A synod on new challenges for families

There are good reasons for the people of the universal church to get to know each other better and to converse about their concerns, no matter how far apart their homelands might be.

Aug 28, 2014

By David Gibson
There are good reasons for the people of the universal church to get to know each other better and to converse about their concerns, no matter how far apart their homelands might be. That is a reason Pope Paul VI established the world Synod of Bishops in 1965.

He envisioned the synod as an opportunity for bishops and other church leaders from around the globe to share information about the life of the Church with him and each other — experiences and insights to help shape the Church’s work in the world. Pope Paul credited the Second Vatican Council with giving rise to “the idea of permanently establishing a special council of bishops.”

What church leaders hear from each other during an ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, now typically held every three years in Rome, sometimes proves surprising and eye opening. It can directly challenge their thinking and help them address big pastoral issues.

That happened during the three-week general assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2012, which discussed the new evangelization. In many parts of the world, conversations about the new evangelization focus on proclaiming the Gospel in a complex world and doing so in ways that relate to people’s actual lives and in ways that they readily can understand.

However, an archbishop from India told the synod that words like “proclamation” and “evangelization” do not appear to be understood the same way in Asia as in other parts of the world. What is well understood, according to Syro-Malankara Cardinal Baselios Thottunkal of Trivandrum, is the witness of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata.

He suggested that the new evangelization “underline the very words of Jesus himself, ‘You shall be my witnesses.’” Blessed Teresa “brought to the world, especially to India, a very practical means of evangelization, a witnessing model,” he observed.

In its concluding “Message to the People of God,” the 2012 synod encouraged attention to how evangelization is conducted and expressed, saying:

“The changed social, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is ‘new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expressions,’ as John Paul II said.”

The next ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops takes place in October 2015. The considerable challenges confronting today’s families in the context of evangelization will occupy its attention. To gear up for that synod, a shorter, two-week extraordinary synod session on the same topic will assemble in Rome during October 2014.

Pope Francis told a February 2014 meeting of 150 cardinals that the Church’s pastoral approach to families must be “intelligent, courageous and full of love” because the family today is “looked down upon and mistreated.”

In a February 2014 letter to the Church’s families, Pope Francis talked about the extraordinary synod. It will be dedicated to the “challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children and the role of the family in the life of the church,” he said. This synod, he told families, “is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society.”

The synod will lend attention to specific concerns like divorce and remarriage, the impact of work on the family, single parents and support for marriage before and after a wedding. More generally, the synod’s agenda is all about pastoral care for the family.

What the synod’s participants learn through each other might be reason enough to meet. As with other synods, this one will hold surprising, eye-opening moments. After all, family life in one nation can differ notably from family life in another.

A conversation about the needs and strengths of Catholic families living in the midst of war and recurring violence could differ greatly from a conversation on the same topic in a nation where families never witness war. The fact is that Nigerian or Honduran families are touched by their cultures, as much as US or Australian families are touched by theirs.

Families may be helped or harmed by their culture: its poverty or consumerism, its attitudes toward children and education, its prevailing convictions about women’s and men’s roles at home and in society. And in nations where Christians constitute a distinct religious minority, the support system families need differs from the support sought in nations where they represent part of the religious mainstream.

South African Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban expected continental and regional differences to come into somewhat sharp focus during the extraordinary synod, he said in February 2014. He had in mind difficulties resulting from polygamy or arranged marriages, for example. Indeed, the synod’s working paper mentioned polygamy five times.

This synod on the family offers an opportunity for church leaders to know each other better and to explore together, as its working paper explains, how the Church’s pastoral care “for the family might better respond” to the new challenges that families now confront.

Total Comments:0