TODAY IN HISTORY: Thirty-seven years ago today, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected to the See of Peter and took the name John Paul II. His was the third longest papacy in history, after St. Peter and Pope Pius IX.
TOMORROW: Pope Francis, the Synod Fathers and participants and invited guests will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Synod of Bishops by Blessed Paul VI from 9 am to 12:30 pm in the Paul VI Hall.
SUNDAY: We will witness the canonization of the parents of St. Thèrése of Lisieux, Blesseds Louis e Zélie Martin, and hear their amazing, unique story. How fitting to canonize a couple during the synod on the family!
There is a fascinating report by Vatican Radio staff on the press briefing today in the Holy See Press Office and I’m sure you will be greatly interested in what the two guests at the briefing had to say. I was especially struck by this remark: “Patriarch Stephanos said that sometimes he was disappointed on how the media was reporting on the Synod. He said there was the tendency to look for scandal and not report the positive things that were being said. He said that divergent views were not scandalous but showed that the bishops really took their pastoral responsibility seriously and wanted to respond as best they could to God’s people.”
You may remember the other day I told the story of the couple from Brazil who were guests at the briefing, and were asked by a priest covering the synod: What has most surprised you about the synod and your participation? And the priest was surely the one who was surprised when the husband replied: What surprised us has been the media coverage as it does not reflect what was happening inside the synod hall.
The husband added another very interesting element: He said it seemed to many inside the synod that what the media was trying to do was “influence” the gathering by “suggesting,” via their articles, what the synod agenda should really be!
I have read articles and heard from synod participants that the media reports often fail to mirror the synod reality. And yet others say it is often only the headline that is misleading or titillating but the report itself is valid. And, need it be said, there are obviously many excellent pieces out there.
In all the years I worked at the Vatican Information Service and covered synods, the hardest, most time-consuming part of our work was to read ALL of the speeches by the Synod Fathers and then write a solid summary of as many talks as humanly and physically possible for our readers.
However, looking back, that was actually the best part of our work, at least compared to the new synod methodology where these talks are not made public. The speeches of the Synod Fathers were out there for everyone to see. You did not have to guess what each individual said. Writers did not have to take a stab at what was happening, what was being said in the synod hall. And there were translations – sometimes very rushed and quite faulty but you had the main focus of a synod speech.
“VATICAN INSIDER” HOSTS A SYNOD COUPLE FROM THE U.S.
My guests this week on “Vatican Insider” are Cathy and Tony Witczak, a couple from Philadephia who have been married for 48 years, are leaders in the Worldwide Marriage Encouter movment and auditors at the synod on the family. They talk to me about Marriage Encounter, how they were invited to the synod, what they are hearing and seeing and what their hopes are for the post-synod period, including a papal document.
They addressed the synod in the afternoon session yesterday and it was after that that we spoke. The conversation was so heartfelt and warm, and Cathy and Tony’s love for each other was palpable – as you will sense in a very delicate moment of our talk.
(Their intervention Thursday afternoon follows)
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 www.ewtn.com) 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: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=
MARRIAGE, A JOURNEY OF LOVE, FIDELITY AND SERVICE TO THE LORD
Following is the intervention yesterday in the synod hall by Cathy and Tony Witczak, a married couple an auditors from the U.S. Knowing that talks were supposed to be 3 minutes, I asked if this meant that they, as a couple, had 3 minutes each, or just half that total. Tony said it was to be half that. Let’s see….
Your Holiness, members of the clergy, esteemed guests, We are Tony and Cathy Witczak, married 48 years, parents of 4 children and grandparents of 16. We are one of the 6,500 couples currently presenting Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekends in almost 100 countries.
CATHY: From the very beginning of our journey, we knew it was God’s plan for us to be together. We met while serving the Lord, and I was immediately attracted by Tony’s spirituality and self-confidence. I imagined us raising a family and serving God as a team. In the years after our wedding we were blessed with three daughters and a son. Like so many couples, we quickly found ourselves very busy with the demands of caring for and providing for our family. Although we attended Mass faithfully, and we volunteered in our parish, we began to lose that initial joy for service. Our loving relationship was strained as we were pulled in many different directions. The dreams we had became a distant memory.
TONY: In 1979 we were led to the Marriage Encounter Weekend. I didn’t think we needed any renewal, but on that Weekend, I began to see myself and Cathy in a new light. As we learned to dialogue heart to heart, I saw things I had been missing. Together we discovered that God wanted us to be intimately united so we could be a radiant sign of His love in the world. When we renewed our vows, my joy overflowed because I saw God’s love for me in Cathy’s eyes. We recognized the call to holiness, the call to be a sacramental couple and to share our love with everyone around us.
CATHY: We chose to serve our Church through Worldwide Marriage Encounter because of what we saw in the presenting team that weekend: three couples working side by side with the priest. This intimate community helped us see how we are meant to support one another in our common mission of building the family of God. The priest challenges the couple to grow spiritually; the couple offers the priest the opportunity to grow emotionally as part of the family. Together in community, they offer a wonderful model for church that encourages openness to vocations!
TONY: Some parting thoughts: First: the Church must offer quality programs, especially engaged and married couples, or it risks being dismissed as irrelevant in today’s world. Second: We should not continually separate husband and wife for ministry in the parish, but rather let their sacrament shine by allowing them to work as a team. Third: If a church is meant to be a family of families, then we should encourage our seminarians to be priests in love with their people, not merely priests in charge of a parish. Our faith is based on relationship with God, but it is learned and lived out in relationship with others.
