First, some non-synod news: The 2014 Nobel Peace prize was announced this morning and went to children’s rights activists Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India. As of yesterday many oddsmakers had Pope Francis the winner – one name among well over 200 on the list of nominees. I went to the Nobel website last night to possibly learn more (you can watch the announcement live on their website if you are in front of a computer at 11 am on October 10 each year). I did learn the following: The Nobel Prize and Prize in Economic Sciences have been awarded to women 46 times between 1901 and 2014; Two people – Jean-Paul Sartre and Le Duc Tho – both declined the Nobel Prize, Sartre in 1964 and Le Duc Tho in 1973; 49 out of all Laureates were younger than 40 years old at the year of the award. Most of them are Physics Laureates. I also learned that Alfred Nobel was a scientist and businessman, spoke 5 languages fluently at the age of 17, worked as a chemist, engineer and industrialist, invented dynamite in 1866 and left a controversial will, leaving the equivalent today of $265 and specifying that the bulk of his fortune should be used for prizes – in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.
For the synod summaries, I have made ample use of the VIS reports on Thursday’s 8th Congregation and this morning’s 9th Congregation.
IRAQ COMES TO VATICAN INSIDER
Because my tape recorder broke and I lost the interviews I had planned for this weekend and next, Vatican Insider this week will re-air an interview I did not too long ago with an amazing group of English-speaking Iraqi Catholic students who were in Rome for educational purposes and to visit the Vatican. This seems like a propitious time to air this conversation not only because the world’s spotlight is on the violence and immense suffering in the Middle East, but because the people of that region, especially Iraq and Syria, are in the thoughts and prayers of the synod fathers. In fact, today the synod addressed a Message to families who suffer as a result of conflicts, as you will see in the next story.
SYNOD SENDS MESSAGE, PRAYERS TO FAMILIES IN CONFLICT AREAS
Following is the Message from the Synod on the Family to families who suffer as a result of conflicts:
“Gathered around the Successor of the Apostle Peter, we the Synod Fathers of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, along with all participants, share the paternal concern of the Holy Father, expressing our profound closeness to all the families who suffer as a consequence of the many conflicts in progress.
“In particular, we raise to the Lord our prayers for Iraqi and Syrian families, forced on account of their profession of the Christian faith or their belonging to other ethnic or religious communities, to abandon everything and flee towards a future without any form of certainty. We join with the Holy Father Francis in emphasizing that no-one may use the name of God to commit violence, and that to kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. Offering thanks to International Organisations and Countries for their solidarity, we invite persons of good will to offer the necessary assistance and aid to the innocent victims of the current barbarism, and at the same time we implore the international community to act to re-establish peaceful co-existence in Iraq, in Syria, and in all the Middle East.
“Equally, our thoughts go to those families that are torn apart and suffering in other parts of the world, and who suffer persistent violence. We wish to assure them of our constant prayer that the Lord may convert hearts and bring peace and stability to those who are now in need.
“May the Holy Family of Nazareth, which suffered on the painful road of exile make every family a community of love and reconciliation a source of hope for the whole world.”
OPENNESS TO LIFE, MARRIAGE PREPARATION, PARENTS AS FIRST EDUCATORS
On Thursday afternoon at the eighth general Congregation, the general debate continued on “The Challenge of Upbringing in General / Christian Education in Difficult Family Situations.”
In discussions relating to openness to life, the faithful were invited to better know Paul VI’s Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, to thus better understand natural methods of fertility control and the non-acceptance of contraception. Some synod fathers noted the tendency of several states and organisations based in the Western world to present, especially in the context of Africa, various concepts (including abortion and homosexual unions) as “human rights” linked to economic aid and strong pressure campaigns for the promotion of such concepts. It was noted that the expression “rights to sexual and reproductive health” (used in the United Nations, for example) does not have a precise definition in international law and ends up encompassing mutually contradictory principles such as the condemnation of forced abortion and the promotion of safe abortion, or the protection of maternity and the promotion of contraception.
