The general debate continued during the fourth general Congregation, following the order of the Instrumentum Laboris. The theme was “The Pastoral Program for the Family: Various Proposals Underway” (Part II, Chapter 1).
Firstly, the link between the crisis of faith and the crisis of the family was underlined: it was said that the first generates the second. This is because faith is seen mostly as a set of doctrinal mores, whereas it is primarily a free act by which one entrusts oneself to God. This gave rise, among other things, to the suggestion of devising a “Vademecum” dedicated to the catechesis of the family, so as to strengthen its evangelising mission. Furthermore, the weakness of the faith of many baptised persons was underlined; this often leads to the marriage of couples who are not appropriately aware of what they are undertaking.
Secondly, a great challenge facing families today was mentioned: that of the “dictatorship of unitary thought” that aims to introduce into society those countervalues that distort the vision of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The crisis of values, atheist secularism, hedonism, and the ambition of power destroy families today, distorting it, weakening people and consequently rendering society fragile. It is therefore important to recover in the faithful the awareness of belonging to the Church, as the Church grows by attraction and the families of the Church attract other families.
For its part, the Church, an expert in humanity, must underline the beauty and the need everyone has for the family, as it is indispensable. It is necessary to reawaken in humanity the sense of belonging to the family unit. In addition, as a reflection of God’s love, which is never an isolated love, the family opens one to relationships and bonds with others, thus becoming the foundation for society.
Mention was also made of the link between priests and families: they accompany families in all the most important stages of their lives, sharing in their joys and difficulties; families, in turn, help priests to experience celibacy as a full and balanced emotional life, rather than as a sacrifice. In addition, the family was defined as the “cradle of vocations” as it is precisely within the domestic walls, in common prayer, that the call to the priesthood is frequently heard.
A further link that was underlined is that between baptism and marriage: without a serious and in-depth Christian initiation, the meaning of the sacrament of marriage is diminished. Therefore, it is to be emphasised that Christian marriage cannot be seen solely as a cultural tradition or a social need, but rather must be understood as a vocational decision, undertaken with suitable preparation that cannot be improvised in a few meetings, but must be carried out over a period of time.
Attention then turned to how work affects the dynamics of the family: these are two dimensions that must be reconciled, through increasingly flexible working hours, new contractual models, and attention to geographical distances between home and work. Furthermore, technology can lead to work being brought home, making family dialogue difficult.
Numerous interventions, especially in relation to Africa, drew attention to the many challenges the family must face in this continent: polygamy, levirate marriage, sects, war, poverty, the painful crisis of migration, international pressure for birth control, and so on. These are problems that undermine family stability, placing it in crisis. In the face of such challenges, it is necessary to respond with in-depth evangelisation, able to promote the values of peace, justice and love, an adequate promotion of the role of women in society, thorough education of children and the protection of rights for all victims of violence.
In the hour dedicated to open discussion – from 6 to 7 p.m. – attention returned to the need for a new language in the proclamation of the Gospel, with particular reference to the new media technologies. With regard to the indissolubility of marriage, it was highlighted that today it would appear that the law is opposed to the good of the person. In reality, the truth of the conjugal bond and its stability is inscribed within the person, and therefore it is not a question of setting the law and the person in opposition to each other, but rather of understanding how to help the person not to betray his or her own truth.
Further reflection was proposed in relation to families who have not received the gift of children despite wishing for them, and those in regions affected by the Ebola virus.
Finally, the image of the Church as light was recalled, in the hope that this may be not only the light of a beacon, that remains constant and illuminates from afar, but also a torch, or rather a “soft light” that accompanies humanity on its path, step by step.
The Pontifical Council for the Family donated to the members of the Synod a copy of the extensive Enchiridion on the family.