I have been out of the house for much of the day, doing interviews, preparing for this week’s edition of @Home with Jim and Joy, preparing future interviews, covering the press briefing in the press office and then a brief break at the end of the day, a reception this evening given by the Order of Malta at their beautiful, old and historical palace on Aventine Hill. The Grand Master, Fra Matthew Festing, whom I have met in the past, invited me to make an appointment with him to talk about the Order and prepare some stories. As soon as the synod is over I will do just that.

The hour is late but today was so important vis-à-vis the synod that I just had to write a column to clarify some of the news stories that have appeared and have many people worried about the direction the Church “might” be taking on some important issues. My advice for now, based on my interview with Cardinal Dolan, with the Vatican Radio reports and other sources is: Have a good night’s sleep.

I interviewed Cardinal Dolan of New York for “Vatican Insider” this afternoon. Our conversation will air this weekend and it is a MUST listen to if you want to understand what has transpired at the synod over the past 24 hours: Yesterday, you will recall, the mid-term report or “relatio” was released in the synod hall and to the media in a briefing. The furor that ensued from media reports on that briefing led to today’s briefing when two cardinals explained exactly what their colleagues said at yesterday’s briefing, namely, the relatio is NOT the definitive document. It is a draft, the foundation for the synod’s continuing work.

Below is the precise and succinct Vatican radio summary of today’s briefing. But first some of my own notes about what Cardinals Napier of Durban, South Africa and Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, said today about the relatio:

– The synod fathers and invited guests are still studying issues. This week the language groups meet to study, analyze and debate what was written in the report. Cardinal Napier said, for example, his group saw things in the relatio that they might not have expressed in the same terms.

– Cardinal Napier said many synod fathers did not know the report would be made public and their feeling now – given that the media has written about and misrepresented some of what was said – is that it will be harder to write a final message. The relatio, he stressed, is only a draft, NOT a final document. Those writing the message do not want to be seen as doing damage control when they write the final document. He said, “we own” the document when it is finished and we vote on it. All documentation will be given to the Holy Father.

– The cardinals said synod participants wish more emphasis had been placed by the media on true focus of synod – the family – not just on two of the pastoral problems (communion for the divorced and remarried and homosexual unions)

– Re: same sex unions: the two cardinals – and most synod fathers – felt the three articles on homosexuality can be much improved: the contextualization needs improvement

– While the relatio does reflect what was said in the synod hall, some of the articles or expressions are not necessarily majority statements. There are articles in the report, for example, that reflect the judgment of a distinct minority but they were nonetheless included in the relatio.

I have learned that many synod fathers did not, in fact, know the report would be made public. Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the press office, said, in all fairness to the Synod of Bishops, that both reports (last Monday’s and this week’s relatio) are always given to the media – made public – as part of synod procedures. It is obviously possible that some or many first time synod participants did not know this and, said Fr. Lombardi, had he been asked not to publish the report, he would not have done so. He did point out, however, that the proceedings were aired live via CTV so the report became public in that moment.


(Vatican Radio) The mid-term report, issued by bishops at the Synod is a “work in progress” and not a definitive document of Church teaching on family life. That was the message underlined by two Synod Fathers joining the head of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi and his assistants, at the daily briefing for journalists on Tuesday. Those guests were South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier, representing one of the English speaking language groups, and Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, as Philippa Hitchen reports….

The half-way report, presented at the Synod’s General Congregation on Monday morning, reflects the rich and often heated debate that has taken place inside the Synod Hall over the past week. But clearly not all the bishops attending the two week meeting are happy with its style or its content. Some believe Church teachings are confused and presented out of context. Others are concerned with the way the media has presented it more as a definitive statement than a working document, that still needs to be reworked and voted on at the end of this week. And even that isn’t the end of the story, because the final statement from this Synod will then be revisited over the coming year and form the basis for the broader gathering that Pope Francis has called for in October 2015.

Cardinal Napier told journalists he was part of a group of bishops that has expressed concern over the report. He believes part of the problem lies in the expectations for change that are accompanying this Synod process:

“Firstly I think the subject is so interesting and people want to know what was going on and perhaps read more into the document than was intended. Secondly, are the expectations perhaps of the Synod a little unrealistic and is the misinterpretation reflecting what people would like to happen, rather than what is happening or what is going to happen?”

Cardinal Filoni, on the other hand, said expectations are rightly high that the Church is placing the needs of the family at the center of its attention. Over recent decades, he said, lay people and especially families have moved from the object of evangelization to become the subject, credible witnesses of the Church’s message to all people in all different life circumstances. The challenge facing bishops, he said, is to encourage both those living up to the Church’s teaching on the family, as well as those parents or children living in more problematic situations.


The theme and dates for the 2015 Synod on the Family were announced this morning in the synod hall. The theme for the second part of the Synod on the Family will be “The vocation and the mission of the family within the Church and in the contemporary world.” The synod will take place from October 4-25, 2015. The issues dealt with during the first part of the Synod, which concludes this week, will be further discussed in this second part.


The synod today released what it has called its Midterm report, the “Relatio post disceptationem” or report that follows the discussion period that took place this week in the synod hall. The 5,800-word report, read in the hall today by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary, the relator general of the synod, was the focus of the remarks made in a press briefing by Cardinals Erdo, Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, Chile and Archbishop Bruno Forte of of Chieti-Vasto. They also answered questions posed by journalists.

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The 58-paragraph “Relatio” is in four languages – Italian, English, Spanish and French: It may be accessed here in English:

A 1,500-word summary of the principal points may be found in 4 languages at the Vatican Information Service (VIS). I offer several pertinent paragraphs at the end of this report. For English, click here:

I posted a Vatican Radio summary as well as the entire Relatio in English on

What is noteworthy about this relatio, compared to many previous synodal and Vatican documents is its tone. It uses language that reflects the language of Francis since his election. The Pope speaks of mercy, understanding, dialogue, reconciliation, listening, welcoming. And the synod fathers spoke in those terms as well, especially when it came to very difficult pastoral issues like communion for the divorced and remarried, cohabitation, same sex unions, etc.

