At 6pm on Saturday evening, a Vigil of Prayer was held in Saint Peter’s Square, organized by the Presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference in view of the 3rd Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which opens Sunday on the theme: “The Pastoral Challenges on the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
The event, in which the Synodal Fathers are also took part, alternated moments of prayer and reflection in witness of family life. At 7pm the Holy Father joined the families in prayer. On his arrival, he was greeted by the President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.
The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s address, during the course of the Vigil, to those present.
Good evening! The evening is now descending on our assembly. It is the hour in which one gladly returns home to meet at the same table, in the warmth of affections, of the good done and received, of meetings that warm the heart and make it grow, good wine that anticipates in man’s days the celebration without end.
It is also the heaviest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many persons drag their days in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, if not of rancor; in how many homes the wine of joy has failed and, therefore, the flavour – the wisdom itself – of life … Of these and others we make ourselves voice with our prayer.
It is significant how – also in the individualist culture that distorts and renders bonds ephemeral — in every man born of woman there remains alive an essential need of stability, of an open door, of someone with whom to plan and share the story of life, a story to which one belongs.
The communion of life assumed by spouses, their openness to the gift of life, their mutual protection, the meeting and memory of the generations, the educational support, the transmission of the Christian faith to children … in all this the family continues to be the school of humanity without equal, indispensable contribution to a just and solidaristic society (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 66-68).
And the more profound their roots are, the more possible it is in life to go out and to go far, without getting lost or feeling foreign in some land. This horizon helps us to appreciate the importance of the Synodal Assembly that opens tomorrow. Already our coming together as one around the Bishop of Rome is an event of grace, in which the episcopal collegiality manifests itself in a journey of spiritual and pastoral discernment.
To seek again what the Lord asks of His Church today, we must lend an ear to the debates of this time and perceive the “odor” of the people of today, to the point of being impregnated with their joys and hopes, their sadness and anguishes (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Contemporary World Gaudium et Spes, 1).
To what point will we be able to propose with credibility the good news on the family. We know, in fact, as in the Gospel, that there is a force and a tenderness capable of overcoming what was unhappiness and violence. Yes, in the Gospel is the salvation that fills man’s most profound needs! Of this salvation – work of the mercy of God and His grace – we are, as Church, sign and instrument, living and effective sacrament (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium , 112). If it was not so, our building would remain only a castle of cards and the pastors would be reduced to clerics of State, on whose lips the people would seek in vain the freshness and the “perfume of the Gospel’ (Ibid., 39).
So the contents of our prayer also emerges. From the Holy Spirit we ask for the Synodal Fathers, first of all, the gift of listening: listening to God, until we breathe the will to which God calls us. Besides listening, “we invoke the willingness for a sincere discussion, open and fraternal, which leads us to take charge with pastoral responsibility of the questions that this change of time bears with it. We will let our hearts flow, without ever losing our peace, but with the serene trust that in His time the Lord will not fail to lead us back to unity. Is not the history of the Church recounted perhaps with many similar situations, that our fathers were able to overcome with obstinate patience and creativity? The secret is in a look: and this is the third gift that we implore with our prayer. Because if we really intend to verify our step on the terrain of the contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain our gaze fixed on Jesus Christ – Lumen Gentium –, to remain in contemplation and adoration of His face.
If we assume His way of thinking, of living and of relating to others, we will not tire of translating the Synodal works into guidelines and courses for the pastoral on the person and on the family.
In fact, every time we turn to the source of the Christian experience, new ways open and un-thought-of possibilities. It is what the evangelical indication lets us intuit: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
They are words that contain the spiritual testament of Mary, “always attentive friend, so that the wine will not be lacking in our life” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 286). Let us make them our own! To what point, our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with Christ’s look, will become a providential occasion with which to renew – on the example of Saint Francis – the Church and society.
With the joy of the Gospel we will rediscover the step of a reconciled and merciful Church, poor and friend of the poor; a Church able to “overcome with patience and love the afflictions and the difficulties that come to her be it from within or form without” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 8).
May the wind of Pentecost blow on the Synodal works, on the Church, on the whole of humanity. May it loose the knots that impede persons from encountering one another, may it heal bleeding wounds, and rekindle hope. May it grant that creative charity that make us love as Jesus loved. Then our proclamation will rediscover the vivacity and dynamism of the first missionaries of the Gospel.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]