VATICAN CITY — During a press briefing on the return flight from South America, Pope Francis clarified that his call for prayer ahead of the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family referred to today’s family crisis generally — not, as some media have sources speculated, to “any point in particular.”
“The family is in crisis, you know,” the Holy Father told journalists in reference to remarks made near the beginning of his weeklong voyage to the continent of his birth, stressing that he was speaking about this crisis “in general.”
The Pope explained his words were a call for prayer “that the Lord would purify us from the crises” among families, such as are described in the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the Oct. 4-25 synod.
“The family is in crisis: May the Lord purify us, and let’s move forward!” he said.
Sunday's wide-ranging press briefing on the papal plan en route to Rome came at the conclusion of Pope Francis' July 5-13 trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The journalist's question about the synod on the family was in reference to the Pope’s July 6 Mass, the first major event of his visit to Ecuador, in which he prayed for Christ to turn what seems “impure, scandalous or threatening” about the synod into a “miracle.”
In the same homily, the Pope said the synod would examine “concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families.”
Some media outlets have interpreted these remarks as heralding changes in the Church's teaching on family issues. These speculations include a more “welcoming” approach to homosexual couples and the allowance for divorced-and-remarried couples to receive the sacraments.
However, during the July 12 press briefing, Pope Francis explained the context of his remarks were in reference to the Gospel account of the Wedding Feast at Cana, in which Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into “fine wine” at the request of his mother, Mary.
The Holy Father said he was showing how Jesus had the power to turn the “dirty” water of purification into the finest wine.
“The jugs of water were full, but they were for the purification,” Pope Francis said. “Every person who entered for the celebration performed his purification and left his 'spiritual dirt.' It was a rite of purification before entering into a house or the temple, no? Now, we have this in the holy water — that is what has remained of the Jewish rite.”
As the Pope explained, “Jesus makes the best wine from the dirty water, the worst water. In general, I thought of making this comment.”
This year’s synod will be the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 synod will be the family, this time with the theme: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Modern World.”
The 2014 meeting became the subject of widespread media attention, largely owing to proposals by a small number of Church leaders to rethink the long-held practice of not admitting to holy Communion divorced persons who have remarried without obtaining an annulment.