Though the report has in general toned down harsher language for one that is more conciliatory, and does not use phrases such as “living in sin” (cohabitation, for example) or “intrinsically disordered” (a reference to gay people) or “contraceptive mentality,” it does reaffirm Church teaching on the indissolubity of marriage, and the impossibility of celebrating or even blessing same sex unions. The relatio highlights mercy, “spiritual discernment,” “missionary conversion” as well as “a conversion of language.” It refers, for example, to “caring for wounded families” instead of those “living in sin.”

To a journalist who asked if communion for the divored and remarried or same sex unions seemed got the most attention, Cardinal Tagle said the themes that were among the most discussed topics were poverty, conflict, wars, the forced separation of families, forced migration, the situation of refugees, We asked how we as pastors provide pastoral care in these situations, or even other, such as inter-religious marriages.

Cardinal Ezzati said he listened very attentively. He said there is globalization, not only in economic spheres, but in the Church as well. There is a cultural change that is changing all of us, changing the Church. He said he saw a great capacity for listening n the synod, a great capacity for mercy and understanding. He said “the Universal Church was present in the synod hall with a heart of mercy, with the heart of pastors.”

Asked by one journalist if the “conservative voice” had been silenced in the synod hall, Cardinal Tagle, one of the three presidents delegate of the synod, was quick to state that there was ample space for all people and all voices in the synod. He cautioned, however, that we should be careful not to label people, not to use conservative or liberal because “labelling never totally captures a person.”

The cardinals said the document attempts to see and emphasize the positive of the synod and that it was an exercise in intellectual honesty as well as charity.

Cardinal Tagle said that the report “is a synthesis of our work, it is a mirror, like looking at ourselves and our work of this past week in a mirror.” He called the writers of the relatio “heroes” for bringing together the many topics raised in the synod, the many different cultural and linguistic expressions of a single issue, for example.

The report was followed this morning by two hours of very frank, very open, very free debate in the synod hall. Synod participants this afternoon began their smaller language group meetings, which will continue to the end of the synod. There will be another document after the language groups.

One point the cardinals underscored, in answer to a question, was how the participants said they felt “the spirit of Vatican Council II” in the hall. Cardinal Tagle said there were interventions that evoked the spirit of VCII in that the Council 50 years ago reflected on the Church and its mission in the contemporary world. It was not a Church closed in on itself and that was the spirit of this synod – a church looking at its mission in the contemporary world.

Other points made this morning:

– The synod must speak more of children, especially in same sex households. The child has a right to education. The importance of a mother (female) and a father (male) for the child. Parents have the right and must be the first educators of their children.
– The issues discussed in the synod are far more about the faithful than they are about bishops and bishops must be faithful to the discussion in the synod.
– Critical comments were made after the Relatio was given but then criticism was part of the discussions each day. Neither this document nor the final document will be binding but they will be used as part of and/or the basis for the 2015 synod.
– The participation of the laity in this synod has been extremely important and valuable and it is to be hoped the laity will participate in a great way in dioceses and parishes in the preparatory work for the 2015 synod. Abp. Forte stressed that “the laity are the protagonists.”
– On the laity: Cardinal Tagle said the mission received from Jesus involves the laity. The laity must be heard more often. Families must be missionary. “A faithful, loving married couple is an encouragement to pastors to be faithful in their ministry.”
– Abp. Forte: if we had to design a placard that defines the synod, it would be “Work in Progress.” He said there was a very effective use of synodality, of listening as well as talking, of walking together, of growing together, and also of the need for humility on the part of pastors. This was in the spirit of Vatican Council II, in the spirit of “Gaudium et spes” (Joy and Hope), a Church that looks with benevolence at the world.
– “Graduality” or “gradualness” was a new term often used in the synod, an important aspect. There are degrees of learning, of understanding, a spirit of accompanying, growing, maturing.


“The Report sets out three main guidelines: listening to the socio-cultural context in which families live today; discussing the pastoral perspectives to be taken, and above all, looking to Christ and to His Gospel of the family.”

“Turning our gaze to Christ ‘reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman’, but also allows us to ‘interpret the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty’. The principle, explains Cardinal Erdo, must be that of ‘gradualness’ for couples in failed marriages, with an ‘inclusive perspective’ for the ‘imperfect form of nuptial reality: ‘Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognise those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. … The Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings’.

“There is a need, therefore, for a ‘new dimension of family pastoral’ able to nurture seeds in the process of maturation, such as civil marriages characterized by stability, deep affection, and responsibility in relation to offspring, and which may lead to a sacramental bond. Frequently cohabitation or de facto unions are not dictated by a rejection of Christian values, but rather by practical needs, such as waiting for a stable job. The Church, a true ‘House of the Father’, a ‘torch carried among the people’, continued the Cardinal, must accompany ‘her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care’, restoring trust and hope to them.

“In the third part, the post-discussion Report goes on to face the ‘most urgent pastoral issues, the implementation of which is entrusted to the individual local Churches, always in communion with the Pope. First, the ‘proclamation of the Gospel of the family’ is ‘not to condemn, but to cure human fragility’. This proclamation also involves the faithful: “Evangelising is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to his or her own ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of spouses and families, the announcement, even if correct, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words that is a characteristic of our society. Catholic families are themselves called upon to be the active subjects of all the pastoral of the family’.

