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Pope: Synod place of prayer, listening to Spirit

October 8, 2015
Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY – The world Synod of Bishops on the family is not a parliament where participants will negotiate or lobby, Pope Francis said, but it must be a place of prayer where bishops speak with courage and open themselves to “God who always surprises us.”

Opening the first working session of the synod Oct. 5, the pope said the synod’s 270 voting members need courage, “pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness and to keep always before our eyes the good of the church and of families and the supreme law – the salvation of souls.”

Arriving about 15 minutes before the session began, Pope Francis welcomed to the synod hall the members, delegates from other Christian communities and the men and women who will serve as experts and observers.

The synod is not a convention or a parliament, Pope Francis said, “but an expression of the church; it is the church that walks together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God.”

Synod members must be faithful to church teaching, “the deposit of faith, which is not a museum to be visited or even simply preserved, but is a living spring from which the church drinks to quench the thirst and enlighten” people, he said.

The synod hall and its small working groups, he said, should be “a protected space where the church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit.”

Synod members need “an apostolic courage that does not allow itself to be afraid in the face of the seductions of the world” that are attempting “to extinguish in human hearts the light of truth” and replace it with “little and temporary lights,” he said.

However, at the same time, Pope Francis said, apostolic courage does not tremble in fear “before the hardening of certain hearts that despite good intentions drive people further from God.”

Trust-filled prayer is an attitude of openness to God and silencing one’s own preferences “to listen to the soft voice of God who speaks in silence,” Pope Francis told the synod members. “Without listening to God, all of our words will be just words that don’t quench or satisfy.” Without prayer, “all our decisions will be just decorations that instead of exalting the Gospel cover and hide it.”

Throughout the synod, members will offer a brief meditation during the morning prayer. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucipalpa began Oct. 5, telling the bishops: “We are not a church in danger of extinction, far from it. Neither is the family, although it is threatened and struggling.”

The synod, he said, is not a place “to mourn or lament” the challenges families face, but to rejoice and seek perfection and to help families do the same.

The discussions aim at “the unanimity that comes from dialogue,” he said, but can be disturbed by “ideas defended to the extreme.”

Looking at the situation of families around the world, one of the primary challenges is economic. Too many families do not have food, shelter or employment, said Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, chosen by the pope to introduce the discussion. Young people delay marriage and parenthood because they do not have or think they do not have the means to support a family. Millions of families are torn apart by war and migration.

The Catholic Church at every level, he said, must affirm the missionary role of families, ensuring married couples are part of marriage preparation programs, family support groups and outreach to families in crisis emotionally or economically.

Turning to the widely debated topic of the pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, Cardinal Erdo said pastors must be ready to help couples verify whether or not their church marriage was valid. If it was a valid marriage, he said, it is indissoluble, as Jesus himself taught.

Cardinal Erdo said the synod would be called to examine more carefully the idea of offering a “penitential path” to such couples, a path that would lead to their receiving absolution and having access to the Eucharist, perhaps gradually. But, he said, his opinion was that such a path necessarily would require a promise of sexual abstinence.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, one of the synod presidents, told reporters, “If you are looking for a spectacular change in church doctrine you will be disappointed.”

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