Wednesday, 19 November 2014 16:06

Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family is urgently needed in the work of Evangelisation

This article begins with an eyewitness account of what happened at the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome. The account was provided by the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands; Bishop Arnold Orowae.

We spent the first week of the Synod (Oct 5-19) in Rome listening to about 260 interventions from cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people concerning marriage and family life. The problems shared ranged from divorce and remarriage, polygamy, cultural marriages, arranged marriages, forced marriages, indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, the good and richness of marriage, homosexuality and co-habitation. All the representatives were given a chance to talk. Pope Francis encouraged everybody to really speak frankly. A good number of couples and lay people were also invited and participated in the Synod. They gave moving life testimonies. It was a good listening experience for us the Synod Fathers. Pope Francis took part in all the meetings except on Wednesdays when the general audience with the pilgrims was scheduled in St. Peter’s Square.

For the second week of the Synod we were put into working groups of ten and divided into four language groups: Italian, French, Spanish, and English. We went through all the topics raised during the previous week. There was a good amount of expectations from the Synod partially fuelled by the media. For some the Church was going too ahead, abandoning the traditional path on family teachings; for others it appeared to be resisting necessary changes. The secretariat was asked to remind everybody that our meeting was only the first part of a process to be completed with further discussion in the dioceses and another Synod scheduled for 4-25 October 2015. This will provide the Holy Father and the Church in general with more comprehensive and definite suggestions and guidelines.[1]

The official translation of the final synod report from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family was “Relatio Synodi” was published online in late October. You can access the full text on the Vatican website.

It is a reasonably long document and perhaps the best way to introduce the text of the Relatio Synodi is to quote the last paragraph in full. In this paragraph we find a summary of the fruits of discussion at the synod and something of a road-map of “where to from here”.

These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World. These are not decisions taken nor are they easy subjects. Nevertheless, in the collegial journey of the bishops and with the involvement of all God’s people, the Holy Spirit will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all. This has been the wish of Pope Francis from the beginning of our work, when he invited us to be courageous in faith and to humbly and honestly embrace the truth in charity. #62

Addressing each sentence in order, beginning at the end and working backwards we see that “Truth in Charity” is the aim of the whole synodal process. As reported by Bishop Orowae Pope Francis invited each and every Bishop present, in faith, to courageously but humbly express his honest opinion on a range of pressing pastoral concerns. It seems that the Pope was sincerely seeking honest opinions and that is what he received. Indeed in his address to the Synod at it conclusion the Pope stated that he would have been very worried and saddened:

If all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia (boldness).[2]

It takes particular strength of faith and character to genuinely trust that the Holy Spirit will be the guide to truth and mercy and to ask open questions on difficult topics. The concluding paragraph begins by reporting that the synod took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening. This is an assessment shared by Bishop Orowae. It seems that the fruits of the synod as contained in the report are intended to stimulate discussion on the issues identified in the report in local Churches leading up to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015.

In Church documents local Churches refers to Dioceses and Archdioceses. Each local Church, lead by its Bishop or Archbishop, will develop its own way to reflect on the questions raised and points made in the report.

The report or Relatio Synodi is divided into three sections. Part I is entitled Listening: the context and challenges of the family. Subheadings in Part I are The Socio-Cultural Context, The Importance of Affectivity in Life and Pastoral Challenges. Part II: Looking at Christ: the Gospel of the Family has the subheadings, Looking at Jesus and the Divine Pedagogy in the History of Salvation, The Family in God’s Salvific Plan, The Family in the Church’s Documents, The Indissolubility of Marriage and the Joy of Sharing Life Together and The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy Towards Broken and Fragile Families. Part III: Facing the Situation Pastoral Perspectives contains the subheadings Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family Today in Various Contexts, Guiding Engaged Couples in Their Preparation for Marriage, Accompanying the Married Couple in the Initial Years of Marriage, Pastoral Care for Couples Civilly Married or Living Together, Caring for Broken families(persons who are Separated, Divorced and Remarried and Single-Parent Families), Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies, The Transmission of Life and Challenges of a Declining Birthrate, Upbringing and the Role of the Family in Evangelisation and the Conclusion which is quoted in full above. As can be seen from the headings the lineamenta [guidelines] has a very practical bias.

In his speech to conclude the synod Pope Francis invited further discussion and reflection on all of these topics with the following words.

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.[3]

Throughout Australia each Bishop with his Church will work out his own way of using the lineamenta or guidelines to prepare for the Synod next year.

The vast majority of those who make up the Catholic Church live their life of prayer, sacrifice and service day by day in the often messy reality of a family. The Holy Father has placed “Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family” front and centre in the work of evangelisation. Pastoral care of families and the urgent task of evangelisation are closely connected. The urgent task of successfully announcing the Good News is intimately united to effective pastoral care for families.

Dr John Francis Collins


[1] Press Release (Catholic Reporter PNG - 6 Nov 2014) Giorgio Licini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;

[2] Pope Francis speech at the conclusion of the Synod


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