital situations. On the contrary, in most cases, they are active members in ecclesial life.”

He then explained that “the fact that they do not go to sacramental Communion – which is not in their view a simple communal meal from which they would feel excluded – nevertheless does not diminish their profound desire to serve Jesus and his ecclesial community.”

According to Cardinal Sarah, “the lack of a clear position and all the confusion that we note in the relatio synodi are obvious signs, not only of a deep crisis of faith, but also of an equally deep crisis in pastoral practice: pastors hesitate to set out clearly in one direction.”

The instrumentum laboris, he said, reflects the malaise of the Church in the West, and that were the Church to allow the divorced-and-remarried to receive Communion, “why would we reject the lay faithful who had become polygamous? We would also have to remove ‘adultery’ from the list of sins.”

Bishop Adoukonou wrote that “the fundamental methodological limitation that we observe in the document lies in the fact that it utilizes the resources of almost all the human and social sciences to put into context the topic of the family today without bringing to light the most important background, namely, the historical choices that led to this disaster.”

A clear position is needed, says Bishop Adookonou. Citing the rise of the Islamic State caliphate, similar efforts in the Sahel and that “other extremist movements seek to set up radical Islamic regimes everywhere, which confuse decadent Western civilization with Christianity, we have the obligation to set ourselves apart from that postmodern civilization, not out of fear or by way of withdrawing into our own enclaves, but out of fidelity to our deep Christian and African identity,” he wrote.

And he added: “For the sake of attracting people, we do not want to put ourselves into situations that would compromise our values, under the illusion of being open to the world in that way.”

Bishop Adokonou also declared that, “conscious more than ever of this interdependence, Africa would like to remind the Church in the West that she could not possibly engage in a hermetically sealed dialogue with the postmodern world, while ridiculing other countries as though they were trapped in various forms of obscurantism that no one understands, without seriously compromising her faith and Christian roots.”

The archbishop deems “unacceptable” the idea – contained in the Synod’s working document – that “the Gospel in itself is a burden from which the Church, out of mercy, ought to strive to relieve our poor contemporaries.”

He went so far as to suggest that a section of the document “contains elements that are highly debatable and even in contradiction with Catholic doctrine.”

Cardinal Souphraniel highlighted the Church’s importance in providing a correct education about marriage and family.

The Church, he wrote, “prepares young couples for marriage. She provides religious education for children grades 1–12. She makes available Catholic schools from kindergarten to the university level, where truths of the faith and moral truths are part of the learning experience. She provides classes in Natural Family Planning, family counseling, and pastoral care, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation and forgiveness. She counteracts such contemporary trends as hedonism, abortion, euthanasia, and value-free sex education.”

But the most important thing is that “she provides the sacraments, whereby every man, woman, and child can obtain the spiritual help he needs to resist temptation, to pursue virtuous living, and to grow in the worship and praise of God,” Cardinal Souphraniel underscored.

Archbishop Kleda also shed light on the lack of education, especially for couples. In his words, “one last form of suffering that can be observed involves couples who are not well prepared for marriage, who have not understood the meaning of family life and have not agreed to give themselves totally to each other.”

In the end, explains Cardinal Kutwa, “The family is and remains, in Africa as elsewhere in the world, society’s most precious resource. It is the place where one learns the importance of oneself, certainly, but also the importance of the other. No one is born alone and for himself alone.”

This is one of the many reasons Cardinal Kutwa provides to explain why the state should support family.

But the real, final rationale of the book is that of setting the core on Christian families who are fully living their vocation as Christian families.

“The beautiful Christian families that are heroically living out the demanding values of the Gospel are today the real peripheries of our world and of our societies, which are going through life as though God did not exist,” wrote Cardinal Sarah.