This column is “Joan’s Rome lite” today as the commitments I have – often to be in two different places at the same time – only allow me time to write a fairly short summary of today’s press briefing with three very interesting guests from three very diverse cultures.


Today is special in many respects and for many reasons but the first reason for so many people is that October 22 is the feast day of St. John Paul II.

In fact, Sunday, October 22, 1978 was the day that he inaugurated his pontificate, the third longest in history. St. John Paul wrote and spoke and preached extensively on the family and many have been praying to him for the success of the current synod of bishops with the family as its focus. Pope Francis, synod fathers and invited guests have been meeting for three weeks on the theme:  “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.” Only three days remain for this gathering. Pope Francis will close the synod Sunday with Mass in St. Peter’s basilica. Work might finish here but there will be a fair amount of post-synod work for the Holy Father and others.

One of the penultimate press briefings by and about the synod of bishops on the family took place today, Thursday. Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office and secretary of the synod’s Commission for Information presided. The special guests were Cardinals Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Each gave brief opening statements before answering questions.


Cardinal Gracias, who is also one of the C9 Council of Cardinals that advises Pope Francis, said every synod he has attended is a new experience.. This time was a “true walking together with diverse opinions, different viewpoints, different cultural situations. It was “marvelous to learn all that, and also that it has been a spiritual experience.” He said, “we look to the Holy Father to give direction in our pastoral work.”  He said families are in difficulty today but there are also many good families. How do we help them become better? He said he saw in the small language groups “the deep passion of bishops for the suffering of their people.”

Cardinal Mafi noted that he was also at last years Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He said he was looking forward to this synod but was also apprehensive. “My people are waiting at home to hear from me.” He described the people of his South Pacific island nation as “very much family oriented, we have especially extended families.” Though we are somewhat isolated, he said, “globalization is also entering our world, the good and the bad of globalization, and we are now facing the challenges of globalization.


The youngest member of the College of Cardinals said “it is a wonderful experience to listen, to hear and to learn, to learn from brother bishops in the synod, and he asked: “What are the lessons I should take from this synod…..hopefully we will learn from one another and continue to walk together in the synod.”

Later, in answer to a question, Cardinal Mafi (whose first names Soane Patita translate to John Baptist) said, “in Oceania we are in a transitional period, if you like, small little island nations, many of which became independent in the 70s and 80s. This has impacted on the family, on the traditional family values, often vulnerable in this transitional period. … Individualism is starting to come slowly to our shores. We see some family breakdown from the traditional extended structure. Material well-being can bring blessings as well as challenges. We can become very materialistic. A big concern is migration as some look for a better life. But I ask: why leave paradise? Now, whole families move overseas and break away from certain values.”

Archbishop Gomez, said “it has been a blessing to be part of this synod on the family. It has been a special grace for all of us to be together, especially as we talk of the family, so important for society and for all of humanity. We are listening and learning and hearing of different realities. We are united in this global village we live in. We are asking: how can we strengthen marriage and the family in their vocation and mission?


The archbishop said he wish there had been more time to further discuss issues close to his heart and the hearts of many, such as poverty, migration, the role of education and many other issues. The archbishop of Los Angeles said, “I hope the final document reflects our talks.” He added, jokingly, “three weeks is enough, and we are looking forward to going back home.”

Later, answering a question about what he hoped would come of the synod, he spoke of spirituality and said, “the hope for our families is that the synod helps them find new ways to be active members of the church. Society has changed and people are so busy sometimes it is difficult to practice your faith. We need a sense of how to be good Catholics in today’s world.” And he underscored the need for unity: “we need to be united, and social media has helped people stay together, helped families in many ways to be united.” Archbishop Gomez stressed that “the people we can trust 100 percent are always family.”

Father Lombardi, having earlier joked about the fact that Hollywood is part of Abp. Gomez’ archdiocese, pointed out that Bollywood is part of Cardinal Gracias’ archdiocese.


Cardinal Gracias, a member of the commission of ten that is preparing a document to be read and approved by the Synod Fathers and then passed on to Pope Francis, explained the various procedures involved in this. The commission has spent long hours, working very late at night and very early some mornings to get the document ready that is intended to reflect the input of the interventions given in the hall and the reflections and amendments (apparently over 500) passed on by the 13 language groups.

The cardinal mentioned that at one point, Pope Francis briefly joined their group last week, noting that, “he encouraged us but did not stay for our discussions.”

He said the group has finalized the text – they voted unanimously – to be presented this afternoon, Cardinal Erdo will give a brief presentation and the text then given to synod fathers who will meet tomorrow morning in General Congregation. We hope, he said, to have written amendments by lunch. We meet again tomorrow evening to polish the final draft on Saturday, and the plan is for it to be ready to go to whole house and we will vote paragraph by paragraph in the afternoon.