“The Gospel of the family is ‘joy’, underlined Cardinal Erdo, and therefore requires ‘a missionary conversion’ so as not to stop at a proclamation that is ‘merely theoretical and has nothing to do with people’s real problems’. At the same time, it is also necessary to act in relation to language: ‘Conversion has, above all, to be that of language so that this might prove to be effectively meaningful’. … “

“Moving on to the issue of separated couples, divorced persons, including those subsequently remarried, Cardinal Erdo underlined that “it is not wise to think of single solutions or those inspired by a logic of ‘all or nothing’”; dialogue must therefore continue in the local Churches, “with respect and love” for every wounded family, thinking of those who have unjustly suffered abandonment by their spouse, avoiding discriminatory attitudes and protecting children: “It is indispensable to assume in a faithful and constructive way the consequences of separation or divorce on the children; they must not become an ‘object’ to be fought over and the most suitable means need to be sought so that they can get over the trauma of family break-up and grow up in the most serene way possible’.

“With regard to the streamlining of procedures for the recognition of matrimonial nullity, the General Rapporteur of the Synod reported the proposals made by the Assembly: to abandon the need for the double conforming sentence, to establish an administrative channel at diocesan level, and the introduction of a summary process in the case of clear nullity, and the possibility of “giving weight to the faith of those about to be married in terms of the validity of the sacrament of marriage”. The Cardinal emphasised that this all requires suitably prepared clergy and laypersons and a greater responsibility on the part of local bishops.

“With regard to access to the sacrament of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried persons, the Report lists the main suggestions that emerged from the Synod: maintaining the current discipline; allowing greater openness in particular cases, that may not be resolved without further injustice or suffering; or rather, opting for a “penitential” approach: partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favour of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.”


The Bishops Conference of England and Wales issued the following Joint Statement today: Right of Palestinians to belong to an independent state “long overdue.” The statement was signed by The Lord Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Foreign Affairs, and by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs:

“At a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa, w hold that it is the reasonable aspiration of all peoples to belong to a state and enjoy the merits of full and active citizenship on their own lands. We equally believe that the right of Palestinians for such statehood has been long overdue.

“Given the benchmarks established by international law and universal legitimacy, and in light of the support offered by the Christian Church in the Holy Land, we believe Palestinians should also have a state that they can at long last call home. Such a principled recognition by our Parliament and Government will facilitate rather than hamper the negotiations that would inevitably follow between Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon the details of this new and sovereign state created next to a secure Israel.

“Peace needs a bold vision.”


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.


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.

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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.”


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.


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.


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.”


Thursday, October 9, 2014: It is day four of the synod on the family and it continues to be non-stop activity for both synod participants and those of us who cover the synod as we interview people, stand outside the synod hall at both the start and end of each congregation, hoping for a quick answer to a question, a sound bite or photo op, and then attend press conferences and briefings. In what passes as free time, we have to upload photos and audio, download materials and write our stories (Photos are from outside the synod hall this afternoon). Lunch, if one is lucky, will be eaten at one’s desk, or perhaps a slice of pizza on the fly. Dinner, is one is lucky, is probably at a very late hour (as it will be tonight).

A panorama shot of the area outside the synod hall: 20141009_162517

The “pen” where journalists must stay outside the synod hall (aka the Paul VI Hall):20141009_161837

Today I was lucky enough to have lunch at my desk, but I’ve been less lucky with technology. In the last 48 hours, I have recorded two interviews for Vatican Insider as well as an amazing talk given last night at NAC by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the person and pontificate of Pope Francis. I went to upload the three audio files about an hour ago and all three are blank – no sound! The recording light was on as I taped the interviews, the elapsed time was constantly shown and I had no doubts in my mind that I had three great recordings! A techie friend is coming soon to see if there is anything to recover, or if the fault les in the recorder. I just did a test in my office – and no sound!

Back to better news – the synod.

In this column I don’t intend to be a one-person wire service like AP but I do hope to give you, on a daily basis, a sense of what is happening in the hallowed synod halls, sometimes through my own eyes and observations and often through the very thorough reports of Vatican Radio and VIS, as both are Vatican offices.

As you will see in the following VIS story, today’s morning session – the Seventh General Congregation – further debated some of the hot button topics of yesterday’s afternoon session and also discussed the theme scheduled for this morning – openness to life.

Following that report, I offer a beautiful homily given yesterday morning by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, and following that is a talk by a couple from South Africa who are leaders in Africa for Retrouvailles.

Lots of stuff, long reports but much food for thought!

P.S. Alessandro has come and gone and my recorder has died! Another little obstacle to overcome! I lost my interview with the Heizens, the American couple at the synod and will try yo re-schedule that if their busy days allow for time. I always try to look on the bright and the bright side for me is that I have not yet done interviews with some cardinals and with Abp.Kurtz so all is not lost! I did, however, lose the recording I did last night of Cardinal Dolan’s talk at NAC but will try to remedy the content so I can share it with you.


(VIS) October 9 – The Seventh General Congregation took place this morning and was divided into two phases: the first consisting of further general debate on the theme of the previous afternoon, “Difficult Pastoral Situations,” and the second regarding the theme of, “The Pastoral Challenges concerning an Openness to Life”.

In the first part the assembly continued its reflection on the matter of access to the sacrament of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried persons. It re-emphasized the indissoluble nature of marriage, without compromise, based on the fact that the sacramental bond is an objective reality, the work of Christ in the Church. Such a value must be defended and cared for through adequate pre-matrimonial catechesis, so that engaged couples are fully aware of the sacramental character of the bond and its vocational nature. Pastoral accompaniment for couples following marriage would also be useful.

At the same time, said participants, it is necessary to look at individual cases and real-life situations, even those involving great suffering, distinguishing for example between those who abandon their spouse and those who are abandoned. The problem exists – this was repeated several times in the Assembly – and the Church does not neglect it. Pastoral care must not be exclusive, of an “all or nothing” type but must instead be merciful, as the mystery of the Church is a mystery of consolation.

It was in any case recalled that for divorced and remarried persons, the fact of not having access to the Eucharist does not mean that they are not members of the ecclesial community; on the contrary, it is to be taken into consideration that there exist various responsibilities that may be exercised. Furthermore, the need to simplify and speed up the procedures for the declaration of marriage nullity was underlined.

