This morning, during the fourth General Congregation, the various Circuli Minori – 13 in total, including four in English – presented the results of their reflections on the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, examining the mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.
In general the rapporteurs from the various groups, which were divided according to language (English, French, Spanish, German and Italian) considered that it was necessary to offer, as Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, writes, “a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time. True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified since they may well be the signs of God in history”.
“The Church does not inhabit a world out of time, as Vatican Council II, ‘the Council of history’, recognised”, notes the prelate. “Nor does the Church inhabit a world outside human cultures; the Church shapes cultures and cultures shape the Church. In considering marriage and the family here and now, we were conscious of the need to address the facts of history and the realities of cultures – with both the eyes of faith and the heart of God. That is what it has meant for us to read the signs of the times”.
Another view expressed in various working groups is the need to make greater use of Scriptural language, which “can be closer to the realities of the daily experience of families and can become a bridge between faith and life”, avoiding expressions deemed too “ecclesiastical”. This “would help to understand the nature of God’s dream that families are called to make their own and to realise that in the difficulties of life they can place their trust in a God who neither disappoints nor abandons anyone”, explains Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The prelate also observes that “an analysis of the situation of the family should recognise how, with the help of grace, families who are far from perfect, living in an imperfect world, do actually realise their vocation, even though they may fail along their journey. As members of the group we shared a reflection, each of us on the experience on our own family. What emerged was far from a stereotype of an ‘ideal family’, but rather a collage of families different in their social, ethnic, and religious background. Amid many difficulties our families gave us the gift of love and the gift of faith”.
Family men, men of faith and pastors: according to this view, expressed by Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Canada, priests and bishops must guide their pastoral ministry. “We are all, first and foremost, family men”, he said. “We have parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins. Therefore, the families of which we speak are not alien to us, they form part of our lives. This must be transparent in our language, in our texts, in our care and compassion for the families of the world. There is a danger of talking about the ‘family’ as if it were something external to us. We are men of faith. We do not claim to be psychologists, sociologists or economists, although some of us are educated in these fields. We speak primarily as men of faith and this must be seen in the first analytical part of the document. We are pastors. Our concern is that the mission that Christ entrusted to His Church, the mission that is the Church, is always fulfilled in our world today. All the efforts of the Synod must be directed towards this objective. All the documents that we draw up must conform to this fundamental concern. In particular, we would like to help our families to answer two questions: regarding vocation, who are you? And regarding the mission: what are you doing?”.
“Our final document must give hope to our families, showing the confidence we have in them, and must inspire trust in us. We must avoid causing some people to feel excluded from our care, because all families participate in the mission of the Church. We must remember that the families in the Bible are at times dysfunctional, and recall what the Word of God realised in and for them. God can carry out the same miracles today”.
Some groups observe that the analysis of the situation of the family in the Instrumentum Laboris does not reflect a universal condition, but rather a principally Western and in particular European perspective. “The historical contexts and cultures are not the same”, writes Bishop Laurent Ulrich. “It cannot be said that the number of marriages and baptisms is declining throughout the world. And we cannot speak about the same form of the Church’s presence in our respective societies. The possibilities of sharing faith in our countries are not all identical, and neither is the public witness that can be given. Similarly, the very reasons that make this difficult are not all the same: the freedom of action in ‘free’ countries does not mean that it is truly recognised and may lead to contradictory attitudes. Some choose a position of affirming a strong identity, whereas others select a patient but not always well-understood dialogue. In other countries religious or cultural pressure on Christians does not mean that they are silenced, but rather that after many centuries they must face a painful path”.
The theme of Christian families in the Middle East is present in a significant number of the reports from the Circuli Minores, who aside from offering their solidarity, also warn that the flight of these families from the region would put an end to a millennia-long Christian presence.
The diversity of socio-cultural contexts and pastoral situations is also noted by the group whose rapporteur is Msgr. Francois-Xavier Dumortier, S.J. He underlines that this diversity requires an articulation of what is of a universal order and of a particular order, a strong common word able to respond to particular situations. In this respect the group proposes that the episcopal conferences hold a determined power to allow their pastors to be good Samaritans in their ecclesial service. The Cardinal also asks the Synod to facilitate pathways “for the family to live its vocation and its mission according to God’s plan and the teaching of the Church”, and to seek to provide “more coherence to the grouping of theological and canonical texts, that seem to be juxtaposed rather than linked together, so as to simplify their expression”.
In the reports from all groups, mention is made of the need for States to pay greater attention to the needs of families and above all to their weakest members, such as the elderly or disabled. Some express concern regarding so-called gender theory which, as Archbishop Durocher writes, “has developed within sociology and philosophy, in an attempt to analyse various human and social phenomena, and may enrich our understanding of the world. However, when these theories become an absolute … they lead to the imposition of a point of view that denies the relationship between sexual identity and the sexual beings we are in our bodies”.
In the Hispanic group, whose rapporteur is the Panamanian Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, notes among other issues “the challenge of the renewal of our Church”. “We have failed in ‘Christian formation’ and in ‘education in faith’, and this leads to marriage with many gaps and omissions. This cannot be said to be the family. And it is not simply a question of preparation as there are many couples who, without preparation, have been faithful and happy, and others who are well-prepared and have ended up separating”. The cardinal also speaks about the rupture in the unity between “love, sexuality and procreation”, and notes also a separation from its educational dimension. “The relationship between love, sexuality, marriage, family and the education of children has broken down”.
The Italian Synod Fathers, like many others, note their concern regarding the migratory phenomenon, which affects many families fleeing from war and poverty, and increasingly involves other families and the Church. The issue of bioethics is also prominent, especially among couples who are unable to have children. After reaffirming that the equal dignity of men and women has its roots in the Gospel, the Italian group, whose rapporteur is Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, highlights the need to condemn “the exploitation of child labour, child soldiers and the female body (by, for instance, prostitution, surrogacy, violence and murder, and rape as an act of war)”.
Finally, he warns of the need to affirm that the Church has a positive view of sexuality, as it is an expression of the “symphonic tension between eros and agape”.
On ZENIT’s Web page, readers can find the English-language reports.