'Journeying Together' at the Synod Requires Bridge-Building

(photo: Bohumil Petrik/CNA)

As the Synod on the family enters its third and final week, discussions have turned to consider “The Mission of the Family Today.” In the life of the Church, families can oftentimes be bridges between generations and peoples, but bishops have a special obligation to fulfill that role of service to the Christian family.

Bishops as Bridges, the Example of Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios

On Saturday here in Rome, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri delivered a memorial lecture at the Pontifical Urbanianum University on the Janiculum Hill beside the Vatican. He is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and his address commemorated the centenary of the birth of Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios, the second Metropolitan of the Syro-Malankara Church in India.

Archbishop Gregorios served as the fifth President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India between 1988 and 1989, and he participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. In his address, Cardinal Sandri said that “Every true pastor is a bridge: from man to God, from the past to the future, from the local community to the rest of the Body of Christ.” He added that “Archbishop Mar Gregorios can surely be seen as a consummate bridge for souls,” having worked tirelessly on behalf of ecumenism and education.

Whereas some saints and outstanding pastors model what it means to be bridges, Maria Harries from Australia and Cardinal Inda from Mexico note strains on bridges within ecclesial and family structures.

Broken Bridges

Maria Harries is one of thirty women attending this month’s Synod. She serves as one of the auditors or experts in the pastoral care of families. Back home in her native Australia, she is the head of Catholic Social Services and she ministers to the survivors of clerical sexual abuse as a member of the Australian Catholic bishops’ Truth, Justice and Healing Council. Harries spoke with Vatican Radio on Tuesday.

She explains that “Many victims … don’t speak about the trauma of abuse until later in life and so shockwaves, which have been building up over time, can drive people away from the Church.” New events can continue to “trigger trauma,” she notes, “and the constant focus of recent enquiries and commissions mean survivors are constantly ‘catapulted back into trauma.’” In order to rebuild broken bridges, Harries says that “the Church must do more by setting up collective systems for healing, as well as exploring how the abuse happened in the first place.”

Bridges between Peoples

On Tuesday morning, the Holy See Press Office held its thirteen Synod briefing in the St. John Paul II Hall just off the Via della Conciliazione. Fr. Federico Lombardi introduced three Synod fathers, Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier from Durban in South Africa, Lluis Martinez Sistach from Barcelona in Spain, and Alberto Suarez Inda from Morelia in Mexico.

In his remarks, Cardinal Inda “thanked the bishops of the United States of America for their welcome to South American migrants,” according to Vatican Radio. He noted that “Many migrants found hospitality in parishes in the USA” and “He said that the US bishops provide services to assist migrants.”

Nonetheless, the cardinal spoke critically about US foreign policy, which often breaks down bridges within families. He said that US and Mexican bishops need to build bridges among themselves by seeking out ways to “work together to support marriages that have been divided because of migration. Many people migrate, not because they choose to, but because they have to, in order to survive. This leads to difficulties - like infidelity in marriage when the spouses do not see each other for extended periods.”

Prayer as a Bridge Forward

While Synod participants continue to address vexing questions in their plenary and small group sessions, some pastors outside the Synod halls are seeking to make concrete contributions to the work of building bridges for the common good.

On Saturday, October 24, the Christian Youth of Palestine will sponsor a prayer vigil for peace in the Middle East. Services will be held in all the Catholic parishes of Palestine, Israel, and Jordan at 8:00pm. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim youth are invited to participate. The event takes place on the Feast of Our Lady of Palestine.

Father Bashar Fawadleh is the Chaplain of the Christian Youth of Palestine. Recently, he spoke with the Fides news agency, saying that “Young people want to pray for peace throughout the Middle East, but especially for peace in Jerusalem, which is our city, our capital, the Holy City of peace that these days has again become the scene of blood, violence, oppression and death.” The prayer vigil takes place amid the escalating violence of recent weeks, which has resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and more than forty Palestinians.

The initiative is an attempt to build bridges of unity. As Fr. Fawadleh said, youth will have this opportunity to “come together to ask God, Almighty and Merciful to touch the hearts of men and to free them from hatred, fear and thirst for revenge.”