With regard to cohabitation in certain regions, it was shown that this is often due to economic and social factors and not a form of refusal of the teachings of the Church. Often, moreover, these and other types of de facto unions are lived while conserving the wish for a Christian life, and therefore require suitable pastoral care. Similarly, while emphasizing the impossibility of recognizing same sex marriage, the need for a respectful and non-discriminatory approach with regard to homosexuals was in any case underlined.

Further attention was paid to the matter of mixed marriages, demonstrating that in spite of the difficulties that may be encountered, it is useful to look also at the possibilities they offer as witness to harmony and inter-religious dialogue. The synod members then returned to theme of language, so that the Church may involve believers, non-believers and all persons of good will to identify models of family life that promote the full development of the human person and societal well-being. It was suggested that the family should be spoken of using a “grammar of simplicity” that reaches the heart of the faithful.

In the second part of the Congregation, the theme of responsible parenthood was considered, emphasising that the gift of life (and the virtue of chastity) are basic values in Christian marriage, and underlining the seriousness of the crime of abortion. At the same time, mention was made of the numerous crises experienced by many families, for instance in certain Asian contexts, such as infanticide, violence towards women and human trafficking. The need to highlight the concept of justice among the fundamental virtues of the family was underlined.

The debate turned to the issue of the responsibility of parents in educating their children in faith and in the teachings it offers: such responsibility is primordial, it was said, and it is important to pay it suitable attention. It was also noted that the pastoral care of children can create a point of contact with families who find themselves in difficult situations.

With regard to children, the negative impact of contraception on society and resulting decline in the birth rate was underlined. It was remarked that Catholics should not remain silent in relation to this issue, but should instead bring a message of hope: children are important, they bring life and joy to their parents, and they reinforce faith and religious practices.

Finally, attention turned to the essential role of the laity in the apostolate of the family and in its evangelization, and the role of lay movements accompanying families in difficulty.


As the synod convened on Wednesday, October 8, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow praised the joys of a loving family and lamented the pain caused by divorce.

Preaching at midmorning prayer, he said that in the Church’s ministry to those wounded by separation and divorce, forgiveness does not entail “accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation,” so that there may be “new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love of husband and wife and their children.”

“When husband and wife are happy together and are blessed with children, then love expands from two to three and four and five,” he said. “There is every opportunity to renew faithfulness to one another by laughing together, crying together, supporting one another, saying sorry to one another, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, embracing one another, being happy for each other, just knowing the right word at the right time. And when those things happen, we are privileged to behold the beauty and simplicity and strength of married love and of family love, a love which truly through the grace of Christ endures all things.”

“But when families fracture, love is the first casualty,” he continued. “The love that was the glue between spouses turns to hate very quickly. Intimate communion of life is replaced with a terrible logic of division. Children’s peace of heart is shattered and they find themselves both loving and hating their parents at the same time.”

“Into this sadness,” he added, “the Church has to find a way to speak St Paul’s words of love, which compassionately excuse and forgive, but which also heal and renew and lift up again; where forgiveness is not accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation, engendering new trust, new hope, new endurance, and new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love of husband and wife and their children.”

”St. Paul’s inspiring words on love that we have heard today mean that we must have compassion for the pain and laceration of the human hearts caught up in separation, betrayal and divorce. St Paul’s words encourage us to find a way to uphold God’s holy purpose in marriage and in the family while also upholding those for whom that purpose has become almost impossible to attain. In times of distress and misfortune, people still instinctively turn to the Church for hope and consolation and inspiration. We must not fail them.”


(Vatican Radio) What can the Church do to accompany families in difficult pastoral situations such as the separated, divorced or divorced and remarried, single parents, teen mothers, children from broken homes? What is the Churches pastoral outreach concerning unions of persons of the same sex? These were the topics of discussion in the Wednesday afternoon session of the synod on ‘The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.’

The afternoon session was led by President Delegate Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida (Brazil). He warned against a shortsighted legalistic approach stating that the Church wants to fathom the depths of these difficult situations in order to welcome all of those involved so that it may be a paternal home where there is a place for everyone with his or her life’s difficulties.

The discussion was introduced by the testimony of auditors Stephen and Sandra Conway, from South Africa. They are regional Retrouvailles leaders for Africa, an organization that helps marriages in crisis.

They told participants that “financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems”. However they also pointed to a predominant “singles married lifestyle” which begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple.

They described the hurt and long-term anger they have encountered in couples who are in their second marriage and thus excluded from the Sacraments. In being excluded from the Eucharist, the Conway’s noted “they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of past relationships or mistakes”.

The couple also spoke of requests from same sex unions or couples to take part in their counselling course.

Testimonies from married couples have introduced each session of debate at the Synod. To date a common factor running through these presentations which has received little or no media coverage is children. Passing on the faith to children, the effects of family breakdown on children, children from mixed marriages, abandoned children, the inability to have children.

Wednesday afternoon, the Conways again spoke at length about children. They emphasized that the best gift couples can give their children is to decide to love each other; to put their marriage first.

Testimony of Stephen and Sandra Conway, regional leaders for Retrouvailles (South Africa):

“Good day. We are Stephen and Sandra Conway – the Co-Ordinators for Retrouvaille in Africa. Retrouvaille is an organization that helps hurting couples who often attend our program as a last resort, before separation or divorce. We have been asked to share our experiences on difficult pastoral situations, in particular a) situations in families and b) concerning unions of persons of the same sex.

“In 2008, after 21 years of marriage, our relationship had hit rock bottom. I went to my doctor, with no positive response. I tried talking to members of my family, who offered advice.I went to my priest, who listened to my hurt and handed me a Retrouvaille brochure. It is now 6 years later – I am a different person because of Retrouvaille and our marriage relationship has been evangelized. The Church, through Retrouvaille, became the “house of the Father, with doors wide open, a place for us with our problems.”