DAY 11 PRESS BRIEFING ON THE SYNOD
(Vatican Radio) Friday 16 Oct. Two fraternal delegates were guests at the daily press briefing for the Synod on the Family on Friday. Bishop Tim Thornton of the Anglican Communion is representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Patriarch Stephanos of Estonia is representing the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Bishop Thornton, speaking on the importance of forming good families today said, “How can we encourage every individual to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? That’s what the focus for me has to be. We try and get every individual to understand what it means to be a disciple then they shape their family life, whatever that is, in what I think would be the right way and the goal.”
Thornton said that he thought one of the big issues the Synod delegates faced was the tension between local and universal. Some issues might be dealt with much better on the local level, there is therefore a tension between how much subsidiarity and how much of a universal framework is needed.
Patriarch Stephanos said that the Synod was a positive experience. He said that extraordinary work had been done and that many problems have been laid out. “The problems you face are not that different to the ones that we have, we are all searching,” he said. In his remarks, he said that there were “no easy answers” and yet the Church must engage with difficult questions.
Responding to a question about the “penitential path” for the divorced and remarried and their admission to the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch explained that there is only one Orthodox Church but that there are different expressions of the Church. He said that he noticed that the “human dimension of the sacraments” was being better understood at the Synod. “The Fathers are slowly coming to understand what we call ‘the economy of salvation.’ This means that for each there is a place and position in the economy of grace and hence the importance of mercy,” he said.
Cardinal Walter Kasper had proposed that the Church look towards the Eastern Orthodox Church to find a way of dealing with issues around the ban on admission to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried.
Thornton said that the Anglican Communion still holds to the traditional understanding of marriage. He said that there was no neat line between the doctrinal and the pastoral and both need to be seen in a broader theological context. He also said that it was unfortunate that the Instrumentum Laboris did not contain more of the historical context of marriage because marriage was not always in the domain of the Church; it came much later when married people came to the Church for a blessing.
It was reported at the briefing that the discussions in the assembly were much more emotional in the last two sessions of the Synod. The personal nature of the interventions arose from the fact that many of them were about actual pastoral cases. Some bishops read letters in the assembly that were written to them by people in their pastoral care who were hurting.
A number of topics were presented in the interventions. These include: procreation and contraception (the theology of Humane Vitae was spoken about); the changes made by Pope Francis to the annulment process; violence, incest and sexual abuse within families and the “martyrdom of silence”; the care of the elderly and their value in society; the formation of parents because they shape future generations, and how large corporations and economic issues put pressure on parents to work long hours which disrupt family life.
The Synod delegates had also heard in interventions that there were possibly three ways forward: to do nothing, to move towards the ‘penitential way’ outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper or, stand firm and reaffirm the Church’s current position.
The Patriarch said that sometimes he was disappointed on how the media was reporting on the Synod. He said there was the tendency to look for scandal and not report the positive things that were being said. He said that divergent views were not scandalous but showed that the bishops really took their pastoral responsibility seriously and wanted to respond as best they could to God’s people.
Bishop Thornton added that he would have liked to see some more of the important issues – like migration and poverty – being spoken about. He said that questions around divorce and remarriage seemed to be the focus.
Fr. Lombardi said that he had heard the word “accompaniment” many times at the Synod, “The Church needs to accompany individuals, couples and families.” He said that it was important, delegates stated, that families must be formed to accompany one another because, in doing so, they become “missionaries” for other families. He added that delegates had spoken of the importance of sexual intimacy related to the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus says “This is my body given for you,” this is what married couples do for each other.
There will be no further press briefing on the Synod until Monday afternoon. The delegates returned to work in their small groups on Friday afternoon and will continue to work in groups until Tuesday.
CARDINAL TAGLE, CARITAS AND A RELIEF MISSION
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila will see how Caritas is helping migrants on a visit to Idomeni close to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on October 19, according to a press release from Caritas headquarters in Rome. Cardinal Tagle is the president of Caritas Internationalis, which is coordinating relief efforts for the confederation of Catholic aid agencies.
Caritas Greece (known nationally as Caritas Hellas) volunteers in Idomeni provide food and water and sanitation to women and children on the crossing point. Over 450,000 people have gone through Greece this year heading for a new life in the European Union.
Idomeni is a small village unable to host the large number of people travelling through. Many must staying outside, without shelter. There is little chance of getting a meal, a wash or access to a toilet.
Caritas is providing warm clothes, food, medical care, bedding and water and sanitation and other services, working in Greece, the FYR of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
More than 70 percent of asylum seekers and migrants have come to Europe in 2015 from countries experiencing severe emergencies like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Conflict, religious and ethnic persecution and poverty are driving people out of their homes.
Those crossing Greece include families with women and children. They’ve faced dangerous and difficult journeys over sea and land.
Caritas says governments should work together to ensure safe and lawful ways to migrate. The current situation is only benefiting criminals and traffickers. Many of the European countries they’re travelling through don’t have the capacity to support such a huge numbers of people, especially in terms of shelter. Caritas is concerned that as the weather worsens, their situation could deteriorate.
Caritas is urging that the refugees be welcomed, while at the same time solutions are pursued to promote peace and development in their countries of origin. in the Middle East.