VATICAN CITY — The general discussion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family continued Wednesday by focusing on various proposals under way regarding the pastoral program for the family unit.
According to the Holy See Press Office, the link between the crisis of faith and the crisis of the family was discussed, with the first generating the second. This led to the suggestion of a vademecum (handbook) being devised, dedicated to the catechesis of the family.
The weakness of the knowledge of the Catholic faith of many baptized person was emphasized, saying this leads to couples getting married without being fully aware of what they are undertaking.
“A dictatorship of unitary thought” — that is, countervalues that distort the vision of marriage as between a man and a woman — was also discussed. The crisis of values, atheist secularism, hedonism and ambition “destroy families today,” the synod heard. “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,” the Vatican said in its summary.
Humanity must be reawakened so it senses belonging to the family unit, and the Church, being an expert in humanity, must underline this. The link between priest and families and their mutual help was also discussed, as was the family being the “cradle of vocations.”
A further link underlined was that between baptism and marriage: Without a serious and in-depth Christian initiation, a participant said, the meaning of the sacrament of marriage is diminished.
There was talk of the light that the Church brings to the world — the light that is given to mankind, which is not so much in terms of a “fixed beacon” anchored to the land of origin, but a torch that accompanies the journey of each person step by step.
Confidence in God’s Grace
Many talks have dealt with the need to have confidence in the grace of God, the Vatican said, adding that God’s grace is essential for our actions and our decisions. The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, said there have been some “very beautiful” talks on the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation, especially with regard to traditional African culture.
The talks on Wednesday largely drew attention to the situation in Africa: Topics discussed were polygamy, levirate marriage (where the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband's brother), sects, war, poverty, the painful crisis of migration and international pressure for birth control.
At a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, said the participants “came out very clearly” with the view that “life is sacred, marriage is sacred, and family has dignity.”
He criticized international organizations that “like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions and even our religious beliefs.” He said this is because they “believe their views should be our views,” but “we say ‘No; we have come of age.’”
Most African countries, he pointed out, became independent 50, 60 or 100 years ago. “We should be able to think for ourselves, define for ourselves what marriage is, what makes a family and when life begins,” he said.
He deplored the current practice of African nations being “wooed” by economic enticements. “We’re told if you limit population growth, we will give you so much,” he said. But he reminded the synod that many children die in infant mortality or through diseases and wars.
“And yet you [the West] come to tell us about ‘reproductive rights,’ and you give us condoms and artificial contraception,” he said. “Those are not things we want,” he continued. “We want food, education, roads, regular light, good health care. We’re being offered wrong things and expected to accept them because we’re poor.”
But he said poverty is not merely about money and that there are other kinds. “We’re not poor in every sense, so we say ‘No,’” he said. The time has passed, he added, when Africans accept things “without asking questions.”
The focus then returned to discussion on marriage. With regard to the indissolubility of the sacrament, it was highlighted in the synod that 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.
In the fifth general congregation, which took place Wednesday morning, the debate focused on the Church in the Middle East and in North Africa. It was said that the laws impede “reunification of families” due to difficult political, economic and religious situations.
It was also said that poverty leads to migration and how “religious fundamentalism” means Christians do not enjoy equal rights with Muslims, especially when it comes to families of mixed (interreligious) marriages. Children of “mixed” marriages must be offered suitable catechesis, couples must “not be neglected,” and the Church must care for them.
Later in the general congregation, it was said that the Holy See’s voice must be heard defending families “at all levels” — international and local — and the Church “must combat the educational and religious silence in families.”
The synod also highlighted the “indispensable contribution” of the lay faithful in proclaiming the Gospel of the family, especially the lay ecclesial movements. “Listening to the laity” and believing in them was “essential,” as it is through them the Church “may find the answers to the problems of the family.”
Often, there was an emphasis on “greater preparation for marriage,” with “special attention” paid to “emotional and sexual education, encouraging a true mystical and familiar approach to sexuality.”
Father Thomas Rosica, press secretary to the Holy See, told reporters there was “no sense of doom” or “handwringing despair” among the participants. Instead, they have disclosed the “best practices,” considering, for example, how to appeal more to Scripture and adapting the language of “natural law” to suit the world of today.
He spoke of the need to use irregular elements of civil marriage as a “springboard” towards introducing them to sacramental marriage and emphasized the “medicine” of mercy rather than placing “burdens on people’s shoulders.”
Also discussed were the effects of finances on the family. The precariousness of work, unemployment and poverty, and the distress they cause, can prevent 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 was said. “It is necessary to re-emphasize that money must serve rather than govern.”
The contribution of grandparents to families, namely in the transmission of faith, was also emphasized, as was care for the elderly. “The same care must be reserved to the sick, to overcome the 'throwaway culture' that Pope Francis frequently warns against,” it was said.
The synod also heard testimony from a married couple from the Ivory Coast, Stephen and Sandra Conway, coordinators for Retrouvaille, an organization that helps couples regain their marriage before separation or divorce.
The couple discussed how their relationship had hit rock bottom, but they sought help with Retrouvaille, whose counsel “evangelized” their marriage relationship. They said the program looks at the four stages of marriage — romance, disillusionment, misery and joy. Most couples, they said, get stuck between the stages of disillusionment and misery.
“It is in the misery stage that many throw in the towel,” they said. “It is our aim to equip couples with tools and techniques to get to the joy stage of marriage — where the emphasis is on us as opposed to the me or I attitude.” They added that love is a “decision, not a feeling, as is trust and forgiveness.”
Retrouvaille has served the citizens of Durban, South Africa, for 15 years and communities around the world for 35 years. They said the organization has a 90% success rate in managing to dissuade couples from divorce, some at the last opportunity to save their marriages.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.