“Our 3-month program begins with a live in weekend followed by 12 post sessions. We are open to any couple, regardless of their religious beliefs. Often we are approached by couples who have lived together for many years, have children but have not as yet married. Others have been married before and have a fear of making the same mistakes again. We also have couples on their second marriage, but fall into the trap of bringing the same problems from their previous marriage into the new one. The majority of couples, however, are in their first marriage but arrive at our weekend totally disillusioned and often on the verge of divorce.

“What leads couples to our program? Financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems which result in what we call “the singles married lifestyle”- couples married but doing things separately. Often this single married lifestyle begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple and they drift apart.

“Our program looks at the four stages of marriage – romance, disillusionment, misery and joy.

“Most couples get stuck between the stages of disillusionment and misery. It is in the misery stage that many throw in the towel. It is our aim to equip couples with tools and techniques to get to the joy stage of marriage – where the emphasis is on ‘us’ as opposed to the ‘me’ or ‘I’ attitude found in the single married lifestyle. We explain that love is a decision, not a feeling; as is trust and forgiveness. We also encourage forgiveness setting the hurt party free. We use the Parable of the Prodigal Son to show that just as the Father forgave his Son, we too can forgive ourselves and each other the hurts of the past – we can come back to the Father’s house – the Church and our homes. We can be the forgiving Father, by making the decision to forgive. We can also be the forgiven Son, by receiving forgiveness offered by our hurting spouse.

“Children are greatly affected by an unhappy marriage. We have a few teachers on our team – they often share on the pain and hurt shown in the children of separated, divorced or unhappy marriages. We emphasize that the best gift couples can give their children is to decide to love each other; to put their marriage first; and to stand united in all decision involving the children. It inspires us when we receive letters from children, after their parents have completed our program, and thank us for their new Mom and Dad.

“We have come across couples who are remarried and feel lost or aggrieved because they are unable to partake in the Eucharist. One example is that of a couple who married outside of the Catholic Church. The wife was non-Catholic and joined the RCIA to convert. As this was her second marriage, she had to apply to have her first marriage annulled. She became disillusioned with the Church and both husband and wife left the parish, after being in RCIA for 2 years and not being able to have the marriage annulled.

“If God is the ultimate forgiver and full of compassion then these couples should be forgiven for previous mistakes, however, they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of these past relationships or mistakes by not being able to partake in communion. We have also had requests from same sex unions or couples to attend Retrouvaille. We do chat with these couples and try to show understanding and compassion to them. However, we explain that our program is presented by teams of husbands and wives and that our stories and experiences would not relate to those in a same sex marriage or union. We also have a list of professional counsellors who offer their services to same sex unions and we pass this information on.

“Retrouvaille has served the citizens of Durban, South Africa for 15 years, and communities round the world for 35 years. Approximately 10 000 couples attend our programs internationally every year, about 90% of these managing to turn away from divorce, some at the last opportunity. Thank you for your time.”


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

As I write, the Sixth General Congregation of the synod, the Wednesday afternoon session, is underway and participants are treating the theme, “Difficult Pastoral Situations: Family Situations/unions between persons of the same sex.”

Below you will find a report on today’s weekly general audience as well as the wonderful speech given yesterday afternoon by an American couple present as auditors at the synod. I will be interviewing Jeff and Alice Heinzen tomorrow and we will talk about their synod presentation, among other things. They are from the diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. Alice is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life, and Jeff is president of McDonell Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls.

I would love to know how many of you see yourselves – either as parents now or in your growing up years – in the paragraph that starts, “In our reflection we realized that the witness of our parents, revealed in their daily actions God’s plan for marriage and family life…” I thought for a monent they were talking about my childhood!

I met Jeff and Alice this afternoon at the North American College, and will be returning to NAC very shortly for another event.

To help you follow, understand and enjoy the synod, remember that:
– Written texts – summaries as well as full texts – of speeches at the synod can be found here in different languages:
– You can follow synod events, the Pope’s general audience and press conferences and briefings with video here:
– You can find some extras, including photos, on my Facebook page:


Another sunny day in Rome and another large and very happy crowd in St. Peter’s Square to participate in Pope Francis’ general audience. The audience began with the Holy Father’s usual ride around the square in the open jeep and then his unexpected invitation to two young boys to join him in the ride!

The Pope told the faithful that his catechesis would be on the “many brothers and sisters who share with us our faith in Christ, but who belong to other confessions or to traditions different from ours.” Noting the lack of full unity among Christians, he asked: “What is our current attitude to this situation? Are we indifferent or do we firmly believe that we can and must walk towards reconciliation and full communion?”

He appealed for Christian unity and pointed out that divisions between Christians of different denominations are hurtful for the Church and for Christ. He was also quick to point out that “many of us, even within our Catholic Church, have resigned ourselves to this division that has often been cause of conflict, suffering and even wars – yes, wars! – throughout the course of history.”

“Now,” asked the Pope, “faced with this, is there anything that we as members of Holy Mother Church, can and should do? Without doubt there must be no lack of prayer, in continuity and in communion with Jesus. And together with prayer, the Lord asks of us a renewed openness: He asks us not to close ourselves against dialogue and encounter, but rather to accept all that is valid and positive that is offered to us even from those who think differently to us or who adopt different positions. Let us not focus on what divides us, but rather on that which unites us, seeking to know and love Christ better and to share the richness of His love. … We are divided against ourselves. However, we all have something in common: we believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord … in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk together, we are on the same path … let us help each other! Let us receive communion on the way. This is spiritual ecumenism: walking the path of life together in our faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.”

Above all, stressed Francis, “we know that it was Christ‘s deep desire that His disciples remain united in His love, that they be one.”

