In the fifth general Congregation, which took place this morning and which the Holy Father did not attend on account of the general audience, the general debate continued on the themes outlined in the Instrumentum laboris: “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family (Part II, Chapter 2). The Crisis of Faith and Family Life / Critical Situations within the Family / External Pressures on the Family / Special Situations”.
First and foremost, the debate focused on the Church in the Middle East and in North Africa. Both exist in difficult political, economic and religious situations, with serious repercussions on families. Where there are laws that impede the reunification of families, poverty leads to migration, where there is religious fundamentalism and Christians do not enjoy equal rights with Muslim citizens, there are often difficult problems for families resulting from mixed marriages.
Indeed, in these contexts, interreligious or so-called “mixed” marriages are present and on the increase in these contexts. It was said that the challenge of the Church is therefore to understand what form of catechesis may be offered to children born of such a union and how it is possible to respect to the unknown situation of those Catholics who, united in mixed marriages, wish to continue to practice their religion. Such couples, it was said, must not be neglected and the Church must continue to take care of them. A further challenge is also represented by those Christians who convert to Islam in order to marry: also in this case, suitable reflection is necessary.
The question is not simply interreligious, but at times also ecumenical: there are cases in which a Catholic who has contracted a canonical marriage and is not able to obtain a declaration of nullity passes to another Christian confession, remarrying in a community which permits this. In any case, without prejudice to the shared patrimony of faith, the need to follow the path of mercy in difficult situations was underlined.
With regard to the question of divorced and remarried persons, it was highlighted that the Synod must certainly take the issue into consideration, with the prudence required for important matters, but must also combine the objectivity of truth with mercy for the person and for his or her suffering. It is necessary to remember that many faithful find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own.
Mention was made of the commitment of the Holy See, whose voice is always heard in the defence of families at all levels – international, national and regional – with the aim of emphasising its dignity, its rights and duties, and always noting that, as Benedict XVI said, her “no” is in reality a “yes” to life. Therefore, it was underlined that the Church must combat the educational and religious silence in families, as there is no place for hesitation and greater commitment to witnessing the Gospel is needed. Creativity in pastoral ministry is always necessary.
The Assembly went on to reflect on the indispensable contribution of the lay faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel in the family: in particular, the young, ecclesial movements and new communities provide a service of vital importance, carrying out a prophetic mission that runs counter to the current of our times. Listening and believing in the laity, therefore, is shown to be essential, as it is in them and with them that the Church may find the answers to the problems of the family.
Another theme taken into consideration was that of the precariousness of work and unemployment. The distress caused by the lack of a secure job creates difficulties within families, along with the poverty that often prevents families from having a home. Furthermore, a lack of money often leads to it becoming “deified” and to families being sacrificed on the altar of profit. It is necessary to re-emphasise that money must serve rather than govern.
There was further reflection on the need for greater preparation for marriage, also with special attention to emotional and sexual education, encouraging a true mystical and familiar approach to sexuality. The great contribution of grandparents to the transmission of faith in families was then recalled and it was highlighted how important it is for the family unit to welcome the elderly with solidarity, care and tenderness. The same care must be reserved to the sick, to overcome the “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis frequently warns against.