Synod Fathers universally have reiterated the importance of adequate preparation for marriage, as its celebration seems to be increasingly reduced to the social and legal status, rather than a religious and spiritual bond. The preparatory course, it was noted, is often perceived by couples as an imposition, a task to complete without conviction, and as a result it is too brief. Since marriage is a vocation for life, preparation for it should be long and detailed, as in the case of preparation for religious life.
The participants insisted on the importance of good preparation for priests in relation to the pastoral care of marriage and the family, and remarked that homilies can be used as a special and effective moment for proclaiming the Gospel of the family to the faithful.
With regard to streamlining procedures to verify matrimonial nullity, it was noted that a special study Commission for the reform of the canonical marriage nullification process was instituted by the Holy Father Francis on September 20th.
During the hour dedicated to free discussion – 6 to 7 p.m. – three themes emerged in particular: 1. with regard to divorced and remarried persons, the need for a penitential path was highlighted, to be accompanied by reflection on the case of divorced persons who remain alone and suffer in silence, at the margins of social life. Secondly, mention was made of the need to protect the children of divorced couples from suffering the psychological affects of their parents’ divorce. Some noted. in this respect, that adequate pastoral care of children often causes their parents to draw closer to the Church.
Thirdly, the importance of the relationship between the family and the education of children was affirmed, with particular reference to parents’ right to choose the most suitable educational plan for their children, so that they may receive a quality education.
CHURCH MUST LISTEN MORE TO LAITY ON FAMILY ISSUES
The 15 interventions Friday morning in the synod hall (6 couples and 9 individual Auditors), were almost exclusively from laypersons from different countries who are engaged in the fields of family pastoral care, bioethics and human ecology.
For openers, mention was made of the difficulties experienced by families living in the Middle East, especially in Iraq where conflicts have serious repercussions on families, divided by the death of their members, forced to migrate in search of a safe place to live, deprived of a future for the young who are removed from schools or for the elderly who are abandoned to their own devices. The unity of the Christian family in the Middle East is profoundly disrupted, with consequences also for the social and national unity of the countries in the region. Faced with such dramatic situations, the Church truly represents a safe haven, a “family of families” that offers comfort and hope.
Auditors spoke of the need for the Church to listen more to laypeople in the search for solutions to the problems of families, especially in relation to the sphere of intimacy in the life of couples. There must be synergy between the academic world and the pastoral world, so as to form not “technicians” but rather pastoral workers who know and understand how to promote the themes of family and life through a solid Catholic overall anthropological vision.
They also highlighted the need for greater dialogue between Church and State in promoting the protection of the rights of the family and the defense of life. The laity must be active and competent in the public square re: the values of life and the family.
Interventions repeated the need to adequately and permanently prepare priests in relation to themes regarding the family, especially in relation to openness to life, so that they are able to explain and speak naturally and clearly about conjugal love. Emphasis was on natural family planning, highlighting its positive worth and how it can strengthen the life of the couple.
Great importance was attached to witness: the young do not need theory, but they clearly understand the centrality of the family if it is demonstrated by families themselves, credible witnesses and subjects of evangelisation.
Time was devoted to the suffering of those who lose a family member: widows and widowers, orphans, or parents who lose a child. For these people, the accompaniment of the Church is fundamental, through support groups and sharing, so that they do not become lost in the profound anguish of loss, and the fear of a “desert” of emotions, but remain firm in their faith.
”THE CHURCH MUST SERVE THE TRUTH”
Italian news agency ANSA has reported that a senior prelate insisted Tuesday that marriage cannot be dissolved and that “starting a new union contradicts what the Lord has indicated.” ANSA quoted Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, prefect of the papal household who made the remarks in an interview with “Chi” magazine. Excerpts were released in advance at the start of the synod of bishops on the family.
The archbishop, who is also private secretary to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, said, “Gays must be received with respect but their acts are contrary to natural law. …The Church must have the courage to express its convictions as otherwise it would not be in the service of truth.” Asked by the magazine about the question of possibly allowing divorced people to take communion, he said, “this is a very delicate question, at stake is the sacramental matrimony that according to Catholic doctrine cannot be dissolved, just like the love of God for man. As far as I can see Pope Francis is following the line of his predecessors whose teaching on matrimony is very clear.”