The Holy Father then said, “I cannot resist the temptation to share personal memories and sentiments. We have been talking about communion… communion among us. And today I am so grateful to the Lord because today it is 70 years since my own First Communion. And to take First Communion means to enter into communion with others,” with all those who belong to different communities but believe in Jesus Christ.

He concluded thanking the Lord for the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion and urged all Christians to go forward towards full Christian Unity. “And when our goal appears too distant and we are discouraged, we can find comfort in the fact that God will always listen to his Son’s prayer that all Christians be one.”


Synod President Delegate Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (of Manila) was on duty Tuesday, and, at the start of the afternoon session, noted that the focus would be on the Second Part of the Instrumentum laboris, namely, The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges. He explained that under this heading is Chapter One entitled, The Pastoral Program for the Family: Various Proposals Underway. “To refresh your mind,” the cardinal told participants, “this chapter treats the following topics: The Responsibility of Bishops and the Clergy and the Charismatic Gifts in the Pastoral Care of the Family (50); Marriage Preparation (51-56); Popular Piety and a Familial Spirituality (57); Support for a Familial Spirituality (58); and Testimony on Behalf of the Beauty of the Family (59-60).”

Cardinal Tagle then introduced the first speakers of the afternoon – Jeff and Alice Heinzen from the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin U.S. They were asked to address the second part of the Synod’s working document, the Instrumentum laboris, namely, “The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges”. Here is their intervention (from Vatican Radio):

“My husband and I have asked ourselves this question: “How did our parents live their lives as a married couple that has led us to where we are today as faith-filled married Catholics?”

“In our reflection we realized that the witness of our parents, revealed in their daily actions God’s plan for marriage and family life. I have fond memories of participating in neighborhood Corpus Christi processions and my father leaving early for work to attend daily Mass. During the month of May, I remember our family praying the rosary. I remember the frequent tender kisses my parents readily gave each other. We knelt beside our beds each night in prayer to ask for protection and blessings on our family. Every Sunday, we attended Mass as a family, then went from Church to visit our relatives. To all this we can add our mothers who reminded us to always love our siblings, to use our best manners with others, and to save our pennies to help those less fortunate. Our homes were schools of love and virtue and our parents were the primary educators.

“Our parents bore faithful witness to the joy and beauty of God’s plan for love and life. Unfortunately, not only in our evaluation of current culture, but also due to our pastoral experience, we know that many young people do not see the witness of married love that we experienced. So many youth grow up in homes broken by divorce or with no experience of married parents due to out-of-wedlock pregnancies. We have entered, as some social scientists have described, the age of the diminished family structure. This is more than a crisis. To quote Saint John Paul II, “[T]he role of parents as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.” Sociological research testifies to this problem and information in the Instrumentum Laboris confirms it. Children raised without the blessing of married parents, who have created a home animated by love and faith, will likely struggle to trust in God and their neighbors. How can they create life-long marriages?

“Our diocese in the United States is not unlike those around the world. We have seen the number of marriages decline each year and the rate of cohabitation increase. We have seen a steady drop in the number of baptisms. We have watched our youth fall prey to the confusion of a hedonistic culture. We know countless divorced adults who have joined other faith communities because they do not feel welcomed in the Catholic Church. And, our hearts ache for single parents who struggle to care for their children. Like you, we strive to find simpler, more effective ways, to better share the blessings of God’s plan for marriage and family.

“The Instrumentum documents pastoral programs that attempt to address the negative issues impacting marriage and family life. Sadly, these efforts are not meeting the magnitude of the cultural challenges facing us today. We must develop more robust and creative methods to share the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine gift from God, rather than merely a man-made institution. This will require us to examine the methods by which we teach our children about the nature of human sexuality and the vocation of marriage. When speaking of the call by God to serve, marriage should be included in all programs designed to explore vocations. And, it should compel us to ask how we provide for the aftercare of marriage that can help couples deepen their relationship. We therefore see the issue before us not as a crisis of truth, but rather as a crisis of methodology. How do we as a Church, effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways, so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?

“In all of our pastoral planning, we must remember that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Solutions to the identified crisis can be found. This Synod has the ability to provide aid to husbands, wives and families. Let us open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit so that God’s will may be accomplished.”


(From: Tuesday, October 7, 2014)


The Vatican announced today that a consistory for the causes of saints has been expanded to include a discussion of the situation facing Christians in the Middle East. The announcement was made by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, during this morning’s meeting of the Extraordinary Synod. The change was made especially in light of the recent meeting of apostolic nuncios from the Middle East here in Rome.

All cardinals in Rome, including those here for the Synod, are invited to attend the consistory. The principle relator at the consistory will be Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

The consistory will take place in the Vatican on October 20th.

The announcement comes as the Custody of the Holy Land confirmed that Franciscan Fr. Hanna Jallouf of the Custody of the Holy Land, and parish priest at Knayeh (Qunayeh), Syria, was abducted on Sunday night  by some brigades linked to the Jahbat Al-Nusra militant group. Along with Fr. Hanna, several men of the Christian village were also taken. A number of nuns managed to escape and found refuge in nearby houses.


Pope Francis is adding another trip to his 2015 travel agenda that already includes Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January: The Vatican has, in fact, confirmed he will visit France next year, stopping off in Paris and Lourdes. It is highly likely that the Holy Father’s 2015 pilgrimages will also include Philadelphia in September 2015 for the World Meeting of Families.

Pope Francis’ next scheduled trip is at the end of November when he will travel to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament. He will leave several days later for Turkey for a brief visit.


I had television commitments and interviews today so was unable to attend the daily press briefing but the following is an excellent summary from Vatican Radio:

Journalists heard how the bishops meeting on the second full day of the Synod for the Family have been discussing the importance of using more inclusive language to talk about people living outside the teachings of the Church. They’ve also been stressing the need for a ‘gradual’ or ‘stepping stones’ approach to couples, and the recognition that elements of truth also exist in those relationships which do not conform to the Church’s ideal vision of family life.

