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,” began this morning in the Synod Hall in the presence of Pope Francis. Francis called for the two-part synod on the family – October 2014 was Part One, the Extraordinary Synod on the Family – early in his papacy.

The first Synod Father to speak was Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who presented to the Synod Fathers a brief meditation summarising the intentions and spirit of the Assembly. Cardinal Maradiaga is also one of the Council of 9 Cardinals who meet several times a year to advise the Holy Father on various issues, including the running of the Roman Curia.

He noted that, althougb Pope Francis tirelessly proclaims the joy of the Gospel worldwide, “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 a comfortable and covetous heart, a feeble search for superficial pleasures, an 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.”

Cardinal Maradiaga urged courage of heart for “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. … Let us all have one mind: let us all seek the unanimity that comes from dialogue, not ideas defended at all costs. … 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 a few and for the few or an enlightened or minority that appropriates a collective sentiment.”

Pope Francis then addressed the assembly (that talk is a separate blog, entitled SYNOD FATHERS MUST “VEST OURSELVES WITH APOSTOLIC COURAGE, EVANGELICAL HUMILITY AND TRUSTING PRAYER”

Pope Francis and Cardinal Peter Erdo ( AP)


The president delegate, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris 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 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 –3 minutes – and the greater space accorded to the Circuli Minori, the smaller language groups, in order to foster more intense debate, as well as the importance given to contributions by couples and the relationships between the Synod and the media.

Finally, the general rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Ezstergom-Budapest, illustrated the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris on the challenges to the family, placing them in the contemporary socio-cultural context, marked by a “flight from institutions,” thus institutional instability and the predominance of individualism and subjectivism.

He then spoke about Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the issue of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, saying a “merciful pastoral accompaniment is due” in these cases but no one can doubt “the truth of indissolubility of marriage, taught by Jesus Christ himself.” He noted, “It is not the failure of the first marriage but living in a second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist.”

The Hungarian cardinal also mentioned the “wounded” families saying they must be welcomed and helped in the context of mercy and truth.

On the question of people who have “homosexual tendencies,” he said, “it must be repeated that every person should be respected in their dignity, independent of their sexual tendency. It is desirable that pastoral programs might set aside a particular attention to the families in which persons with homosexual tendencies live.”

Cardinal Erdo stressed that, “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.”