The head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi and his assistants, spoke of the many different subjects under discussion on the first two days of the Synod, in particular the need for a more sensitive and inclusive language about family life that will not turn people away from the Church. Canadian Fr Tom Rosica gave some specific examples from the English speaking bishops present at the meeting:

“Language such as ‘living in sin,’ ‘intrinsically disordered,’ or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.”

Synod participants have also been underlining the need to apply the so-called ‘law of graduality’ or ‘stepping stones approach’ as they minister to people living in all kinds of relationships that do not conform to the Church’s ideal of marriage and family life.

Philippa Hitchens reported on Vatican Radio:

Fr Lombardi used an analogy from the Second Vatican Council which led to profound changes in the Catholic Church’s relations with other Christians and people of other religious traditions. During the Council, bishops agreed that while the fullness of Christ’s Church “subsists” only in the Catholic Church, important elements of truth and holiness also exist in other churches and faith communities. In a similar way, he said, valid and important elements of true love and holiness can also exist in a relationship that does not conform to the full vision of an ideal Catholic marriage.

English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai also shared impressions from the Synod Hall, including the call for a special message for families being persecuted for their Christian faith Iraq. They spoke about Synod Fathers who live in countries where Catholics are a tiny minority and who say the Church has much to learn from the wisdom and experience of other religious traditions.

Cardinal Nichols also described the very open and relaxed atmosphere of the Synod and the importance of hearing married couples share details of their relationships, including the pivotal role that sex plays in the life of most married couples:

“The Australian couple were quite explicit and developed in their thought and emphasis on the central role of sexuality and sexual intercourse in their marriage – now that’s not what we bishops talk about mostly! But to hear that as the opening contribution did open up an area which others followed and it was a recognition that it is often central to the wellbeing of a marriage.”

Cardinal Nichols pointed out it’s too early to draw any conclusions from these first sessions, yet it does seem clear that this first synod of Francis’ pontificate is shaping up for a much more honest and down-to-earth discussion than most bishops have experienced here in the Vatican over recent decades.


Today, in particular, you’ll want to listen to the video interview with Australian couple Ron and Mavis Pirola. I have heard they received a standing ovation after their talk in the synod hall. There is also a nulti-lingual summary of the Monday afternoon session of the synod.

For the entire list of participants, click here:


–     Pope Francis said in an interview with the Argentinian daily La Nación, “It is important for everyone to be able to express their ideas in complete freedom. Governance of the Church is another matter. That is in my hands, after appropriate consultations.”

–   The Holy Father also said on Monday: “Synod is always conducted cum Petro et sub Petro [with Peter and under Peter] and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all and a safeguard for the faith.”

–     Is renewal in the air? The synod’s special secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a theologian, said: “If we were to repeat what has always been said, there would be no point in holding another synod.”

–     Abp. Forte also defined the synod’s work and focus on Monday at the press conference: “Souls to save, that’s what a ‘pastoral’ synod means. Doctrine is not an abstract value in itself, a bludgeon to be hammered home all the time. Doctrine is the message of salvation and at its center is the charity of God, mercy, compassion. It is necessary to look at people.”



It is somewhat difficult to summarize in just a few paragraphs the very lengthy, very important, very eloquent talks given in recent days during pre-synod events, at the opening Mass and today, the first day of meetings. I have spent several hours reading three speeches and homilies given by Pope Francis and the main 7,500-word presentation given this morning by the synod’s relator general, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary. I’m offering a fairly lengthy summary of these days of talks for one reason: not because it is easier to present more of a talk but because I do not want to take some very important words out of context. Context is and will be everything in this synod.
To paraphrase Blaise Pascal who wrote in Letter XVI of “Provincial Letters”: “I made this letter longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter.”
The fact that journalists will not receive daily written summaries of interventions by synod participants could present a problem. We will be relying on the daily briefings of those people allowed to be in the synod hall for this purpose.

Check this website for multi-lingual info on the synod, including video from CTV:

First, just a brief note on Sunday’s Angelus: In asking for prayers for the synod that is focusing on the family, Pope Francis urged families to keep a Bible handy in their homes, and read it often. Noting that Bibles were being distributed in the square, he said, “Today, as the Synod for the Family opens, with the help of the Pauline Brothers there is a Bible for every family! Not to just put it on a shelf, but to keep it on hand, dip into it often, both individually and together, husband and wife, parents and children, perhaps in the evening, especially on Sundays. In this way the family will grow and walk in the light and the strength of God’s Word!”

I posted the Pope’s words at the Sunday Angelus on Facebook and shared one of my favorite quotes about the Bible: Italian comedian and actor Roberto Benigni once said: “The Bible is the only book whose author also created its readers!”

So, pour yourself a second cup of coffee or tea or, perhaps if it is later in the day, a nice glass of Malbec and sit back and digest what follows.


The main takeaway from three papal talks over the weekend, from the opening discourse by Cardinal Peter Erdo at this morning’s first session of the synod on the family and from statements by four synod Fathers at a Monday morning press conference is that Church teachings on marriage, principally its indissolubility, are not up for debate at the synod. They will not change. Instead, the focus of the synod will be on pastoral and practical response to urgent issues and the “difficult pastoral situations” facing families.

Those issues, problems and challenges were laid out at length in the 7,500-word talk given by Cardinal Erdo of Hungary who is the relator general of the Synod. His talk Monday morning, transmitted live and online by CTV, was the only public moment of the synod’s first day. Interventions in coming days will not be made public so as to guarantee freedom of expression.

Cardinal Erdo said one notable new element in his speech was that it contained several written interventions of synod fathers.

In order to guarantee frank and free discussion by all synod participants, Pope Francis, speaking at today’s first congregation, urged, almost ordered, participants to speak from the heart. Do not worry about pleasing – or displeasing – me, he said. “This is not good! A general condition is this:“Speak clearly. Let no one say: ‘This you cannot say.’ You need to say all that you feel with parrhesia,” he added, using the Greek word for speaking boldly, fearlessly. “And, at the same time, you should listen with humility and accept with an open heart what your brothers say.”

The Pope recounted that, “Following the consistory in February of this year in which we spoke about the family, a cardinal wrote the following: ‘What a pity! Some cardinals did not dare to say some things in respect for the Pope, thinking that maybe he thought differently’. This is not alright.”

But, let’s look at the weekend in chronological order.

It had been said that one would be able to see what the focus and challenges for the synod fathers would be through three documents: the working document for the synod released last June, Pope Francis’ homily Sunday at the Mass opening the synod and today’s introductory talk by Cardinal Erdo, relator general. I would add a fourth – the Holy Father’s words at the prayer vigil on Saturday evening in St. Peter’s Square!

He began by saying, “The evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour in which one willingly returns home to the same meal, in the midst of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters that warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates in the days of man the feast without end.

”It is also the most weighty hour,” added the Pope, “for the one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest – and the wisdom – of life. For one another we make our prayer heard.”

How beautifully the Pope indicates he understands people. “In each person born of a woman, there remains alive an essential need of stability, of an open door, of someone with whom to weave and to share the story of life, a history to which to belong.”

It is for this that we have families, that we are families, that we want and need families, he said.

”The family continues to be a school without parallel of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a just and united society. And the deeper its roots, the more it is possible in life to leave and to go far, without getting lost or feeling out of place in foreign lands. This horizon helps us to grasp the importance of the synodal assembly, which opens tomorrow.”

He said, ”To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the ‘scent’ of the people today, so as to remain permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility.”

Francis exclaimed: “In the Gospel there is salvation that fulfills the most profound needs of man! Of this salvation – work of God’s mercy and grace – as a Church, we are sign and instrument, a living and effective sacrament. If it were not so, our building would remain only a house of cards, and pastors would be reduced to clerics of state, on whose lips the people would search in vain for the freshness and ‘smell of the Gospel’.”

Pope Francis asked the Holy Spirit, “for the gift of listening for the Synod Fathers” to “hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.” he also asked the Holy Spirit for “an openness toward a sincere discussion, open and fraternal.”

It is only by fixing our gaze on Christ, he said, that “we will never tire of translating the synodal work into guidelines and paths for the pastoral care of the person and of the family. At that point, our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with the gaze of Christ, will become a providential occasion with which to renew – according to the example of Saint Francis – the Church and society.”

Sunday, in his homily at the opening Mass of the synod, The Pope pointed to the reading of Isaiah and the Gospel, both of which employed the image of the Lord’s vineyard. “The Lord’s vineyard is his “dream” and that “dream …is his people. He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people. But his dream was thwarted: “In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests.

In this parable,” said the Holy Father, “Jesus is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the ‘experts’, the managers. To them in a particular way God entrusted his ‘dream’, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nurture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.”

”We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard. Synod assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent… They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

”My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding’.”

Monday at the first congregation of the synod on the family Pope Francis addressed the participants, including 190 cardinals and bishops, by insisting on the fact that they all speak openly, from the heart, without fear or reservations. To do otherwise, he said, “is not good. It is not alright!”

“A general basic condition is this: speak clearly. Let no one say, ‘this can’t be said, they will think this or that about me’. Everything we feel must be said, with parrhesia. After the last Consistory in February 2014, which focused on the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying that it was a pity that some cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, thinking perhaps that the Pope thought differently. This is not good – it is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord we feel must be said: without human respect, without timidity. And, at the same time, we must listen with humility and accept with an open heart all that our brothers say. With these two attitudes, synodality is achieved”


Cardinal Peter Erdo, the relator general of the 2014 synod on the family, Monday morning at the First General Congregation presented what is known as the “Report before the Discussion.” He divided his 7,500-word talk into an Introduction, four parts and a Conclusion. The four sections were dedicated to 1. The Gospel of the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization; 2. The Gospel of the Family and Family Ministry; 3. Difficult Pastoral Situations, and 4. The Family and the Gospel of Life.

The Vatican summary of his speech can be found here in English:

He began by stating that, “the message of Christ is not easy to accept, because it places demands, requiring a conversion of heart. Nevertheless, it is a truth that sets us free. The fundamental goal of the Christian proposal for the family must be ‘the joy of the Gospel’ that ‘fills the heart and the whole life of those who encounter Jesus’ and who ‘accept his offer of salvation’ and thereby experience liberation ‘from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness,” as taught by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium.”

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Synod Press Conference

Synod Press Conference

Cardinal Erdo said the family is “the school of humanity, … a school of social relations, … the womb of the Church’s life, … and the school of holiness.”

“The family today,” said the cardinal, “is not only the object of evangelization but also the primary agent of proclaiming the good news of Christ in the world. …The most serious of family problems themselves are considered ‘signs of the times’ to be discerned in the light of the Gospel and read with the eyes and heart of Christ and from his perspective in the house of Simon the Pharisee.”

He said, “The crystal clear and whole truth of the Gospel gives the light, meaning and hope which humanity needs today. The Church must offer this ‘truth cure’ so that it can be recognized in the present moment as a “remedy” for the many problematic, oftentimes burdensome, family situations. In other words, without detracting from the truth, this must also be proposed from the perspective of those who “struggle” to recognize it as such and to live it.

The relator general then examined in depth the four points of his talk, with special emphasis on difficult pastoral situations. He said the Church is the “House of the Father” where there must be truth and mercy. He then spoke of cohabitation and civil marriages, the pastoral care of divorced and remarried persons, matrimonial cases according to canon law and those outside the juridical process, and the practice of the Orthodox Churches.